Campaigners have criticised new delays to flagship environmental legislation on pollution, wildlife protection and cutting waste.
The Environment Bill seeks to write environmental principles in UK law for the first time, following Brexit, but the Government has delayed the passage of the Bill, so it is not expected to become law until the autumn.
The legislation includes setting targets for air quality, water, biodiversity and waste reduction, and outlining what standard must be achieved and by what date.
The latest delay to the legislation, which was first introduced in 2019, comes as the UK is trying to build momentum for global action on the environment, including on climate change in its role as host of crucial UN Cop26 talks.
News that the Environment Bill has been further delayed is deeply troubling. When he introduced the Bill, the Prime Minister said it was ‘the huge star of our legislative programme… a lodestar by which we will guide our country towards a cleaner, and greener future’. (1/4) pic.twitter.com/iMvzBf8loI
— The Wildlife Trusts (@WildlifeTrusts) January 26, 2021
The Wildlife Trusts’ chief executive Craig Bennett said news the Bill would suffer more delays was “deeply troubling” and raised questions over the Government’s commitment to leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation.
He said: “Recently, the Prime Minister explicitly committed to taking urgent action to put nature on a path to recovery by 2030 as part of the UN ‘Decade of Action’.
“But over a year into the decade, very little progress has been made. To make up for lost time, the Government must substantially ramp-up its environmental ambition.
“This must start with putting a legally-binding target to reverse nature’s decline by 2030 on the face of the Environment Bill when it returns, and proper funding for landscape recovery to deliver it.”
Labour has tabled a series of amendments to the Bill, including one which requires ministers to allow parliamentary scrutiny of exemptions granted to allow plant protection products banned under retained EU law – such as neonicotinoid pesticides – where they are likely to have an impact on bees and other species covered by an environmental improvement plan.
But shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard raised concerns over the Bill’s progress being delayed by the Government and it being picked up again in a new parliamentary session.
Mr Pollard said if the environment was a priority, the Bill could complete its passage in this session of Parliament.
“In the year when Britain is hosting the Cop26 climate talks, it sends all the wrong messages about the Government’s approach to the climate crisis, if this Bill is not prioritised and it doesn’t reach the statute books until the autumn,” he said.
“We don’t need a go-slow government on the environment, we need one that recognises the urgency of the crisis and doesn’t go backwards, like they’re doing by lifting the ban on bee-killing pesticides.”
The National Trust also said the Government should be prioritising its flagship Environment Bill, not delaying progress by several more months.
Harry Bowell, director of land and nature at the trust, said: “Our environment continues to decline, with species and habitats being lost and climate change impacts increasing.
“Now we are outside the EU, we urgently need our own laws to protect and restore our environment – not delays.”
He said the Bill remained weak in many areas, including proper independence for the new environmental watchdog it will set up, and lacks the Government’s own 2030 target for 30% of land to be for nature.
“We need the Government to show that it takes its own environmental promises seriously and show the right global leadership as president of the climate Cop26 this year,” he urged.
Greenpeace UK’s head of politics, Rebecca Newsom, added that with a global biodiversity summit in China later this year, and the UK hosting the Cop26 climate conference, “we should be raising our environmental standards and setting an example for others to follow, rather than allowing the nature crisis to continue to spiral”.