Thank you for contacting me about the Environment Bill.
As set out in the 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, the decision to leave the European Union has created an historic opportunity where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced. The Government's 25yr plan entitled "A Green Future" is available to read here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/25-year-environment-plan. Outside the European Union Britain can develop global gold standard environmental policies and this is a process which is underway with the Environment Bill. Having left the Common Agricultural Policy we can use public money for public goods, rewarding environmentally responsible land use. By leaving the Common Fisheries Policy we will be able to grant access and allocate quotas based on sustainability, allowing us to pursue the highest standards in marine conservation.
As you know, the urgent case for action on the environment is clearer than ever. We are witnessing a shocking decline in nature and biodiversity. Our countryside is increasingly losing its wildlife and we are facing a climate emergency. The Environment Bill will ensure the environment is at the heart of all policy making and that 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 Environment Bill will create for the first time an Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) which must act objectively and impartially. Ministers will not be able to set its programme of activity or influence its decision-making and it is intended that its chair will be subject to a pre-appointment scrutiny hearing. It is important that this Office is independent, and I have been assured that it will be. This new, independent statutory body will have the principal objective of contributing to environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. It will provide the necessary legal authority to implement long-term environmental governance. The OEP will provide scrutiny and advice on the implementation of environmental law. It will also monitor and report on progress against Environmental Improvement Plans and targets. The OEP will be able to receive and investigate complaints on alleged serious breaches of environmental law by public authorities. It will also be able to take legal action in serious cases if necessary as a last resort.
Deforestation and the Environment Bill
In relation to deforestation, in every conceivable way we depend on the natural world around us. Rainforests cool the planet, provide clean air and water, and are a haven for some of the most endangered species on Earth – and so protecting them must be a core priority. I am therefore pleased that the UK will go further than ever before to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect rainforests.
A new report has now been published which sets out the Government’s approach to tackling deforestation linked to UK demand for products such as cocoa, rubber, soya, and palm oil. Combined, the new package of measures set out in the report will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains by working in partnership with other countries and supporting farmers to transition to more sustainable food and land use systems. The measures include the introduction of a new law in the Environment Bill which will require greater due diligence from businesses, and make it illegal for UK businesses to use key commodities if they have not been produced in line with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems.
International Climate Finance (ICF) is the UK’s mechanism for delivering international climate action. It helps poor countries adapt to climate change, supports the creation of jobs and livelihoods to reduce poverty, reduces greenhouse gas emissions and promotes sustainable economic growth. £210 million of ICF will be spent over the period 2016 and 2021. I am pleased that at the UN General Assembly in 2020, the Prime Minister announced the doubling of ICF over the next five years.
The UK fully endorses the New York Declaration on Forests, which aims to end natural forest loss by 2030, and is also a member of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020. At the Paris UN Climate negotiations in 2015, the UK signed up to a collective pledge with Germany and Norway that will make up to $5bn available to support international efforts to tackle deforestation.
Air pollution and the Environment Bill
It is encouraging that air pollution has reduced significantly in the past decade. Emissions of nitrogen oxides have fallen by 33 per cent and are at their lowest level since records began, however, there is still more to do. I am pleased that the Clean Air Strategy aims to cut air pollution and save lives, backed up by new primary legislation. The strategy 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'.
The Environment Bill builds on this strategy. It will drive significant environmental improvement and tackle pollution by setting and achieving legally-binding, long-term targets in key areas including air quality, water, and resource efficiency and waste. I am pleased that the Bill introduces 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. This includes nearly 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; and £880 million to help local authorities develop and implement local air quality plans and to support those impacted by these plans. This funding 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.
I am also pleased that 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.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. If you would like to know more about my position on the Environment Bill, I spoke in the House of Commons during the debate, which you can view here: https://www.richardfuller.co.uk/news/richard-speaks-environment-bill-de…
Richard Fuller MP