Enough dither and delay? Government to halt biodiversity loss by 2030
Senior Environmental Advisor Tom Mainwaring-Evans gives his take on the government’s new Environment Bill currently making its way through parliament.
Environmentalists up and down the country have pinned their hopes and expectations on the UK’s new Environment Bill.
The ‘flagship’ Bill sets out how the UK will protect and improve the natural environment, as well as creating a more resilient and sustainable economy.
The Government hopes that the Bill will go some way to assuring those sceptics among us (full disclosure: myself often included!) that Brexit can be green, and that by “taking back control” the UK can create policy tailored specifically to its own needs. In fairness, it would be hard to argue that the Common Agricultural Policy (an EU system providing financial support to farmers) has not been a disaster for our environment.
The Bill is the government’s attempt to address a variety of environment issues at the same time; it aims to protect wildlife, improve air and water quality, reduce plastic waste and increase recycling.
So, who will enforce this new utopian world? Not existing organisations such as the Environment Agency or Natural England, but the newly created Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). This new domestic watchdog will surely have its hands full and I think I speak for many when I hope that this dog isn’t all bark and no bite.
One concern raised widely throughout the Bill’s development has been around the lack of a timeline for its flagship commitments on preventing nature’s decline and reversing it. But environmental groups rejoiced last week when the Government announced that the Bill would include a new statutory requirement to “halt the decline in species abundance by 2030”.
The recent amendments will make several additional significant changes to the Bill, including forcing utility companies to monitor the water quality impact of sewage discharges and further safeguarding the independence of the new OEP.
The broad commitment to halting nature decline by 2030 is not new; it was discussed in the Leaders Pledge for Nature in November and more recently at the G7 in Cornwall. But the Bill and its amendments represent a welcome opportunity for rhetoric to become reality.
The UK government has stated its ambition to be seen as a ‘green’ global leader. The Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said “The Environment Bill is at the vanguard of our work to implement the most ambitions environmental programme of any country on earth”.
To tackle biodiversity loss, we must also tackle climate change. With COP26 fast approaching and the UK continuing to chair the G7 this year, the government will be eager to further burnish its green ambitions in the coming months, so we can also expect further announcements in this area.
Actions speak louder than words
Greta Thunberg recently made headlines in the UK by stating that claims that the UK is a climate leader are “simply not true”. The government will surely be hoping to answer questions raised by activists across the globe through its Environment Bill. As the old adage goes though, actions speak louder than words, and to quote a golden oldie, I would like to see “a little less conversation, a little more action, please”.
Time is not on our side, government after government has dithered and delayed, and all the while nature has been driven off a cliff edge.
The Environment Bill feels like a real opportunity to realign our ambitions and give nature a fighting chance. We must hope the progress of the Bill - albeit slow - is thorough with a result that is robust enough to equip us to face these challenges head on.
Let’s do it once and let’s do it right.