United Kingdom: Environment Bill Progresses Through Parliament

The Environment Bill 2021, which was introduced as part of the United Kingdom’s (UK’s) 25 Year Environment Plan, is currently in the report stage in the House of Lords. If it is enacted, the bill will require the government to set environmental targets for species; biodiversity; air and water quality; and resource efficiency and waste reduction. Species targets aim to preserve native British wildlife, such as red squirrels and hedgehogs, that have seen a decline in recent years. The bill also includes provisions to enable the recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards. The bill aims to protect 30% of the UK’s terrestrial land by 2030.

The bill would enable the creation of deposit return plans across the country to help increase recycling and reduce plastic pollution. Manufacturers of packaging would be required to pay the full cost of managing and recycling waste if it is difficult to reuse or recycle. The bill would also permit the imposition of charges on single-use plastics to help reduce plastics waste. 

The bill would create the Office for Environmental Protection as an independent statutory body that would contribute to both environmental protection and the improvement of the natural environment. The office would be required to act objectively, impartially, proportionately, and transparently. It would receive complaints and conduct investigations on serious breaches of environmental law and be able to take legal action when needed.

The bill has been amended during its progression through Parliament. The amendments include those to reduce harm caused by storm overflows into rivers, waterways, and coastlines by obligating the government to publish plans to reduce sewage discharges caused by these overflows by September 2022 and report to Parliament on the implementation of the plans.

In addition to the bill, the UK has also consulted the public regarding five legally binding environmental principles to guide policy makers in all areas. The principles require policy makers to

  • integrate environmental protections in other areas;
  • prevent, reduce, or mitigate harm to the environment;
  • rectify environmental damage at the source if the damage caused cannot be prevented;
  • follow the precautionary principle, which means that where there is the threat of serious or irreversible environmental damage, scientific uncertainty should not be used as a reason to postpone measures to prevent such damage from occurring; and
  • follow “the polluter pays” principle.

To ensure the environment is considered when any policy is made, the environmental bill would place a duty on policy makers to follow these five principles when creating policy.

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