(c) Shreyas Sane on Unsplash

Today’s blog is written by Jet Woodwards, Parliamentary Assistant, on the State Opening of Parliament and the legislation to look out for in the session ahead.

 

Nature and climate crisis might have been absent from the Queen’s speech this year but in this blog we highlight where and how nature needs to be include if the head of state wishes future generation to enjoy the benefits of nature.

 

This year's Queen’s Speech, written by Ministers and delivered by Prince Charles, provided the UK Government the opportunity to outline its parliamentary priorities and its plans for tackling the biggest challenges the UK faces. Whilst the legislative portfolio announced was comprehensive - 38 bills in total - it risks failing to get to grips with the nature and climate crisis.

The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world and, in RSPB opinion, the UK Government could have used this parliamentary session to highlight the actions necessary to tackle this crisis, to support sustainable development that reconnects communities with wildlife rich green and blue spaces, and to ensures that measures to address the energy and food insecurity crises do not come at nature’s expense.

If the UK Government is serious about its commitment to meet its environmental targets and leaving the environment in a better place for future generations, Parliamentarians must ensure nature protection and restoration is embedded in future legislation and compromises are not made at nature’s expense. The nature and climate crisis will only get worse the longer action is delayed.

 

What’s on the agenda?

Of the 38 bills proposed, we have homed in on those that have the most potential for delivering nature-positive progress and those that could pose risks of environmental rollback.

Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

This long-awaited Bill proposes significant changes to the land-use planning system in England and has the potential to be a positive force for nature. Previous proposals set out within the Planning White Paper were criticised as being a ‘developers’ charter’, weakening protections for nature, and hampering local community and democratic engagement in the planning system. However, if the Levelling Up Bill is to support nature’s recovery, it must drive planning reform in ways that enable the delivery of the right types of developments in the right spaces, with nature-friendly design inbuilt to boost biodiversity, and ensure protected sites’ strict protections are upheld. Local communities should be fully engaged at every stage of the process and levelled up through reaping the health and wellbeing benefits of connecting with nature.

 

Energy Security Bill – this Bill hopes to deliver cleaner, cheaper, and more secure energy.

With nature and climate being inextricably linked, the Bill must implement joined up solutions to prevent poorly planned actions jeopardising net zero or nature. It is critical that the Bill is comprehensive and truly transformative to ensure that the right frameworks and strategic plans are in place.

The Energy Bill must establish a plan, a roadmap identify how ambitious targets will be met and integrating action to deliver a Nature Positive and just energy transition – one that not only prevents harms but also restores nature. This is the gold standard that the UK must aspire to in order to remain at the forefront of technologies like offshore wind.  

Furthermore, in addition to freeing the UK from its addiction to fossil fuels, the Energy Bill detail ambitious plans for reducing energy demand – for example we need an urgent plan to make our homes and business more energy efficient and tackle the cost of living crisis.

 

Brexit Freedoms Bill – this Bill looks to change parliamentary procedures so that it is quicker and easier to amend retained EU laws to suit the UK’s needs.

Whilst we appreciate the need to support the economy and enable economic growth, without clear evidence on how and why Brexit benefits need to be fast-tracked through our parliamentary process (nor what those benefits are), the measures proposed in the Bill are of grave concern.

The UK Government states that the Bill will ensure we are the best regulated economy in the world, whilst encouraging not just economic growth but prosperity, innovation and cutting £1 billion of burdensome EU red tape – these aims appear to be contractionary. Businesses and environmental NGOs have long been aligned on the need for certainty and not changing requirements and process without good reason. It is essential that this Bill does not result in environmental rollback under the guise of reducing red tape. The UK has almost entirely relied on EU environmental law to ensure ratification and implementation of our international environmental commitments and upholding these commitments and ensuring their implementation remain embedded in law is vital.

 

Missed opportunities

Despite the recent publication of the Government’s Landscapes Review, Nature Recovery Green Paper and Environmental Targets consultations, nature is notably absent from the legislative programme. A Nature Bill would have come hot on the heels of the Environment Act and would have built upon the environmental framework established by the Act to further restoration and protections of our natural world.

The government states that restoring nature in England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty (AONBs) is a priority, accepts that this will require reforms to the legislation and consulted on this earlier this year. Despite this, and polling of the public showing that they are gravely concerned about biodiversity loss in these landscapes and want its recovery to be prioritised, there was no mention of this in the Queen’s Speech. Without bold and urgent reforms to give National Parks and AONBs a clear focus on recovering nature, stronger duties to deliver this, and reforming the boards that govern these landscapes, the huge potential of these landscapes to fight the nature and climate crises will not be unlocked.

 

What’s next?

Now that the Queen’s Speech has been delivered and the UK Government has defined their legislative priorities for the session ahead, the hard work to influence how these bills are shaped throughout the parliamentary process can begin. The RSPB  wants to see nature put firmly on a clear and measurable path to recovery, for the benefit of wildlife and people, and we will continue to work with parliamentarians, policymakers and stakeholders to make nature a priority on the political agenda.

Whilst nature was largely absent from the Government’s plan for the year ahead, we are keen to stress that nature is inherently involved in many of the bills announced and therefore must be a key consideration. Whether on levelling up, energy, or Brexit, there is potential for nature-positive progress to be gained in the bills that will be brought forward in the year ahead and it is critical the UK Government follow through on their commitments to restore the natural world and do not let momentum decline by wasting these opportunities.

With 2030, and other recovery deadlines, ebbing closer the UK Government must act now if it hopes to stand a chance of meeting its targets and tackle the twin climate and nature crises.

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