A New Environment Bill for the UK – but will action match the rhetoric?

As the Government announces a new Environment Bill for the UK, promising a legal framework for the Government’s stated ambition to ‘leave the environment in a better state over the next 25 years’, many in the energy, environmental and sustainability sectors are left scratching their heads as to whether anything tangible will actually come of this.

The goal of the new Bill is laudable, with some bodies noting that it should provide solid legal backing to the Government’s pledges on environmental protection and sustainability.  However, this is all set against the backdrop of a recent history of the Government actually weakening legal environmental protections rather than strengthening them.

The examples are numerous: the relaxation of planning laws that protect the Green Belt, diminishing support for renewables, no clear plan for the scaling up of innovative Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) technologies, refusal to permit the development of the potentially game-changing Swansea barrage, support for fracking, and any firm plans for Building Regulations to move towards zero-carbon having been put on ice.  As such, the messages coming from Government are, at best, mixed – with high level platitudes and promises of a greener tomorrow actually being met with granular policies that would seem to be at complete odds with this aim.  Couple this with the current uncertainties around the post-Brexit legislative landscape, and one is left wondering whether the Government will actually have the time or energy to give this any real focus.

At ETS, we have always strongly advocated sound energy management and the driving of efficiencies in energy consumption. Whatever the motivations of our clients in this area – be they financial, procedural or environmental – the outcomes in terms of the sustainability agenda are the same: reduced carbon emissions and a diminished impact on the natural environment.

Our MD, Phil Warren comments: “The Government has a mixed history in this area – often promising more progress towards a low-carbon economy, but then seemingly undermining it though poorly planned formal policy. Whilst we support the announcement of the Environment Bill, we do so with bated breath. The case for improving energy efficiency within business and industry has never been stronger, and will go a long way towards assisting the Government to achieve the goals of this Bill”.

So, as with many in the numerous sectors that have an interest in the Government’s announcement, we are left wondering whether this will amount to anything of substance in practice. Given the Government’s recent track record in this area, our position on the likely impact of the Environment Bill is probably best described as being ‘cautiously hopeful’.

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