Legislation that will protect and enhance the UK’s environment for future generations has now passed into UK law.
The Environment Act aims to 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.
The government said It will help the UK transition to a more circular economy, incentivise people to recycle more, encourage businesses to create sustainable packaging, make household recycling easier and stop the export of polluting plastic waste to developing countries.
These changes will be driven by new legally binding environmental targets and will be enforced by a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which will hold the government and public bodies to account on their environmental obligations.
Commenting, 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 that will ensure that greater resilience, traceability and sustainability are built into the UK’s supply chains.
As well as this, the Environment 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.
Chair of the Environment Agency, Emma Howard Boyd added:
“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 the Environment Act policies is well underway, with the government starting work on developing legally binding environmental targets.
They have launched consultations on the deposit return schemes for drinks containers, extended producer responsibility for packaging and consistent recycling collections, which will transform the way that rubbish is dealt with.
As well as this, they have also published a draft Principles Policy Statement which will put protecting the environment at the heart of future policy.
The OEP 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 and 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.