The Environment Bill announced this Christmas is target driven, ambitious, and first of its kind in the world. Though the Bill has come amidst the uncertainty of a deal or no deal following Brexit, it is significant for the government’s action in the future. The Bill sets out accountability and commitment not just for the UK government but for every one of us. It sets out the direction of environmental policies underpinned by a clear set of environmental principles and outreaching impacts these policies will have in the coming 25 years. Whilst the government consults on the bill for its legality and other measures to how decision-making can be effective for all, it is important to tease out important aspects of the Bill.
The Bill defines environment in the broadest sense, encompassing protection and enhancement of air quality, landscapes, wildlife and habitats, resources and waste, and better management of land and water bodies. The Bill emphasises the importance of demanding actions to achieve green, pleasant and rich biodiversity for this generation and many generations to come.
The nine environmental principles are:
• the precautionary principle, so far as relating to the environment,
• the principle of preventative action to avert environmental damage,
• the principle that environmental damage should as a priority be rectified at source,
• the polluter pays principle,
• the principle of sustainable development,
• the principle that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into the definition and implementation of policies and activities,
• the principle of public access to environmental information,
• the principle of public participation in environmental decision-making, and
• the principle of access to justice in relation to environmental matters.
Since the discourse on environmental protection has emerged since 1962, active organisations advocate that the development and growth must never take place at the expense of the environment. There has been ongoing debate on if the environmental protection and regulation results in better financial performance. According to Professor Johan Roackström, the nine principles in the Bill will allow ‘human prosperity and social inclusion, within planetary boundaries’.
The UK environmental law and policy have stemmed from EU Environment Governance Framework, which puts the UK in a strong position to develop its own Environmental Governance. The first step is to create the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP). The Environment Bill will also act as a vehicle to set up a team that will act as a ‘watchdog’.
However, the Bill is the only a foundation for a complex legislative process to emerge and come into practice. It is an ambitious document and offers several opportunities for all relevant stakeholders