The Environment Bill has returned to Parliament following last year’s general election.
The previous version of the Bill was introduced into Parliament in October 2019 and passed its first two readings in the House of Commons before Parliament was dissolved ahead of the General Election on 12 December 2019.
The new Bill’s provisions are largely identical to those in the previous version of the Bill. Those provisions are summarised in our 15 October 2019 article Heading for the green Brexit and include measures to introduce a new environment governance framework replacing that formerly provided by the EU (including the establishment of the new Office for Environmental Protection) and measures covering waste and resource efficiency, air quality, water, and nature and biodiversity.
There are some new provisions in the Bill:
- When introducing a new bill into Parliament that would, if enacted, be environmental law, the minister in charge of the bill must make a statement before its second reading as to whether (in the minister’s view) the bill will not have the effect of reducing the level of environmental protection provided for by any existing environmental law, or whether the minister is unable to make such a statement but nevertheless wishes to proceed with the bill. This duty falls well short of being the non-regression provision that many had hoped for and, given that most environmental legislation is contained in statutory instruments rather than Acts of Parliament, it will be of very limited application.
- The government will be required to publish a report of the significant developments in international legislation on the environment every two years and ensure its findings are factored into the government’s Environmental Improvement Plan (currently DEFRA’s 25 Year Environment Plan) and the environmental target setting process (also introduced through the Bill).It seems that such significant developments would have to include negative developments (for example, the US’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol), as well as positive developments (such as countries adopting earlier deadlines to achieve net zero carbon than the UK’s 2050 deadline).
The government has also claimed that the Bill contains new provisions (not contained in the previous version of the Bill) to stop exports of plastic waste to non-OECD countries. On closer examination, however, these provisions are not new – they were already contained in the previous version of the Bill.
They are also not a specific ban on plastic exports, but a set of general powers for the Secretary of State to make regulations about waste imports and exports and the transit of waste for export, including banning or restricting waste imports and exports, the landing and loading of waste in the UK, the loading of waste for export, or the transit of waste for export.
Furthermore, no bans or restrictions will be introduced immediately – the government will first consult with industry, NGOs and local authorities on them, and there is no certainty that any will be introduced following such consultation.
The Bill is a substantial piece of legislation and therefore may not complete its passage through Parliament until the second half of 2020.