We’ve been banging on about the Environment Bill for a long time, but that’s because the Bill is a once-in-generation opportunity to save nature.
So, why is this Bill so important?
What is the environment Bill?
The Environment Bill sets out how the Government plans to protect and improve our natural world.
It’s massive and covers huge areas of environmental policy and law - from pollution, plastics to water and waste management, and habitat restoration.
For an overview of our policy asks check out this blog, for a more detailed look, see this blog.
Hedgehog. Photo credit: Ben Hall (rspb-images.com).
Why do we need it?
Currently, the responsibilities our Governments have for caring for and protecting the environment are determined by EU law. When we leave the EU the UK Government will no longer be bound by those laws (there are some exceptions to this for example the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol). Primary legislation is needed to plug the gap and make sure Government is legally required to look after our environment.
Heathland views around RSPB Ayesbeare Common, Wiltshire. Photo credit: Patrick Cashman (rspb-images.com)
What’s happened so far?
The Bill in its current form was first introduced to parliament in January 2020. In February, the Bill passed through Second Reading, and the Committee stage commenced in March - where a small group of MPs (the Bill Committee) started reading through the bill line-by-line to consider it and all proposed changes. However, after just one committee session, the parliamentary process of the Bill was paused as the Government understandably needed to focus on the Covid-19 pandemic.
(Parliament’s website has a great explainer on the different stages a bill must go through to become law. You can find it here.)
Whilst the Environment Bill has some UK-wide provisions, since environmental policy & law in the UK is the responsibility of the devolved Governments, their consent is needed. And there are more provisions for Northern Ireland than Wales and Scotland. In June, the Northern Ireland Assembly consented to the parts of the Bill that will apply to them, you can read about the process here.
Barn owl. Photo credit: Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com).
What’s the problem?
Whilst we’ve seen other key environmental legislation eg. the Agriculture Bill and the Fisheries Bill, return to Parliament, the Environment Bill is nowhere to be seen.
It has now been over 200 days since the Bill was in Parliament.
This is worrying.
Without this Bill we risk being left with serious gaps particularly around governance in both Northern Ireland and England. However, saying that, we need the Bill to truly deliver on its capabilities. Therefore, when the Bill returns to Parliament, it must not be rushed through. There must be the opportunity for MPs, Lords and Baronesses to give the Bill the full scrutiny it deserves.
This Bill is a once in a generation opportunity to turn around the fate of nature.
We must get it right.
When the Bill is back, we’ll be asking for your help to strengthen it.
For now, we'll keep calling on the Government to bring the Bill back.
A stronger Environment Bill is one of the many things we are calling for to Revive Our World. If you want to join us in demanding a better, nature-rich future, you can join the campaign by signing our petition for legally binding targets here.
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