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ClientEarth Communications

1st December 2020

Rule of law

Why the UK environment bill matters

Why do we need a UK Environment Bill?

The UK has now left the EU. As a result, we have lost access to important EU bodies that monitor and enforce our environmental laws as well as overarching environmental principles that guide law and policy.  Without an ambitious and effective UK Environment Bill, we risk weaker protections for our environment.

ClientEarth lawyer Hatti Owens explains: “EU institutions used to oversee much of the proper implementation and compliance of environmental law. Outside of the EU, the UK now needs a fully independent body with real powers to make sure government bodies live up to their environmental commitments – or we risk environmental law being ignored.”

What does the Environment Bill cover?

In December 2018 the UK government announced plans for new environmental legislation aimed at filling the governance gap created by Brexit and setting out a new framework for environmental law post-Brexit. Since this announcement, we’ve been working as part of the Greener UK coalition to increase the pressure on the government to ensure this bill provides the necessary protection for the UK environment.

The Environment Bill was published in January 2020. It sets out new legal frameworks for air pollution, water quality and nature conservation. It also establishes a new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – to hold governments and other public bodies to account when the environment is under threat.

The OEP has the potential to ensure environmental law is enforced and environmental standards are maintained. But this is dependent on the watchdog’s ability to act independently and strategically.

What's happening now?

The Environment Bill is soon to be finalised but the OEP’s potential to hold the UK to account is under threat. New government changes to the Bill undermine the OEP’s independence by allowing for increased government influence. They also weaken the enforcement process and fail to make provision for the use of technical experts in decision-making. All of this inhibits the watchdog’s effectiveness.   Taken together, these changes limit the OEP’s ability to hold the government and public authorities to account, threatening environmental standards.

ClientEarth lawyer Hatti Owens explains: “The changes reveal the Government’s apparent intention to avoid environmental accountability at all costs.”

If the OEP is to properly do its job of holding government and other public authorities to account, these issues must be remedied before the Environment Bill is enacted. Otherwise, the OEP will certainly fail to be truly “world-leading” and, more importantly, our natural world will surely suffer as a result.

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