Out-Law News 2 min. read

'Gold standard' Environment Bill reintroduced to UK parliament

Baby turtle going for a wee swim

Legislation designed to enshrine environmental commitments in law once the UK leaves the EU has been re-introduced to the UK parliament, incorporating new commitments on plastic pollution and to review international green laws.

The Environment Bill was first introduced to parliament on 15 October, but lapsed when parliament was dissolved ahead of the general election in December.

Two new commitments are included in the re-introduced version of the bill. It would enable the government to ban or restrict the export of plastic to countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in line with the Conservative election pledge to tackle plastic pollution abroad and help drive a more circular economy.

The bill also includes a commitment to review international green laws, which the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) said would be achieved through publication of a two-yearly review of "significant developments in international legislation on the environment". This change was also proposed in the Conservative manifesto.

Environment secretary Theresa Villiers said that the bill "sets a gold standard for improving air quality, protecting nature, increasing recycling and cutting down on plastic waste".

There's a huge amount of detail in the bill and we will be working with clients to consider the preparations that they can make for sustainable business in the 2020s and beyond.

"This will build on the UK's strong track record as the first major economy to commit to reach net-zero emissions by 2050," she said.

The bill contains clauses intended to enable the UK government to set minimum 'ecodesign' requirements for products. If passed, it would also require provision of information to buyers of products and materials to support a shift towards durable, repairable and recyclable products, partly by banning those products or packaging which cannot be reused or recycled.

In addition, the bill would establish a new Independent Office for Environmental Protection, intended to allow for greater transparency and strengthened scrutiny for Parliament regarding future environmental legislation.

In a statement accompanying the release of the updated bill, DEFRA said that the government would be "freeing [itself] from future changes to EU law".

Environmental law expert Georgie Messent of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said: "These comments indicate that at this crucial time as we leave the EU, the government does not intend to align with the EU on green standards - despite some ministerial comments signalling otherwise".

"DEFRA has made a clear statement that the UK will not be bound by future EU green rules and that the UK will go beyond the EU's level of ambition – setting a 'gold standard'," she said.

"The government is already taking strong action to protect the environment, as set out in its 25 Year Environment Plan. UK legislation has already been laid to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and the UK will be hosting the COP 26 Climate Change conference in 2020. The Environment Bill builds on that foundation," she said

"There's a huge amount of detail in the bill and we will be working with clients across a range of sectors to analyse the cost implications arising from these new commitments and consider the preparations that they can make for sustainable business in the 2020s and beyond. The new commitment on plastic exports is likely to have significant implications for companies in the waste and manufacturing sectors, for example," she said.

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