The UK government has strengthened its commitment to protect the environment for future generations with new amendments to the landmark Environment Bill.
The government hopes the changes, which include strengthening the duty to set a legally binding target to halt species decline by 2030, will see the UK build on its reputation as a global leader in conservation.
Between 1932 and 1984, the UK lost 97% of its species-rich grassland, five species of butterfly have disappeared from England in the last 150 years, and indicators show number of birds dependent on farmland stand is less than half compared to 1970.
This new amendment reflects the Prime Minister’s pledges during the UK’s leadership of this year’s G7 summit.
As part of the summit, the G7 countries each committed to halt and reverse the loss of biodiversity by 2030 as well as signing up to the global ‘30×30’ initiative to conserve or protect at least 30% of the world’s land and at least 30% of the world’s ocean by 2030.
New measures will also tackle storm overflows through a new requirement for water companies to monitor the water quality impacts of their sewage discharges and publish this information.
This monitoring will drive action by water companies to reduce sewage discharges that do the most harm, to better protect the environment and public health. Water companies will also be required to publish near real-time information on when their storm overflows operate.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The Environment Bill is at the vanguard of our work to implement the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.
We have been clear about the need, and our intention, to halt the decline of our natural environment, and so we are strengthening our world-leading target to put this beyond doubt.
“It will be a challenging task, but halting this decline is a crucial part of our commitment to be the first generation to leave our environment in a better state.
“Our new package of measures on storm overflows will help crack down on the pollution in our rivers, waterways and coastlines, to better tackle the harm that they cause.”
The Environment Bill will bring forward action to address environmental challenges including biodiversity loss, climate change, waste and pollution of the air, water and land.
The amendments will:
Strengthen the legal language of the UK’s target to ‘halt the decline in species abundance by 2030’, reconfirming our existing commitment to nature.
Place duties on water companies to monitor the water quality impact of their sewage discharges and to publish this data, as well as a duty to provide near real-time information on when storm overflows operate.
Introduce a duty to require the government to publish a report considering the costs and benefits of eliminating overflows entirely which will inform Government decision-making in this area.
Bring in a further safeguard for the independence of the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) by requiring greater parliamentary scrutiny of any guidance issued to the OEP.
Introduce Statutory guidance for local planning authorities to explain how they should take into account new Local Nature Recovery Strategies, to embed strategies for the environment and nature’s recovery into their planning systems.
Accept all the recommendations of the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee (DPRRC), which will ensure appropriate scrutiny of those provisions by parliament.
The amendments will also create a duty and power to allow the Secretary of State to review, and increase if appropriate, the minimum duration for which new biodiversity gain sites must be secured.
This will allow this important aspect of the policy to be reviewed after Government has evaluated the early years of mandatory biodiversity net gain practice, to understand how developers can make a positive impact on nature from their work
Additional technical amendments will also support swifter and more effective implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility measures which will allow for future schemes to appoint scheme administrators through regulations – saving time and money.
Extended Producer Responsibility schemes mean companies will be expected to cover the full cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging, and as a result, be incentivised to use packaging that can be recycled and meet higher recycling targets.
Separately, the government will undertake a review of legislation which would require Sustainable Drainage Systems to be constructed to ministerial standards on new developments, which would reduce the pressure on the sewage system.
This type of “blue-green” infrastructure can deliver a number of benefits – it can prevent water entering foul sewers; reduce surface flooding; improve biodiversity, and improve associated carbon emissions.