Western Morning News

The government has a green agenda. It needs to put it into action

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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.

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