It has now been 200 days since the Environment Bill was last seen in Parliament, in a worrying sign for the UK’s Brexit priorities, lawyers warn.
Last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said we cannot afford “dither and delay” on tackling biodiversity loss, warning of “catastrophic consequences for us all” if action was not forthcoming.
ClientEarth’s legal experts are calling on the Government to prioritise the Bill – which is the country’s main piece of legislation to restore nature, deliver cleaner air and establish new and vital environmental protections, as the UK leaves the European Union.
Our UK Environment Lead Tom West said:
“The Government really needs to prioritise the Environment Bill, if it is to keep its Brexit promises of the UK enjoying world-leading environmental protection.
“The Bill is crucial to the UK government’s environmental ambitions and fight to restore nature and ensure healthy air for all. Its provisions must be strengthened and then brought back to Parliament as soon as possible.
“We have heard repeated promises of the Bill being brought back but there is still no sign of it. Its absence leaves a major void in how the UK enforces environmental laws and it slows the Government’s ability to meet its green ambitions.”
Why is the Environment Bill important?
The Environment Bill is a golden opportunity for the UK to enshrine better environmental protection into law. It would provide the Secretary of State with powers to set new binding targets for air quality, biodiversity, chemical production, plastic waste and more.
It would also create a new public body, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), to serve as an environmental watchdog to help ensure accountability. The OEP would be able to monitor whether environmental law is being implemented properly, and could take enforcement action against authorities that are not meeting their environmental obligations.
The Environment Bill has been touted as the Government’s ‘flagship’ piece of legislation, and the UK has signalled its intention to have the most ambitious environmental policies in the world. “For this to happen, the Bill must be brought back to Parliament as soon as possible,” Tom said.
“We also want to see it include stronger provisions – with stricter laws and accountability measures for issues such as air quality. Then, the UK can live up to its promises on environmental leadership.”
Fighting for clean air
ClientEarth has been following the Bill closely, and we’ve been advocating for essential improvements to be made as it goes through Parliament. This includes provisions to require government action on air pollution, which contributes to the equivalent of 40,000 early deaths a year.
Existing legal limits for one of the most harmful pollutants to human health, known as fine particulate matter (PM2.5), are two times higher than guideline levels established by the World Health Organization (WHO), so the Environment Bill presents a key moment to introduce laws that better protect people’s health.
ClientEarth, alongside a coalition of health, transport and environment organisations, have been calling on the government to use the Bill as an opportunity to commit to meeting WHO guideline levels of PM2.5 pollution by 2030 at the latest.
Our Clean Air Lawyer Katie Nield said: “Without the Environment Bill even returning to Parliament, people are being left to standby as toxic air continues to harm their health and cut their lives short.
“We can’t afford to wait. We are in the grips of a pandemic that affects respiratory health, so now more than ever the government should commit to targets that protect people from dirty air. By stalling, the government is failing people across the country who have no choice but to breathe air that is harming their health.”