The Environment Bill has finally achieved Royal Assent. In this blog IEMA’s Head of Policy, Ben Goodwin, reflects on the journey and what needs to happen next.

With minds still fixated on events in Scotland and the international negotiations to curb climate change, there was a possibility that the passing of the Environment Bill could have quite easily slipped under the radar.

Fortunately it hasn’t and for the future of the natural environment across the UK this is just as well.

It is imperative that this legislation has wide understanding across the economy and throughout society. It does, after all, set out the basis for how areas such as air quality, biodiversity, water, resource efficiency and waste reduction will be managed over the long-term.

The slow pathway to Royal Assent

It’s been a long journey to get to this point, with the draft Environment Bill having first been read in the Commons back in January 2020. But the genesis of the Bill arguably goes back even further than this when the Brexit referendum took place on 23rd June 2016.

It was arguably at this point that the starting gun was fired on developing new policy and legislative approaches to the management of the natural environment in the UK. Up until this point these were areas that had been largely guided by EU directives for decades.

This is perhaps why the passage of the Bill through Parliament was so complex and time consuming. Although that said, the pandemic hasn’t really helped much!

Implementing the Environment Bill

In any case, the important thing now is that government, businesses, NGO’s and other stakeholders with an interest in environmental matters work collaboratively to take forward the various policy development that the Bill requires.

This includes work to ensure that the target setting framework for those key areas identified in the opening paragraphs of this blog is completed without delay and that the targets are ambitious enough to really drive positive change and the enhancement of the natural environment.

The statement on environmental principles that is being developed to help guide Ministers from across government on embedding environmental considerations in policy decisions, requires improvement so that its legal footing and use with other appraisal guidance is better understood. We have previously set out our thoughts on how this can be best achieved.

Establishing effective environmental review is also critical to help to protect the natural environment in England by ensuring that appropriate standards and processes are followed. This is also an area that IEMA has put forward proposals to government on.

Finally, there must now be a redoubling of efforts to ensure that the Office for Environmental Protection (the watchdog created by the Environment Bill) has the ability and tools at its disposal to provide robust oversight of government and other public authority activity related to the environment.

Environment Bill webinar

In due course IEMA will be hosting a ‘next steps’ webinar on the issues explored here. Please do look out for this and register your attendance.

Photo of Ben goodwin
Ben Goodwin

Head of Policy, IEMA

Ben joined IEMA towards the end of 2020 to take up the role of Head of Policy. In this capacity he looks after the delivery of IEMAs core policy and practice outputs across a range of environmental and sustainability issues.