Starting with a strong Environment Bill, we can build a greener future outside the EU
Unshackled from overly bureaucratic processes, a one-size-fits-all approach, and laggard member states, we can begin creating a greener and bluer, more pleasant land and sea, writes Tim Loughton MP. | PA Images
The Environment Bill will create new legally-binding environmental improvement targets, which will be more comprehensive and ambitious than the EU’s.
At the start of this year, the UK finally left the EU’s single market and customs union, and in doing so became an independent, sovereign nation with the freedom to make our own laws.
The UK-EU free trade deal was a huge personal vindication for the Prime Minister, and for all of us who stood for election in December 2019 pledging to get Brexit done. With our destiny in our own hands, we can now begin designing new laws that better suit our own circumstances and priorities. One area with huge potential is the environment.
To give credit where it is due, the EU has played an important role in strengthening environmental protections over the years, particularly around water quality and rare habitats. But the EU is also responsible for a litany of weak and ineffective environmental rules.
Whether it is climate targets that were diluted by pro-coal member states, vehicle emission standards that were gamed by diesel car manufacturers, or farm subsidies that rewarded environmentally harmful agricultural practices particularly unsuited to UK farming. I know we can do much better in charge of our own destiny.
After all, let’s not forget that the UK was the first major economy to announce it would phase-out coal-fired power stations and enshrine a net-zero emissions target in law. Thanks to a Conservative government, we have the earliest phase-out date for new combustion engines of any major economy, and were the first to end support for fossil fuels through our export credit agency.
Inside the EU, the UK was always a strong proponent of more sustainable fisheries quotas, of greening the Common Agricultural Policy, and of adopting ambitious climate targets. Unshackled from overly bureaucratic processes, a one-size-fits-all approach, and laggard member states, we can begin creating a greener and bluer, more pleasant land and sea.
The environment needs sustained, incremental improvements, even when it's not the top of the government's in-tray
It is timely therefore that the Environment Bill is due to return to the House of Commons for its report stage and third reading debate shortly. This landmark piece of legislation will reimagine environmental policymaking in the UK outside the EU, putting in place a new long-term framework for driving continuous improvements in the natural environment.
Alongside the Agriculture and Fisheries Acts, which gives ministers the powers to create more sustainable farming and fishing sectors, the Environment Bill is the vehicle for delivering a green Brexit.
The Bill will create new legally-binding environmental improvement targets, which will be more comprehensive and more ambitious than the EU’s. It will also create a new anti-deforestation law that requires British companies to tackle illegal deforestation in their overseas supply chains. This will be a world-first provision.
There will also be measures to make manufacturers take more responsibility for their products at the end of their lives, to recall faulty vehicles when they don’t meet emissions standards, and to require new housing developments to deliver a net gain for biodiversity.
The Bill represents a huge win for the environment, but I believe there is space to go even further. That is why I’ve tabled an amendment that will significantly improve one of its most crucial parts - the target-setting framework. Targets provide certainty for businesses about the direction of government policy, encouraging more private-sector investment in green solutions. They also focus the minds of civil servants and ministers inside government.
I believe that governments should have a duty to achieve five-yearly milestones, or interim targets, as well as the long-term targets that will be at least 15 years in the future. This may sound technical, but it will make sure that successive governments take action towards the long-term targets and that we are following the most cost-effective, scientifically-rational pathway to the end goals.
The environment needs sustained, incremental improvements, even when it's not the top of the government's in-tray. Binding interim targets would help deliver the requisite political focus, and could help prevent delays to environmental policies. It also brings the Environment Bill targets into line with those in our world-leading Climate Change Act, and makes sure every future government takes these issues as seriously as this one, holding them properly accountable as custodians of our natural environment.
I hope my colleagues will support my amendment, which would further burnish the environmental credentials of this legislation.
There will be many other opportunities in the coming years to amend, improve on, and surpass the environmental policies we’ve transferred over from EU law. Starting with a strong Environment Bill, I believe we will prove the naysayers wrong, and build a greener future for our country outside the EU.
Tim Loughton is the Conservative MP for East Worthing and Shoreham.