Long-awaited Environment Act passed

Long-awaited Environment Act passed

The Wildlife Trusts respond to the passing of the Environment Act.

The Wildlife Trusts welcome the passing of the Environment Act, which will help the UK Government make significant progress in tackling the climate and nature crises. Along with other NGOs, MPs and Peers, we have campaigned for this bill for more than three years and look forward to seeing it receiving Royal Assent in its current, much-strengthened form.

The inclusion of a legally-binding 2030 species abundance target has the potential to boost efforts to reverse the decline in wildlife and will put the UK on the path towards protecting 30% of land and sea for nature by 2030. The new requirement for planning applications to provide Biodiversity Net Gain will encourage developers to put nature at the heart of their work, whilst Local Nature Recovery Strategies will create the framework for a national system of interconnected sites for nature.

Yet the Environment Act does not live up to its promise to be a world leading piece of legislation. Plans for the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) have been improved by ministers, but the Secretary of State’s ability to provide the OEP with “guidance” – even where cases affect ministers themselves – drastically undermines its independence.  The Government resisted all efforts to put legally binding interim targets within the Act and the duty for local authorities to follow Local Nature Recovery Strategies plans is weak.

It is also vital that Government agencies like Natural England and the Environment Agency are given the necessary funding to facilitate their role in delivering on the Act. Without it we will continue to see habitats decline and rivers badly polluted.

Harry Barton, CEO Devon Wildlife Trust : “After years of hard work, delays and false starts, it’s a huge relief to see this crucial piece of legislation that will help put nature into recovery.  It is far from perfect, but the fact that we have it at all is a testament to the overwhelming support and unshakeable determination of local communities across Devon and the UK who supported our campaign .  Now the hard work really starts.  We will need to push government at every level to make sure the ambitions set out in the Act turn into reality.  We need the funding, the oversight, the enforcement and above all the political will.  The time for words is over – now it’s time for action.”

The Government must use every power it has to tackle the inseparable climate and nature emergencies. At COP26 the UK has advertised itself as a global leader on climate action. Despite its many encouraging commitments, this Environment Act on its own it not enough to live up to that promise.  But it’s not too late for the government show true leadership.  It must look again at how much it funds fossil fuels, how much it subsidises activities that damage the natural world and how tough it is willing to get with those who profit from nature’s destruction.  It can still turn the tables in favour of our climate and biodiversity.