Environment Bill due to return to Parliament today, 26 January, has been halted once again to the disappointment of campaigners and groups.
The long-awaited laws to protect UK nature has been delayed, with the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) citing the pandemic as the reason for this postponement.
The Environment Bill contains measures to maintain and improve environmental standards in the aftermath of the Brexit transition.
The bill briefly returned to Parliament in November 2020 after an absence of over two months, and was shelved once again in December 2020. It was due to return to Parliament today for the report stage, however at the last minute Government removed it from the agenda and confirmed it would be rolled over to the next Parliamentary session.
Green bodies are concerned that delaying the Environment Bill sends the wrong message in the context of the upcoming COP26 this year, and other related policies such as the Agriculture Bill and 25-Year Environment Plan. Other criticism points out that these measures will be harder to implement without the Environment Bill as a foundation.
Green campaign groups and charities commended DEFRA’s decision last year to introduce legally binding targets for air quality spanning 2022 to 2030, but urge the department to use this extended time to garner ‘environmental ambition’.
Friends of the Earth’s chief executive Craig Bennett commented: ‘When he introduced the Bill, the Prime Minister said it was “the huge star of our legislative programme”. The fact that the Government plans to end the Parliamentary session over a year on will raise questions over its commitment to leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation.’
A group of politicians, campaigners and charities called on government to amend the Environment Bill to include air quality limits set out by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A cross-party group proposed an amendment to the bill to include legal limits on air pollution that are in step with the stricter WHO guidelines.
Air pollution campaigner, Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, is the mother of nine-year-old schoolgirl Ella whose inquest last month identified air pollution as a cause of death for the first time in the UK. Rosamund commented: ‘The Environment Bill, in its current form, does not require that mandatory health-based limits are set. This falls short of what is required for public safety.’
Most recent estimates suggest 64,000 people die every year of air pollution in the UK.
Currently, the Environment Bill commits to bringing new targets for PM2.5 before parliament by October 2022, but does not commit to putting forward targets in line with WHO limits, with no timescale for adoption.
The current legal limit for PM2.5 is in the UK is twice as high as limits recommended by WHO.
Harriet Edwards, senior policy and projects manager for air quality at Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, said: ‘These tiny, toxic particles are the most worrying for our health as they are able to travel deep into our lungs and around our bodies. Although it’s harmful for everyone, it disproportionately impacts certain groups, including the very young, older people, and people with lung conditions such as asthma.’