The remaining stages of our landmark Environment Bill took place this week, with the Royal Ascent expected in the Autumn, following the report stage. This week, my colleague, the Environment Minister Rebecca Pow, was reacting and responding to issues raised about the Bill by colleagues and interested parties. As a Government Minister, I am raising the thoughts of constituents on the Bill’s proposed amendments with the Government Whips and in engagements with my Ministerial colleagues. I am proud of how much the people of Mid Sussex care about protecting our environment, defeating climate change, and leading the world in the ‘Green Revolution’ and setting out future measures for sustainable living and natures recovery.
The new Environment Bill will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of Government. I am pleased new legislative measures will be introduced by this Conservative Government to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age, ensuring we can deliver on the commitment to leave the natural world in a better condition than we found it. It will ensure this, and future governments, are held to account if they fail to uphold their environmental duties. These will include meeting net-zero by 2050, as well as wider long-term legally binding targets on biodiversity, air quality, water, and resource and waste efficiency which will be established under the Bill.
The Debate this Week
During the debate on the Bill this week, the Environment Minister, made the following clear to colleagues and members of the Opposition in the House of Commons:
“Our ambitious targets across air quality, water, waste and biodiversity will drive long-term action. Through this Government now and future Governments, we will be held accountable by Parliament if progress lags. I know the House will also be particularly interested to hear that we will set not one but two legally binding targets to tackle harmful air pollution across the country. The Bill will require current and future Governments to produce an environmental improvement plan, which must be reviewed and reported on regularly. The Bill creates a tough new independent Office for Environmental Protection to hold all public authorities—from local authorities to central Government—to account on reaching these goals. It will enforce the delivery of all environmental law, including, for example, our net zero target.”
“As the Prime Minister set out in the Government’s 10-point plan to net zero, protection, restoration and enhancement of our natural environment are crucial. The Bill will play a key part in that mission. I thank the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) for opening the debate by raising some important points on the environmental principles. The environmental principles will work together to protect the environment from damage by making environmental considerations central to the policy development process across Government.”
For the full debate, please visit: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-01-26/debates/20CFA026-8E78-4D84-82E4-B4236D826AA4/EnvironmentBill?highlight=environment%20bill#contribution-4D3A1CD5-E7C4-40FD-8F4F-2270471D884C
Office for Environment Protection
As the Minister refers to, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will have the power to take public bodies to an upper tribunal if there are breaches of the law. This new office will be based in Worcester. I believe it is important the OEP is independent and fully transparent in order to effectively hold the Government to account on its targets. I am therefore pleased by assurances from Ministers that the OEP will be operationally independent from Government, including from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This means Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making. It is expected that the Office for Environmental Protection to have started implementing its functions by around July 2021.
G7, “The Ten Point Plan” and “25 Year Envrionment Plan”
As the UK was the first G7 economy to legislate to achieve net zero emissions, I also welcome the Prime Minister’s Ten Point Plan which will allow the UK to forge ahead in eradicating the UK’s contribution to climate change. We will also be hosting the G7 summit in Cornwall in June this year, to continue leading the world in the fight against climate change.
In our 25 Year Environment Plan, the Government has also committed to developing a Nature Recovery Network and, in the long term, to create or restore 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside the protected site series. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network and better direct investment in the environment and green infrastructure – creating places that are richer in wildlife and provide wider benefits for local communities. The Bill will also require the preparation and publication of Local Nature Recovery Strategies, mapping nature-rich habitats, so that investment can be targeted where it will make the most difference. These local plans will embrace local knowledge to strengthen links between neighboring communities and support the wider Network.
The Environment Bill also builds on our Clean Air Strategy, which details how the UK will go further and faster than the EU in reducing exposure to particulate matter pollution. It sets out a goal to halve the number of people living in locations with concentrations of particulate matter above WHO guidelines and I am encouraged that it has been described by the WHO as 'an example for the rest of the world to follow'. One of the Bill’s legally-binding targets is on air quality, introducing a duty on the Government to set at least two air quality targets by October 2022; a target to reduce the annual average level of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air, and a further target to improve air quality.
This action is backed up by a £3.8 billion plan to improve air quality and create cleaner transport, including:
A £1.5 billion investment to support the uptake of ultra-low emissions vehicles
£1.2 billion to increase cycling and walking and make our roads safer for vulnerable users
£880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans and to support those impacted by these plans.
This is in addition to a further £2.5 billion to support a number of cities improve their local transport systems through the Transforming Cities Fund.
