Legislation that will protect and enhance our environment for future generations has now passed into UK law.
The Act will clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of our resources.
It will halt the decline in species by 2030, require new developments to improve or create habitats for nature and tackle deforestation overseas.
It will help us transition to a more circular economy, incentivising people to recycle more, encouraging businesses to create sustainable packaging, making household recycling easier and stopping the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries.
These changes will be driven by new legally binding environmental targets, and enforced by a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) which will hold government and public bodies to account on their environmental obligations.
‘The Environment Act will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth.
‘It will halt the decline of species by 2030, clean up our air and protect the health of our rivers, reform the way in which we deal with waste and tackle deforestation overseas.
‘We are setting an example for the rest of the world to follow.’
The Environment Act includes a new legally binding target on species abundance for 2030, which will help to reverse declines of iconic British species like the hedgehog, red squirrel and water vole.
The UK will now be able to go further than ever before to clamp down on illegal deforestation and protect rainforests, through a package of measures that will ensure greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains.
‘It is imperative that we step up action to boost nature recovery if we are to tackle the twin challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change.
‘This landmark Act will give us more of the tools and the momentum we need to really put nature on the road to recovery during this decade, enabling us to have more, better, bigger and connected areas of natural habitats, bringing a range of practical benefits and permitting more people to enjoy the wonders of the natural world, while improving wider environmental quality at the same time.
‘We will work across Government, industry and society to help make it happen. The creation of Local Nature Recovery Strategies will be key in helping us to build a Nature Recovery Network across the country, backed by other measures in the new Act, including mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain for built development and a healthier freshwater environment.’
Natural England chair
The Act will crack down on water companies that discharge sewage into rivers, waterways and coastlines.
It will see a duty enshrined in law to ensure water companies secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows.
New duties will also require the government to publish a plan to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows by September 2022 and report to Parliament on the progress towards implementing the plan.
Work has started on developing legally binding environmental targets, and consultations have been launched on the deposit return schemes for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections which will transform the way we deal with our rubbish.
A draft Principles Policy Statement has also been published, which will put protecting the environment at the heart of future policy.
The Office for Environmental Protection was set up in an interim, non-statutory form in July, providing independent oversight of the government’s environmental progress and accelerating the foundation of the full body. The OEP will formally commence its statutory functions shortly.
The Environment Act has become law during the UK’s hosting of the COP26 summit in Glasgow, during which the UK has brought the world together to secure ambitious commitments to tackle climate change.
‘The passage of the Environment Act into law marks a major milestone for the UK, particularly as it hosts the important COP26 climate summit. Having a framework which supports nature restoration and looks at the whole of the environment – including land as well as sea – is a key step forward in efforts to reverse the decline of nature.
‘Businesses have long supported an ambitious and robust Environment Act, and having legally binding long-term targets will play a significant role in making continuous improvements to the natural environment.’
Executive director at the Aldersgate Group