Environment Bill: What You Need to Know This Week

Environment Bill: What You Need to Know This Week

The Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London.

Public Affairs Officer Nicky Warden explains what is happening in Parliament this week and why it is important for nature, people and climate.

Update, Monday 8 November

In the latest round of ‘ping pong’ between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Environment Bill returns to the House of Commons today.

Three important amendments remain open for debate. The good news is that there has been a compromise on an amendment which would strengthen powers to enforce vital green laws and this is a step forward.

Following the public outcry on sewage pollution the Government has brought forward an amendment to improve the Bill on this issue. This is definitely a change for the better, although campaigners remain unconvinced that it is enough.

However, disappointingly, the Government has rejected the Lords’ amendments on independence of the new green watchdog – we are still hoping for clear statements in Parliament to ensure this body is independent for the long term.

It is rumoured that the Government wants the Bill to gain Royal Assent (when it becomes law) before the end of COP26 on Friday.

The world is still watching… and it is still far from clear that the final Bill will be the “momentous new Environment Bill” which will “guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future,” as promised by our Prime Minster Boris Johnson back in 2019.


19 October

Over the past few months, headline after headline has confirmed that the climate and nature emergencies are inseparable. Climate change is already contributing to nature's decline, while the loss of wildlife and habitats leaves us ill-equipped to reduce emissions and adapt to change.

Last week a report described the UK as one of the world's most nature-depleted countries - in the bottom 10% globally and last among the G7 group of nations. It has an average of about half its biodiversity left, far below the global average of 75%, with a figure of 90% being considered the ‘safe limit’ to prevent the world from tipping into an ’ecological meltdown.'

Chimney Meadows

Chimney Meadows holding floodwater by Louise King

Closer to home, this week research by BBOWT has warned that mammals, birds, insects, trees and plants across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire are already being seriously impacted by our changing climate. Numbers of dormice recorded at nature reserves in all three counties have decreased since 2010 in a change linked to warmer winters, hotter summers could see beech trees disappear from some local areas, and there is strong evidence that caterpillars are emerging at different times of year, impacting breeding birds.

So those of us with a passion for nature will be watching the events which will unfold in the political sphere over the next few days and weeks closely: they will be critical to the future of the natural world locally and worldwide – that is to say, our future.

Beech trees in an autumn woodland. Picture: Andy Bartlett

Beech trees in an autumn woodland. Picture: Andy Bartlett

The long-awaited Environment Bill returns to the House of Commons this week. Michael Gove, introducing it to Parliament back in July 2019 said: “The Environment Bill is designed to put environmental ambition, principles and governance at the heart of government.” And in the Queen’s speech in October that year, Boris Johnson described it as: “The huge star of our legislative programme… a momentous new Environment Bill – a lodestar by which we will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future.”

Now, over two years later, having been delayed by a general election and by Covid, the Bill is about to return to the House of Commons as it reaches the final stage of its long journey through Parliament.

Over the past fortnight, a cross-party alliance of peers has pushed through some significant changes to the legislation. Fifteen amendments made in the House of Lords will be put before MPs on 20 October.

The House of Commons in the British Parliament in Westminster in 2010. Picture: UK Gov

The House of Commons in the British Parliament in Westminster in 2010. Picture: UK Gov

The amendments are intended to strengthen this important legislation and future-proof our new environmental governance system, by providing independent, robust oversight and a ‘whole government’ approach to the environment. They also include a call to declare a climate change and biodiversity emergency, seeking to eliminate sewage discharges into rivers, protecting habitats, soil quality and ancient woodlands, and improving air quality.

The timing of the Bill’s arrival in parliament, with COP26 due to start in less than two weeks, puts the UK Government in an unusual position: ministers will have to decide whether to accept the changes or vote them down in the Commons while the eyes of the world are watching the UK prepare to host the world's most important climate conference.

Boris Johnson has called COP26 the 'turning point for humanity,' and called on countries to take responsibility for 'the destruction we are inflicting, not just upon our planet but ourselves.'

So, will the Government take responsibility and implement legislation necessary to protect and restore our natural world for the future of all of us? The world is watching.


Penny Dixie

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