At the Budget in March 2020, the Chancellor announced a £304 million investment in capital over next two years to combat roadside pollution, enabling local authorities to take steps to reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions.
Amendment 25 – WHO Air Quality Targets
Several constituents have also raised their concerns about Amendment 25 and why I voted against it – along with the majority of my colleagues. The Minister for Environment, explained why this amendment couldn’t be supported during a debate on the Bill last year, which highlights why I couldn’t support this amendment:
“the DEFRA report published in July 2019… demonstrated that significant progress would be made towards the current WHO guideline level of PM 2.5 (air quality) by 2030. However, the analysis did not outline a pathway to achieve the WHO guideline level across the country or take into account the full economic viability or practical deliverability.
“In setting our ambitions for achievable targets, it is essential that we give consideration to these matters—achievability and the measures required to meet it. That is very much what our witnesses said last week. If we set unrealistic targets, it could lead to actions that are neither cost effective nor proportionate. That is why we are committed to an evidence-based process using the best available science—something I know the shadow Minister is really keen we do—and advice from experts to set an ambitious and achievable PM2.5 air quality target.”
“I reiterate that it is crucial for public, Parliament and stakeholders that they have the opportunity to comment on this and have an input in the process of developing these targets. By taking the time to carry out this important work in engagement, we will ensure that targets are ambitious, credible and, crucially, supported by society. We have the significant improvement test, which is a legal requirement, outlined in the Bill. It will consider all relevant targets collectively and assess whether meeting them will significantly improve the natural environment of England as a whole. It is intended to capture the breadth and the amount of improvement. It is very much a holistic approach and it encompasses the impacts of air pollution on the natural environment and the associated effects on human health. All these things will be taken into account in assessing the journey to the targets. I therefore surmise that the proposal in amendment 25 not necessary.”
The full link to this debate is here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-03-17/debates/cd4ea283-1944-4921-b661-c9fa2eadee4a/EnvironmentBill(SixthSitting)?highlight=%22amendment%2025%22#contribution-F20D9020-0001-4798-8C92-F2EDB365BC6D
Green Industrial Revolution
At the centre of this blueprint are the UK’s industrial heartlands, including in the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber, the Midlands, Scotland and Wales, which will drive forward the green industrial revolution and build green jobs and industries of the future. This plan will mobilise £12 billion of Government investment to create and support 250,000 highly-skilled green jobs across the UK. It is expected to spur over three times as much private sector investment by 2030. The plan builds on the UK’s existing strengths and will cement London as the global centre of green finance. The plan is particularly important in the run up to hosting the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November 2021 where the UK will call for further global action.
On nature recovery targets, the UK is committed to playing a leading role in developing an ambitious and transformative post-2020 framework for global biodiversity under the convention on biological diversity. Following agreement of this framework, Ministers will publish a new strategy for nature in England that will outline how they will implement the convention on biological diversity’s new global targets domestically and meet the 25-year environmental goals for nature at the same time.
Regular scrutiny and assessment
There will then be a published environmental improvement plan that will also be reviewed every five years, and a progress report will be published annually. If the Secretary wanted to lower or change a target, they would have to lay before Parliament, and publish, a statement as to why they had reached their decision. It would then be up to myself and other Members of Parliament to scrutinise this decision, before voting on a Statutory Instrument to change any necessary legislation.
The Bill gives the Secretary of State power to amend two pieces of legislation regulating the use of chemicals in the UK. The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation regulates the manufacture, placing on the market and use of chemicals. The REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 set out how the requirements of the REACH Regulation are enforced.
This allows the Environment Secretary to keep the legislation up to date and respond to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals.
For my full thoughts on the temporary use of pesticides, such as neonicotinoids, please go to https://www.mimsdavies.org.uk/news/changes-pesticide-authorisation
To read my previous response to campaigns on this legislation, please visit https://www.mimsdavies.org.uk/environment-bill
The Government’s website pages on this legislation are:
I am excited to see this Bill move to deliver the transformation in our environmental governance, creating a new system which is tailored specifically to a UK context. We want to lead the world in the fight against climate change and I believe our Environment Bill will be absolutely vital in achieving this - I hope constituents across Mid Sussex can get behind this groundbreaking legislation.
I recently spoke to one of my young constituents, Esme, aged 8, from Burgess Hill in a constituency surgery, about the importance of this Bill and our future. This highlights the value of this legislation and our responsibility to ensure it is strong enough to tackle our environmental issues in the years and decades to come.