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Climate crisis: Environment Act 2021
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Climate crisis: Environment Act 2021

The Environment Act 2021 (EA), which is a UK-wide program to combat climate change and the environment, is a world-leading environmental program. It provides a framework for national environmental governance that is innovative and ambitious. This includes commitments to improve water quality and biodiversity as well as resource efficiency.

The EA will help achieve the aims set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan. This policy paper was first published by government in January 2018. It outlines proposals for government action regarding the environment in England.

There were concerns about Brexit affecting the UK’s environmental standards, as most of its environmental law is derived form EU law. The EA demonstrates the government’s commitment towards maintaining environmental protections.

The EA provides for the setting of legally binding environmental targets. These targets can be in the areas of biodiversity, air quality, and resource efficiency. This will help to accelerate environmental change. These long-term goals must be established by 31 Oct 2022. The Office for Environmental Protection, which was just created, will hold the government and other public agencies accountable for their environmental obligations.

Air quality:

Air quality has a direct effect on public health. While air pollution has seen a dramatic improvement in recent decades, the government recognizes that it is still a serious public health concern. The EA includes:

  • A target to reduce fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in ambient air
  • Local authorities should consider the impact on the area’s air quality when considering a development proposal
  • Local authorities may impose financial penalties in areas where smoke control is not possible. Smoke from private dwellings can also be made a statutory nuisance.
  • The Secretary of State has the power to recall products. Vehicles or parts of vehicles that do not meet the applicable legal emission standard.

Water quality:

This is how we can reduce our environmental impact. On average, a person in England uses 141 litres per day. 21% of the public water supply is lost to leakage, and 21% are used for non-household purposes. Despite water quality improvements over recent decades, recent years have seen stagnant progress due to human activity’s continued pressure on the water environment. The EA includes provisions that protect water supply and resilience.

  • reducing water demand
  • You can direct two or more water undertakings to prepare joint proposals. They can also be directed to come up with ideas for how water undertakers might work together to improve the management and development water reserves and meet future and present demand.
  • Storm overflow discharge is regulated with the requirement that plans to reduce storm overflows, and their adverse consequences, be made. The Environment Agency must report annually on the operation of storm overflows
  • Planning for drainage and sewerage management has been made a statutory requirement

The natural environment and biodiversity:

In its Environment Plan the government committed to protecting and enhancing England’s biodiversity on land, in freshwater and at sea. Many of England’s wildlife-rich habitats have been lost over the past century. Despite progress, habitats are in poor condition and getting worse. There has been a wide-spread loss of species. The EA provides a framework within which to achieve the biodiversity goal of the 25-year Environment Plan. This includes:

  • Introduce a species abundancy goal
  • Protect rainforests by ensuring that the UK’s supply chains are more traceable and sustainable.
  • Local authorities are required to consult about street tree felling.
  • Conservation covenants can be used to bind landowners by binding them with agreements that have a conservation goal
  • Biodiversity net gain is a way to ensure that developments produce at least 10% more biodiversity.
  • Developers can purchase biodiversity credits to help them meet their biodiversity gain objectives.
  • ‘Protected Site Strategies’ and ‘Species Conservation Strategies’ are tools that support the development and delivery of strategic approaches to achieve better outcomes for nature.
  • Local Nature Recovery Strategies to Support a Nature Recovery Network

For more information on the impact of these provisions upon developers, Please refer to our earlier articles here.

Resource efficiency:

The EA aims to reduce plastic pollution by ensuring that more of what we eat is recycled and re-used. There are several ways that people and businesses can be incentivised for recycling:

  • A ‘Deposit Return Scheme’ for drinks containers is available. Consumers will pay a deposit when they purchase the drink. The deposit is returned when the empty container has been taken to a retailer’s return point.
  • Extended Producer Responsibility for packaging. Manufacturers will need to consider the entire life cycle of their packaging from design stage. They will be responsible 100% for disposing of products that are made of plastic packaging. Higher fees will be charged if the packaging is difficult to reuse or recycle.
  • Major waste sector reforms that ensure consistency in recycling collection for all households and businesses

The EA will also deliver a cycle of environmental monitoring and reporting, with ‘Environmental Improvement Plans’ – including interim targets and ‘Environmental Principles’ embedded in domestic policy making. It integrates the environment into the design and development of the Government’s work.

It is a part of the law of England, Wales, but it only applies to England. The majority of the provisions apply to Wales. However, a substantial number extend to the UK, GB, England Wales and Northern Ireland.

The EA affects many different sectors. The sector-specific issues will be covered by the DWF in due course.

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