It is imperative that MPs do all they can to capture this once-in-a-generation chance to pass ambitious new laws that protect nature for the next generation and recognises the pivotal role the nature-based solutions can play in the fight against climate change.
Before Christmas, the Environment Bill finished committee stage. Now, despite delays caused by Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, the Bill is ready to return to the House of Commons. This is report stage, where all MPs have the chance to support amendments and discuss the Bill. For MPs who care about the planet, this is a key opportunity to turn words into actions.
The Wildlife Trusts have been working with MPs from all political parties to make sure this Bill gives nature the support it deserves. We think the Environment Bill must be more ambitious to adequately respond to the climate and nature crisis. As part of the Greener UK coalition of environmental NGOs, we are urging MPs to make changes to the Bill that will allow it to deliver the radical nature protection we need.
What needs to change?
Set a target for reversing biodiversity loss
Last year, the Government signed up to the ‘Leaders’ Pledge for Nature’ – committing themselves to reversing biodiversity loss by 2030. So why not make this commitment a legally-binding target?
We want MPs to put their name to Amendment NC5, which would put a legally-binding ‘State of Nature’ target for 2030 on the face of the Environment Bill. This would require the UK to reverse nature’s decline within a decade and would be a world first, sending a powerful message to other nations ahead of this year’s UN climate and nature talks.
Make Local Nature Recovery Strategies stronger
Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRS) are plans created by local authorities that set out how they will protect and boost biodiversity in their areas. In its present state, the Environment Bill requires each local authority to prepare an LNRS.
LNRS have the potential to kickstart nature restoration on the ground – but currently local authorities must only “have regard” to their strategy and are not forced to align their decision making with it.
We want to see amendments made to the Environment Bill to ensure that local authorities must act in accordance with their LNRS when making key decisions, such as on planning and spending. This will make it easier to create an ecologically coherent network of sites which are actively playing a part in nature’s recovery. Even the best strategy for biodiversity growth will struggle to make an impact if resource-stretched councils are not actually required to abide by it.
Create a truly independent Office for Environmental Protection
Tough environmental regulations need a strong independent authority to enforce them. Having left the EU, the Government will be setting up the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) to replace the EU Commission and Court of Justice, who have previously monitored environmental laws in the UK.
The OEP must be independent and able to scrutinise whether the Government lives up to the environmental laws it puts in place. But, worryingly, the Government have made amendments to the Bill giving themselves powers to issue guidance to the OEP on how it does its job, including in cases where the Government itself is being investigated. This guidance could include what the meaning of a ‘serious’ breach is or how the OEP should be prioritising its caseload.
This amendment is unacceptable and undermines the independence of the regulatory body. The Government does not have the same powers over enforcement agencies in areas such as human rights or data protection – so why is the environment different?
We want MPs to speak up for the OEP’s independence at report stage and ensure our new environmental regulator is fit for purpose.