Report stage of the Environment Bill 2019-2021

On Tuesday 26 January 2021, Parliament voted on the Report Stage of the Environment Bill 2019-2021. This Bill is extensive and covers a wide range of new duties and legal requirements. These include providing for environmental targets, environmental principles and a new environmental watchdog; changes and new legal requirements covering air pollution, water resources, water management and quality, waste and recycling, biodiversity, nature recovery and conservation covenants

There is a climate and ecological emergency. Wildlife in Britain is on a downward spiral with 44% of species in decline over the last ten years and now that we have left the European Union, it is vital that we do all we can to maintain the highest standard of environmental standards. This Bill does little to help, replacing the EU’s comprehensive framework of environmental protections with four simple long-term targets which the Secretary of State has near complete discretion to change at any time.

MPs voted on four amendments to this Bill which sought to improve its environmental protections. 

New Clause 5 was tabled by the Opposition. The amendment placed a duty on the Secretary of State to set and meet a target to begin to reverse the loss of biodiversity in England no later than 2030. This timetable would align with the new Convention on Biological Diversity goals that are due to be agreed in 2021. The Government voted against this amendment and it was defeated by Ayes: 217 – Noes: 360. 

New Clause 2 was tabled by the Opposition and set parameters on the face of the Bill to ensure that the PM2.5 air quality target will be at least as strict as the 2005 WHO guidelines, with an attainment deadline of 2030 at the latest. The Government voted down this amendment. It was defeated by Ayes: 227 – Noes: 354. 

New Clause 7 placed requirements on Ministers to allow parliamentary scrutiny of exemptions granted to allow plant protection products banned under retained EU law (such as neonicotinoid pesticides), where they are likely to impact bees and other species covered by an environmental improvement plan. The Government voted against this amendment. It was defeated by Ayes: 220 – Noes: 364. 

Schedule 20 set a minimum of protections under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) EU regulation on the production and use of chemical substances. It would also remove the possibility that a Secretary of State might lower chemical standards than are in place currently, whilst reserving the right for them to set higher standards should they choose. This amendment was also defeated. The Government voted against it by Ayes: 227 – Noes: 356.

On the same day, President Biden’s administration announced sweeping measures to combat climate change and described it as an “existential threat”. In signing up to the Paris agreement on his first day in office, there is an acknowledgement from President Biden that we all have to work together to combat the climate crisis.