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Environment

The UK Hasn't Had a New Environment Bill for Over 20 Years. Now That's About to Change.


Why Global Citizens Should Care
The British government announced an “ambitious” 25-year environmental protection plan in January, but the plan wasn’t backed up with a legal framework. Pledges are great, but laws are vital to make sure they’re delivered on. You can join us by taking action to support the global goals to protect the environment here

Prime Minister Theresa May has announced that the government will be bringing in a new bill to protect the environment. 

It would be the first environment bill brought in Britain since 1995, and will back up the government’s previously announced 25-year plan in law. 

It hasn’t yet been confirmed what the reportedly wide-ranging bill would include, but the prime minister said it would tackle air quality and “opportunities” after Brexit. 

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“We will bring forward an environment bill and clean air will be part of that environment bill,” May told the Liaison Committee of Select Committee Chairs on Wednesday, according to Business Green

“There has not been an environment act since 1995, so we want to bring forward an environment bill that would incorporate a range of issues,” she said. “Clear air would be within that.” 

May also added that the bill would try to address “some of the opportunities we think will be available to us when we leave the EU in terms of this area of protection of the environment.” 

Read More: UK Air Pollution Could Be Cited as the Cause of Death in a Historic Case

Campaigners and activists have welcomed the bill as an important step in achieving the government’s 25-year environmental plan, following concerns that there was a lack of legal framework to back up the plan. 

Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF UK, said the announcement was “fantastic news.”

“I can’t wait to see the detail and the ambition in this bill to improve our environment, safeguard our climate, and restore our depleted nature and wildlife,” she said. “Good to see [the prime minister] fighting for our world.” 

Amy Mount, from Green Alliance, said the bill would be a “quite significant step forward.” 

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“The bill will need to put new duties on the secretary of state to deliver on environmental objectives like clean air, recycling, and species loss,” Mount told the BBC

It’s not yet known what the bill would include or when it would be delivered, however, which has prompted caution among some groups. 

Craig Bennett, from Friends of the Earth, was quoted by the BBC as saying: “This could be an act that really moves forward protection of nature. But we don’t know what the bill will include, what will be its foundations, and when it will be delivered.”

“The whole thing could be thrown into disarray if we get a no-deal Brexit, which will leave us out of the EU without having had the time to get new laws in place to replace EU laws,” he added.

Read More: 4 Things the UK Government Must Do in 'Crucial' Year for Hitting Climate Targets

“We simply won’t have the time to replace all EU legislation on vital issues like product standards (which impose energy-saving and pollution-saving targets) and chemicals legislation,” he said. 

Environment secretary Michael Gove said the bill was a “key step towards achieving a Green Brexit,” and would “help to ensure Britain can be cleaner and greener for future generations.” 

The prime minister was also asked in front of the liaison committee on Wednesday what would happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit. 

“The government is not suddenly going to reduce the standards we have,” she replied. “As we look for the no deal preparations we will be looking to see where there are areas where it is necessary for us to put in place action where it is currently taken by the European Union.”

Read more: UK Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Avoid Steep Air Pollution Fines

The announcement comes as the government also announced on Thursday that it has launched a consultation on the controversial relaxation of laws around shale gas extraction, also known as fracking.

The consultation will seek views on whether to class exploratory drilling for shale gas as as a form of permitted development, according to Reuters news agency. If it was, it would mean that planning consent wouldn’t be needed. 

Exploratory drilling isn’t treated the same as the extraction of shale gas, according to a government statement, which added that both would remain subject to strict environmental controls. 

The consultation will be open until Oct. 25, and the government will reveal its findings and respond later in the year.