Legislation that will protect and enhance the environment for future generations has now passed into UK law. Through the Act, we will clean up the country’s air, restore natural habitats, increase biodiversity, reduce waste and make better use of 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 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.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said:
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 will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains.
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.
Emma Howard Boyd CBE, Chair of the Environment Agency, said:
We need strong laws, investment by the private sector and clear, well-funded regulation to protect the environment. Without this, we will not see the progress we all want.
The new legal targets for water in the Environment Act today will help wider efforts to tackle pollution, reduce demand for water and secure clean and plentiful water for all.
It is good to see these laws pass as we work to protect the natural world, help people to stay safe from flooding and support communities, businesses and government to make the country more resilient to climate shocks.
Work on implementing Environment Act policies is well underway. Work has begun on developing legally binding environmental targets, and consultations on the deposit return schemes for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections have been launched, which will transform the way rubbish is dealt with.
A draft Principles Policy Statement has 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.