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Climate change and environmental protection are at the forefront of discussions in the political and economic arenas. The Environment Bill was introduced in the UK parliament on the 30th January, 2020. It provides guidelines on how the government aims to protect, preserve, and improve the environment.
The Purpose of the Environment Bill
The rapid impact of climate change is a significant cause for concern as is the damage to the environment, including the extinction of species and habitat erosion. The government of the UK has already taken steps to address climate change by setting a target to reach zero net emissions.
The Environment Bill is part of a broader government strategy to address the concerns for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery. The Bill contains concrete and decisive steps to combat an ecological crisis. It helps limit and manage the impact of human activity on the environment and will empower all citizens to leave behind a positive legacy for generations to come.
The Environment Bill introduces measures on air quality, protection of landscapes, wildlife, more efficient handling of waste and better management of our surface, ground and wastewater.
Costs of the Environmental Bill
The costs could be business or consumer-related or public sector costs. In terms of businesses, the transaction costs of familiarizing oneself with the new system are likely to be present. Factories may need to upgrade their air quality, water management and waste management systems. This new capital expenditure cost could be non-negligible.
The government estimates a total cost of £196.6m from business and consumer impacts. There are also public sector governance costs. Such costs include setting up the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), one-off costs to local authorities of adjusting to Clean Air Act Amendments, ongoing costs to local authorities complying with the higher air quality standards, as well as an increased burden on local authorities to consult on tree felling etc.
The government estimates that the costs to the public sector will be about £23.8m. A major share of these costs (£20m) are likely to be borne by public authorities. The total annualized costs are estimated to be around £221m.
Benefits of the Environment Bill
The benefits of the Bill could be environmental, business and consumer-related, and public sector-related. The Bill brings about a significant reduction in harmful emissions and increased environmental accountability for all stakeholders. This will also aid in better policymaking and regulation.
The air quality will improve significantly as air pollution is expected to be vastly reduced. This has immediate health and environmental benefits.
Water is another precious natural resource. The Bill will ensure that we are more resilient to drought, flooding, and coastal erosion risk. Better wastewater, groundwater and surface water management should aid in providing clean water to millions.
The policy is also expected to prevent thousands of hectares of lost habitations and also lead to the creation of new habitats every year. The government estimates that the total environmental and social benefits is expected to be £1374m.
On the business front, the Bill will provide them with regulatory certainty and stability. Companies will be allowed to furnish documents electronically and this will save them up to £4.3m over the entire appraisal period.
The public sector is likely to benefit significantly from collaborative working across all bodies and through the exchange of knowledge, skills, and data. The asset quality of the public sector is likely to improve substantially owing to better resilience to drought, flooding and better erosion risk management.
Besides the ones mentioned above, there are some other benefits as well. One such benefit is the chemicals regulation. Following the UK’s departure from the European Union, the Environment Bill will allow the Secretary of State to take further steps where necessary to ensure a seamless transition to a UK chemical regime.
One of the key highlights of the Bill is that it aims to deliver environmental ambition at local levels as well. The central government and the local authorities will work together to attain the noble objective of building a sustainable environment. The local authorities have to play a crucial role for the Bill to have a substantial impact, while the Bill empowers them by taking several steps. These include giving them increased and improved powers to make quick decisions, providing more policy certainty for local developers, and ensuring that all new developments enhance biodiversity.
The success of the Environment Bill will be assessed regularly. The OEP will have a significant role to play in this. The OEP will independently monitor and report annually on the progress made during the past year. These reports will help the government take stock and re-evaluate as and when necessary. The objective and framework certainly seem extremely promising. It is now a matter of working together and implementing it successfully.
References and Further Reading
Impact Assessment from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Policy Paper (Environment Bill 2020): Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs