Do you think it’s bizarre that our government(s) tell us constantly that their actions are for the good of the country, but they always seem to postpone anything for the good of the planet?
The case in point is the decision to postpone, yet again, an Environment Bill that has been waiting for a reading in the House of Commons since 2018.
Campaigners say the delay will harm action to lessen air pollution and improve water quality.
Ministers say the delay is necessary because of the amount of time being taken up by the Covid-19 crisis.
Dispassionate onlookers might say this discussion seems pointless anyway, as Boris Johnson’s government has resoundingly failed to cope with the pandemic on any meaningful level.
The Bill sets out a framework by which ministers can impose new targets on vital issues like air pollution and water quality, waste, resource use and biodiversity, which were previously regulated under EU directives.
But the bill as it stands makes these into long-term targets, meaning direct efforts to cut pollution may be left in limbo.
If passed into law, the legislation will create a new Office for Environmental Protection – a watchdog body that campaigners fear will not be sufficiently independent or powerful under the current bill.
The bill also includes measures to ensure consumers in the UK no longer contribute to the destruction of vast swaths of forested land overseas, through new rules intended to stop the import of goods to the UK from areas of illegally deforested land. UK businesses will need to show that the products they source that could come from at-risk areas – wood, but also soy, palm oil, beef, leather and other key commodities – are from supply chains free from deforestation. Breaches of the rules will incur fines.
So all in all, the Bill looks like reducing, rather than increasing, environmental protections.
It seems to This Writer that, if it must be delayed, then this is an opportunity to do some background work.
I remember hearing that US president Lyndon Johnson used to do much of his work in the backrooms of Congress, persuading (I won’t speculate on his methods) Congresspeople to support his laws – or finding ways to make them acceptable.
Perhaps if the Tories currently working on the Environment Bill – Rebecca Pow is named in the Guardian report – spend the spring and summer polishing it up to ensure that there are quantifiable short- and medium-term targets, and their new Office for Environmental Protection actually has the clout to live up to its name, then the amount of discussion time in Parliament could be cut down, the Bill could sail through and everybody will be (belatedly) happy.
But that may be too much like common sense.
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