Western Morning News
The government has a green agenda. It needs to put it into action
IT is easy to use the coronavirus pandemic as an excuse to kick other important pieces of legislation into the long grass, or at least delay their implementation.
But it cuts less ice when the policies this government chooses to take forward, despite the pandemic, chime so obviously with their primary aims whereas those they are happy to sit on the shelf are seen as low priority.
That, at least, is the conclusion many will draw when they see the Environment Bill, hailed as “flagship legislation” when it was drawn up, is now going to have to wait until at least the autumn before being implemented. While there was less room for delay with the Brexit deal, ministers made ample time for that, despite the pressures of dealing with a pandemic when they could have gone for a delay if they had really wanted to.
We should give two cheers for the Environment Bill which does commit Britain to taking world-leading strides towards reducing pollution, protecting wildlife and cutting waste. Air and water quality, biodiversity and an innovative approach to nature conservation are all contained in the legislation which has been broadly welcomed by all sides. The problem is that further delays mean the implementation of the new laws has been put back for more than three years.
Much of the Environment Bill will replace laws to which Britain was formerly committed as a member of the EU. One of the big fears expressed by conservationists after the Brexit referendum was that leaving the EU risked a dilution of Britain’s environmental protection laws. That fear can only grow the longer this legislation is delayed.
Plymouth Devonport MP Luke Pollard, Labour’s spokesman on the Environment, is right to speak up against what he calls a “go slow government” on this issue.
It looks bad if Britain, as the host of this year’s climate talks in Glasgow, COP26, cannot be bothered to bring forward its own legislation to help reduce the impact of global warming even as it urges others to do so.
We suspect that Boris Johnson is enthusiastic about the environmental improvements set out in this Bill. He is nothing if not a politician tuned in to what people believe to be important and much of the Environment Bill chimes perfectly with some of the most pressing concerns of voters – particularly younger voters – in 21st century Britain.
Once coronavirus has been defeated, or at least kept in check, some even bigger and longer-term problems, like slowing the rate of climate change and improving biodiversity need urgent attention. Getting the Environment Bill in place will help that process no end.
The story around the environment has become almost routinely negative and ministers desperately need to change not just what happens on the ground – where some great work is going on – but also make sure the messages match the action. Bringing forward the Environment Bill with a sense of urgency does just that. Putting it on hold, whatever the reasons, does the precise opposite.