The Wildlife Trusts welcome the passing of the Environment Act, which will help the UK Government make significant progress in tackling the climate and nature crises. Along with other NGOs, MPs and Peers, we have campaigned for this bill for more than three years and look forward to seeing it receiving Royal Assent in its current, much-strengthened form.
The inclusion of a legally-binding 2030 species abundance target has the potential to boost efforts to reverse the decline in wildlife and will put the UK on the path towards protecting 30 per cent of land and sea for nature by 2030. The new requirement for planning applications to provide Biodiversity Net Gain will encourage developers to put nature at the heart of their work, whilst Local Nature Recovery Strategies will create the framework for a national system of interconnected sites for nature.
Yet the Environment Act does not live up to its promise to be a world leading piece of legislation. Plans for the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) have been improved by ministers, but the Secretary of State’s ability to provide the OEP with 'guidance' – even where cases affect ministers themselves – drastically undermines its independence. The Government resisted all efforts to put legally binding interim targets within the Act and the duty for local authorities to follow Local Nature Recovery Strategies plans is weak.
It is also vital that Government agencies like Natural England and the Environment Agency are given the necessary funding to facilitate their role in delivering on the Act. Without it we will continue to see habitats decline and rivers badly polluted.
The Government must use every power it has to tackle the inseparable climate and nature emergencies. At COP26 the UK has advertised itself as a global leader on climate action but, despite containing valuable new commitments, this Environment Act fails to live up to that promise.