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Ecotricity explains: The Environment Act 2021

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By Megan Cherry
6 Dec 2021

The Environment Act 2021, the first environment bill in England for 26 years, was finally made into law on 9 November 2021 after months of delays and amendments.

It sprang into the news cycle a month earlier thanks to Conservative MPs voting down an amendment to stop water companies pumping raw sewage into British waters, but the first draft was published back in 2018 – so it took an unusually long time.

The Environment Act is undoubtedly good news, though by no means perfect. So, what is the Act and how will it affect nature and wildlife in Britain?

Environment bill
What is the Environment Act 2021?

Fundamentally, the Act is designed to take the place of previous EU legislation and deliver improvements in air quality, biodiversity, water and waste.

Specifically, the Environment Act sets out targets, plans and policies for improving the natural environment, across areas such as:

  • environmental protection

  • waste and resource efficiency

  • air quality

  • the recall of products that fail to meet environmental standards

  • water

  • nature and biodiversity

  • conservation covenants

  • the regulation of chemicals

  • and a new, independent Office for Environmental Protection.

The good news

The last one on that list, the new Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is an independent watchdog for England and Northern Ireland – it replaces similar EU institutions post-Brexit. It can launch its own investigations and look at how well public bodies, including government, uphold green laws. It also has a five-year budget, which should mean it’s securely funded for the long term.

There are commitments to legally binding targets, including halting species decline by 2030 and a target for reducing air pollution.

There’s also some extra protection for the natural environment in terms of biodiversity, deforestation and soil health.

How has the Environment Act been received?

Greener UK, a coalition of 12 major environmental organisations, has worked since 2017 to get meaningful environmental laws put in place after Brexit. The coalition includes Ecotricity partners RSPB, Friends of the Earth and the Woodland Trust.

Greener UK’s senior parliamentary associate Ruth Chambers welcomes the Act, saying that it ‘…includes a watchdog that can launch its own investigations and new binding targets for nature and air quality.’

However, she also has reservations: ‘At the same time, we cannot view the Act as the world leading legislation we were promised. Environmental laws are less protected than before. The Scottish system will outstrip England’s for strength and independence. There are gaping holes in how key environmental principles will apply to government decisions.’

What does the RSPB think of the Environment Act?

Our green mobile phone network, Ecotalk + RSPB, uses 100% of its profits to buy back land for nature. Right now, we’re over halfway to our funding target to secure Horse Common in the New Forest. We work closely with the RSPB on lots of other projects, too, including environmental studies when we build new windmills.

Ali Plummer, Head of External Affairs and Advocacy for the RSPB, says: ‘One of the Act’s key strengths is the targets framework for England, requiring government to set and meet long term targets in 4 priority areas: air quality, biodiversity, water and waste, supported by interim milestones.’

It’s not all good news, though. She says: ‘The OEP is not as independent as it should be, and although improved at the last minute, its enforcement powers still lack the sharp teeth a good watchdog requires. The impact of important environmental principles has been reduced, with Ministers only having to briefly consider them when making policy, and in the case of the Ministry of Defence and the Treasury, the principles simply do not have to be considered at all.’

Help us give land back to nature

It’s clear that the Environment Act has the potential to help recover nature in Britain, but so much depends on whether government and ministers will properly fund initiatives to meet the targets in the Act.

But while we wait to see what happens there, you can help to reclaim land for nature today – just by switching your phone’s SIM.

Ecotalk + RSPB use the money from customers’ bills to create vital new habitats for Britain’s wildlife. We’ve got some of the lowest cost tariffs available, great coverage on the market-leading EE network, and you can bring your current phone number with you.

Switch your SIM

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