Beautiful landscape

How we can make the environment bill a success

Legally binding targets, practical measures and a commitment to maintain high standards must be at the heart of the government’s new environmental legislation, argues Greener UK

In July 2018 the prime minister announced that the government would be introducing a new environment bill. Theresa May indicated that the bill would build on the government’s 25-year environment plan. 

Since the announcement there has been little further detail on the contents of the bill. Environmental coalition Greener UK has therefore set out proposals for a bill that could reverse the trends of environmental decline, fulfil ministers’ stated ambitions and address growing public concerns about issues from dirty air to marine plastics and disappearing wildlife

What should the bill demand of government and public bodies?

The coalition argues that the bill should be centred around a duty on government and all public bodies to maintain, recover and restore the environment for the benefit of public health and wildlife. Time-limited objectives should then determine whether this duty is met. 

What should the bill address?

Greener UK believes that these objectives should encompass: 

-    building a healthier environment, from soils and habitats to seas and air; 
-    engaging and educating the public and providing easy access to green space; 
-    and reducing our global footprint, including through commitments in future trade deals.

How can we fulfil these ambitions?

First, Greener UK believes we should be able to hold the government to account. It recommends establishing legally binding targets with five-yearly milestones and metrics, the progress of which must be reported on annually by government. The secretary of state will be expected to set out plans to meet these targets.

Second, the coalition suggests that government should invest in local efforts to look after nature. It argues that local nature recovery maps, which could include air and water quality as well as habitats on land and in the sea, should be used in local plans and to make public spending more effective.

Third, Greener UK argues that the bill must ensure that environmental impacts are considered in trade negotiations. A non-regression principle should be employed to prevent backward steps in the adoption or implementation of environmental laws.

Amy Mount, head of the Greener UK unit, said:

“We have for too long stood by watching as the world around us has become more polluted and less resilient to damage. From soil to the seas, we risk our generation’s legacy being a catastrophically degraded natural environment.

“The environment bill is our opportunity to make a genuinely decisive impact. By setting legally binding targets we can turn around declines in nature. By holding ministers and public bodies to account, the bill can make sure no one dodges their responsibilities. And by putting in place strong commitments at home, the UK can encourage other countries to be greener too.”

You can read more about Greener UK's proposals in the document here.