ClientEarth responds to the UK Environment Bill

15 October 2019

The UK Government today released its long-awaited Environment Bill to tackle the UK’s biggest environmental challenges.

Regarding the clean air elements of the Bill, Katie Nield, clean air lawyer for ClientEarth, said: “The government’s commitment to set a new air quality target is far from ground-breaking. To show real ambition to protect people’s health, the Bill needs to include a legally binding commitment to meet World Health Organization guideline levels by 2030 at the latest – which it has not done. The evidence is clear so it’s deeply concerning that the government has failed to do this.

“It is also worrying that the rules for what it must do to deliver this new target are much weaker than those in existing clean air laws. Currently, where pollution targets are missed ministers are required to do everything they can to achieve legal limits in the shortest time possible. These requirements are conspicuous by their absence in today’s Bill, which instead risks us going backwards.

“We have been breathing harmful levels of pollution for too long now and as it stands this Bill is another missed opportunity for people’s right to breathe clean air.”

Regarding the new watchdog, Tom West, UK environment lead for ClientEarth, said: “We’re pleased to see the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will have access to a new ‘environmental review’ process. This has the potential to redesign how environmental law is enforced in the UK but realising this potential is dependent on environmental decisions being actively and properly assessed by experts. And on the existence of more powerful remedies, so that we can be sure that decisions are improved.

“To unlock its real potential, the OEP must not be so restricted in what laws it can consider. And the public too should have access to the environmental review function to hold government to account.”

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