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Environment Bill Delayed, Again

The CEE Bill Alliance would like to thank the 35 MPs who supported NC9 to the Environment Bill during the Report Stage debate last week.

This new clause was drawn from the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill and aimed to ensure that anyone with duties under the Environment Bill must comply with broader environmental objectives that work to—achieve and maintain a healthy and diverse natural environment, promote human health and wellbeing alongside the sustainable use of resources. These objectives were to be in line with domestic and international obligations, such as the UN Leader’s Pledge on Nature or any that come about from the upcoming COP15 and COP26.

Our key supporting MPs spoke up for NC9 in the debate last Tuesday. Labour’s Debbie Abrahams MP echoed many in stating the NC9 provides an “overarching focus for the Bill” which is vital if we are to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss. Plaid Cymru’s Ben Lake MP also added that he hoped the new clause would “draw attention to an equally pertinent issue: the offshoring of our emissions and associated resource consumption” which the CEE Bill itself attempts to address.

Although NC9 was not put to a vote, we echo those MPs who, during the debate, highlighted that the Environment Bill does not go far enough on this—and many other accounts. The CEE Bill Alliance welcomed several amendments to the Environment Bill alongside NC9. We would particularly like to express support for cross-party amendments NC4 tabled by Tim Loughton MP which would make interim climate and nature targets legally binding, and NC17 tabled by CEE Bill champion Caroline Lucas MP which would require the Government to prepare a strategy for the adoption of new economic goals designed to deliver environmental protection and societal wellbeing.

A key takeaway from the debate was that now that the UK has left the European Union, domestic environmental legislation at the very least must match previous EU frameworks. In its current form, the Environment Bill does not do this.

The debate was ultimately overshadowed by the news that the Environment Bill will be pulled from this parliamentary session, as the UK Government felt it did not have the time to get the Bill through before the Spring. The Prime Minister has previously called the Environment Bill “a lodestar by which we will guide our country towards a cleaner and greener future”. After this further delay, the government’s ambitions for climate and nature appear to be burning out once more.

In this most crucial year for our planet, and when the UK is co-hosting COP26, the inability for the government to progress with this ‘flagship legislation’ is perhaps a sign of the seriousness with which they are taking the climate-nature crisis. As Caroline Lucas MP aptly stated in the Commons, “we cannot hope to influence the performance of other countries if we have not demonstrated leadership in our own domestic policy.”

We will be using this delay to work with our supporting MPs, alongside our allies and with the help of our campaigners, to urge the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to bring back a much stronger Environment Bill that is fit for purpose and that properly acts upon the seriousness of the climate and nature emergency.

Of course, our main focus will be fixed on the much bigger fight to make sure the UK Government addresses climate change and ecological breakdown with greater urgency; especially ahead of COP15 and COP26. The delay to the Environment Bill gives us less time to debate and enhance the most important environmental legislation in decades. To borrow another phrase from the Prime Minister, we cannot afford more dither and delay when it comes to climate and nature. We are running out of time.

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