Your update on the long-awaited Environment Bill

The long-awaited Environment Bill has finally been passed, 2 years from its initial introduction into Parliament in 2019. The Environment Act 2021 (published on 15th November 2021) outlines measures to address specific areas (waste and resource efficiency, air quality, the recall of products, water, nature and biodiversity) to achieve the Government’s 25-year environmental plan of enhancing and protecting natural landscapes and habitats in England.

Why is it needed?

The Environment Act 2021 is in place to cover ‘the gap’ created by the UK’s departure from the EU and subsequent leaving behind of environmental protections put in place by the EU. The Act intends to ensure there are effective environmental protections in place and make sure accountability is embedded within UK environmental law going forward.

The Bill was first introduced to Parliament in October 2019, however its passage through the House of Commons was delayed by Covid-19. With the Bill now passed and made into law as the Environment Act 2021, the aim of meeting the Government’s 25-year environmental plan can begin.

What is it doing?

The Environment Act implements key provisions intended to maintain environmental standards, as well as improve air and water quality, tackle waste, increase recycling, halt the decline of species, and improve the natural environment.

Key provisions in the Act

  • The Office for Environmental Protection (a green ‘watchdog’) was established as a new independent public body to monitor and report on environmental law, and advise the Government on environmental matters.
  • Requirement on Ministers to make a statement to Parliament regarding new primary legislation addressing environmental protection.
  • Requirement for all new developments to deliver a 10% increase in biodiversity (Net Biodiversity Gains) as managed through the creation of a register.
  • The introduction of several duties on water companies which require data and monitoring of water quality near storm overflows and sewage disposal works.
  • New restrictions on the use of forest risk commodities in commercial activities.
  • Bans/charges for selected single-use plastic items including cutlery and polystyrene cups.
  • Requirements for the Secretary of State for DEFRA, to set long-term legally binding targets on air quality, biodiversity, water, resource efficiency and waste reduction within the UK, by late 2022.
  • The introduction of Local Nature Recovery Strategies (LNRSs) led by a responsible authority in each area.
  • The introduction of a new Species Conservation Strategy, protecting the future of ‘at risk’ species.
  • The introduction of the 5 principles to which organisations must have regard:
    • Integration (environmental protection should be integrated into the making of policies);
    • Prevention (preventative action should be taken to avert environmental damage);
    • Precautionary (a precautionary approach should be taken to avoid the possibility of environmental harm);
    • Rectification At Source (where possible any environmental harm should be rectified at source); and
    • Polluter Pays (the person(s) who causes the harm must suffer the financial penalty both in terms of mitigation and compensation).

The Environment Act 2021 does not revoke or replace the Environment Act 1995, but it does make amendments to strengthen and enforce adoption of the environmental provisions.

What to do next

The Environment Act 2021 summary is currently being written for Legislation Update Service and will be uploaded soon.