As COP26 continues in Glasgow, the UK government’s climate and environmental aims took a big step forward this week with its long-awaited Environment Bill achieving Royal Assent.
Environment Secretary George Eustice described the provisions in the Environment Act 2021 as the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. He stated that it would “halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas.”
The Environment Act will deliver long-term targets to improve air quality, biodiversity, water, and waste reduction and resource efficiency with a target to halt the decline of nature by 2030. It introduces environmental improvement plans, including interim targets, together with a cycle of environmental monitoring and reporting. The environmental principles of the Act will be embedded in domestic policy making with the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) established to uphold environmental law.
The Act includes specific provisions in relation to:
- Waste and recycling – including a deposit return scheme for single use drinks containers, charges for single use plastics, and greater consistency in recycling collections in England. There will also be electronic waste tracking to monitor waste movements and tackle fly-tipping.
- Clean air – including the requirement for local authorities to tackle air quality and simplified enforcement within smoke control areas.
- Nature – including a strengthened biodiversity duty with a biodiversity net gain obligation to ensure developments deliver at least 10% increase in biodiversity, local nature recovery strategies to support a nature recovery network, and conservation covenants.
- Water – including more effective collaboration between water companies through statutory water management plans as well as drainage and sewerage management planning becoming a statutory duty.
Work on implementing Environment Act policies is already well underway. The government has started work on developing legally binding environmental targets and launched consultations on the deposit return schemes for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections which will transform the way we deal with our rubbish. They have also published a draft principles policy statement which will put protecting the environment at the heart of future policy.
Additionally, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) was already set up in an interim, non-statutory form in July, providing independent oversight of the government’s environmental progress and accelerating the foundation of the full body. The OEP will formally begin its statutory functions shortly.