For the third time the government has delayed the long-awaited environment bill, which aims to replace rules following departure from the EU. The proposed legislation represents the biggest shake-up of green regulation in decades and the delay has provoked anger from environmental and climate change campaigners who said it would harm action on air pollution and water quality, as well as other key issues. The government announcement was made to the House of Commons on Tuesday which held time limited debates on the bill.
It is understood that the legislation is unlikely to become law before the autumn. The government says that the delay was necessary because dealing with the Covid-19 crisis left too little parliamentary time for debate. Work on the bill first began in July 2018.
Speaking on Tuesday when she announced the delay, Rebecca Pow, minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “We remain fully committed to the environment bill as a key part of delivering the government’s manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. Carrying over the bill to the next session [of parliament] does not diminish our ambition for our
environment in any way.”
Ruth Chambers of Greener UK said: “The UK government has consistently claimed environmental leadership, but after four years of delays we are still without crucial laws to restore nature and tackle climate change. Ministers must now use this extra time to improve their plans around upholding green laws.”
Friends of the Earth said the environment bill as it stood represented a reduction in protections. Kierra Box, campaigner at the charity, said: “The government has taken every opportunity to weaken everything about this bill: from giving ministers the power to guide our supposedly independent environmental watchdog, to defending sweeping loopholes that
allow huge swaths of government to discount the environment when making decisions. The star of this ‘world-leading’ bill is now a requirement that UK companies simply obey the law on deforestation when producing goods abroad, which shows how low the bar has been set.”
Beccy Speight, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, said: “the slow, stop-start nature of the Environment Bill's passage does not help us take the rapid action needed to tackle the nature and climate emergency & our only hope is that this delay is used to improve the bill. Environmental groups including the RSPB have made a series of measured and sensible improvements, such as legally binding targets to turn the tide on the loss of nature, and these should now be seriously
considered. These changes would help us get our own house in order at a time when the prime minister wants to show international leadership in the run-up to the key global biodiversity and climate summits later this year.”