Environment Bill - November 2021

Dear constituent,

Thank you for contacting me about the Environment Bill. I have been contacted about a number of different elements within the Bill and I set out below my overall views as well as my specific views on those different elements.

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.

Most recently, the Bill was amended to include measures that will allow ministers to introduce charges on all single-use items, not just plastics – helping to cut waste and put an end to throwaway culture.  In addition, further new measures will help landowners to secure long-term environmental benefits through conservation covenants, as well as better protect ancient woodland in England.

The Government has also amended the Bill to include a new, historic, legally binding target on species abundance for 2030 to halt the decline of nature, and to address the unacceptable amount of sewage discharged by water companies into our rivers. 

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 and at the recent COP26, more than 130 leaders, representing over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged to end deforestation by 2030, backed by almost £14 billion of public and private funding. 

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.

Ancient Woodland and the Environment Bill

I fully understand the importance of this issue and I am glad that our ancient woodlands are already strongly protected under the National Planning Policy Framework. As well as this, the Government also provides standing advice for local authority planners for when they make planning decision proposals affecting ancient woodland, ancient trees and veteran trees. As the majority of the proposals suggested in the House of Lords amendment you have highlighted are already covered under the National Planning Policy Framework and by the ancient woodland standing advice, the amendment was not deemed necessary.

I am assured, however, that cases will be kept under review where loss or deterioration of ancient woodland has been or is justified on the basis of “wholly exceptional” circumstances and ministers will encourage them to be brought to the attention of Defra at an early stage. Further, I welcome that guidance to planners making decisions on what is considered wholly exceptional will be revised.

In addition and as recently committed to in the England Trees Action Plan, ministers will build on existing protections, including by introducing a new category of long-established woodland (woodlands that have been around since 1840) and will consult on the protections they are afforded in the planning system. The new England woodland creation offer will also fund landowners to buffer and expand ancient woodland sites by planting native broad-leaf woodland, and ministers will update the Keepers of Time policy on the management of ancient woodland, veteran trees and other semi-natural woodland.

Finally, the Secretary of State has regular discussions with their counterparts in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (DLUHC) to explore further measures that can be included in the upcoming Planning Bill to build on existing protections. 

Storm overflows/sewage discharges and the Environment Bill

My views on this are set out in a separate entry on my website here: Environment Bill: Sewage and Storm Outflows - November 2021 | Richard Fuller

Soil health and the Environment Bill

Ministers have announced the development of a new Soil Health Action Plan for England. The Government is exploring setting a target on soil health under Environment Bill regulations in future but Ministers say that they first need to ensure that they have the metrics to measure a target, and the right delivery pathway, through the upcoming Soil Health Action Plan.

Soil is one of our greatest assets; good soil health is essential for food production, biodiversity, carbon storage and flood protection. Its quality and type influences the distribution of plant species and provides a habitat for a wide range of organisms. We need to ensure healthier soils by addressing factors in soil degradation such as erosion, compaction and the decline in organic matter.

The Common Agriculture Policy has encouraged the kind of farming that too often leads to poorer soil health, and we currently lack sufficient data to know just how badly our soil has been affected. The 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment aims to correct this. It sets out the ambition to sustainably manage our soils by 2030, conserving and replenishing depleted soil and restoring its health. 

The focus of our future agricultural policy will be the three components of Environmental Land Management. One part of this, the Sustainable Farming Incentive, will be a universal scheme open to all farmers and will support sustainable approaches to farm husbandry to deliver for the environment. I am pleased that the soil standards recently announced as part of the first year roll out of the Sustainable Farming Incentive will help reduce emissions from agriculture and agricultural land and increase the amount of carbon that is sequestered and stored. Ministers are currently piloting the Sustainable Farming Incentive in order to test how it works in practice, learn from that and apply what they learn in future phases of the pilot and the full scheme offer from late 2024.
 
I am encouraged that our future farming policy will be used in this way to incentivise sustainable land-use practices, including organic techniques, to protect and improve the health and fertility of our soils. Improving soil health will be essential in the delivery of many of the 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment outcomes, as well as to increase farm productivity and profitability.

Protection of bees and the Environment Bill

Pollinators are an essential part of our environment and play a crucial role in food production through pollination. I am pleased that the National Pollinator Strategy sets out actions ministers are taking to improve the status of bees and other pollinators in England on farmland and other areas.

I know that these actions include restoring and creating habitat for bees and other wild and managed pollinators to thrive; acting on the pressures that impact on pollinators, including by supporting Integrated Pest Management; providing advice and raising awareness across society so that they can take action themselves; and supporting new monitoring and research. Further, the Healthy Bees Plan 2030 sets out additional action to improve honeybee health, alongside beekeeping associations and other interested parties.

Now that we have left the EU and the Transition Period has ended, I am pleased that ministers will continue to ensure that decisions on the use of pesticides are based on careful scientific assessment of the risks, with the aim of achieving a high level of protection for people and the environment. I am assured that pesticides that pose unacceptable risks, including to pollinators, are not authorised. Ministers have also just consulted on the revised National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides and are analysing the responses. The draft plan lays out how they intend to support the uptake of integrated pest management, and how they can further minimise risks to pollinators. I understand that the summary of responses to this consultation will be published shortly and the revised Plan later this year.

It is also encouraging that the UK is moving to an ambitious new agricultural system which will reward farmers and land managers for the work they do to look after and enhance our environment. This will encourage actions that support Integrated Pest Management, as well as those that conserve and enhance habitats for bees and other pollinators. Finally, the Government has introduced a national pollinator monitoring scheme with trend estimates published annually, and advice and guidance is also provided to landowners and the public through the Bees’ Needs campaign.

Finally, ministers will be publishing the revised National Action Plan for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides at the end of 2021. This will provide improved protection for pollinators, as well as human and environmental benefits. 

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 an earlier stage of the debate, which you can view here: https://www.richardfuller.co.uk/news/richard-speaks-environment-bill-de…

Yours sincerely,

richard fuller

Richard Fuller MP