New watchdog to 'hold ministers to account' if they fail to slash carbon emissions

Posted On: 
15th October 2019

A new watchdog will ensure ministers are "held to account" if they fail to live up to the UK's climate commitments under plans being unveiled in a new Environment Bill.

The planned Office for Environmental Protection will aim to enforce the pledge to go carbon-neutral by the middle of the century.

The Office for Environmental Protection would be handed the power to scrutinise the Government's environmental record, including its pledge to reduce carbon emissions to net-zero by 2050.

The bill is one of a raft of measures outlined in Monday's Queen's Speech, which sets out the Government's legislative plans.

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It will be introduced in the Commons on Tuesday - although there is no guarantee MPs will get behind the legislation as the Government no longer has a majority in the chamber.

Ministers said the planned watchdog would also oversee "legally-binding" targets on improving air quality, protecting wildlife and slashing water and resource waste. 

The Government is meanwhile planning to add charges to "a number of single use plastic items" in a bid to cut waste - a move that follows the introduction of a 5p levy for plastic bags.

Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said: "Our natural environment is a vital shared resource and the need to act to secure it for generations to come is clear.

"That’s why our landmark Environment Bill leads a green transformation that will help our country to thrive. It positions the UK as a world leader on improving air quality, environmental biodiversity, a more circular economy, and managing our precious water resources in a changing climate.

"Crucially, it also ensures that after Brexit, environmental ambition and accountability are placed more clearly than ever before at the heart of government, both now and in the future."

But Labour warned that any post-Brexit environmental promises from ministers risked being undercut by "reckless new trade agreements".

Shadow Environment Secretary Sue Hayman said: "The Government must legislate to ensure that the UK won’t fall behind the EU on environmental standards and that the Office for Environmental Protection is fully independent and resourced."

The Labour frontbencher added: "The Government’s air quality plans have already been ruled unlawful multiple times. Tory cuts have stopped government agencies from protecting our environment and left councils struggling to tackle fly tipping and littering."