On 30 January 2020, The Environment Bill 2019-2020 was introduced to Parliament in the 1st Reading, without debate, by Secretary of State for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, The Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers. The Bill was announced in the previous Queen’s Speech on 14 October 2019 and received a 2nd Reading on 28 October 2019 but fell when Parliament was dissolved ahead of the general election.

The Environment Bill seeks to address the environmental and climate crisis we are facing. Existing targets are largely derived from European Union law. Therefore, this Bill utilises the opportunity for reform created by leaving the European Union to set a new domestic framework for environmental governance.  The Environment Bill 2019-2020 will bring a high level of change to food production across the UK.

In the UK, the environment is largely a devolved matter, although many of the issues in the Bill are for powers for both the Secretary of State and devolved administrations. The Environment Bill in Parliament on the 30th January 2020 sets out the future framework for environmental governance for the years to come as the UK transitions to independence from the EU.

The government has announced its intention to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050 and has already committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12.3, one aim of which is to reduce food losses along production and supply chains by 2030.

The Environment Bill 2019-2020 focuses on key environmental issues such as improving the natural environment; reporting on environmental protection; the introduction of the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP); waste and resource efficiency; air quality; recall of products that do not meet environmental standards; water; nature and biodiversity; conservation covenants; and the regulation of chemicals. The Bill aims to make the environment central to policymaking and positions the OEP as a replacement to the European Commission. The principle objectives of the OEP are to protect and improve the natural environment.

What it means for food and farming sustainability

On 27 June 2019, the government acted to address climate change by setting a target to reach net-zero emissions, making the UK the first major economy to do so. The Environment Bill is the next step in the government response to the scientific case, and growing demand, for a change in environmental protection and recovery.

The Bill leaves scope for amendments to two pieces of legislation retained in the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. The REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulation regulates the manufacture, placing on the market and use of chemicals and the REACH Enforcement Regulations 2008 set out how the requirements of the REACH Regulation are enforced. This may result in subsequent changes to chemical use in the food and farming sectors as the legislation is updated in response to emerging needs or ambitions for the effective management of chemicals.

This Environment Bill will provide for the creation of new internal drainage boards to manage local water levels and flood risk. The internal drainage boards are funded by the communities they serve. The Bill amends the Land Drainage Act 1991 to facilitate updates to the calculations to correctly apportion expenses between agricultural landowners (via drainage rates) and local authorities (via the special levy). Since internal drainage boards are funded locally new boards will only be established where there is local support.

The Bill also reforms elements of abstraction licensing to align it with the 25 Year Environment Plan goal of restoring water bodies to as close to a natural state as possible. It allows the variation or revocation of abstraction licences without the regulator being liable to compensate the licence holder under certain conditions.

The Environment Bill will ensure that all businesses are adopting legitimate waste management practices with the introduction of an electronic waste tracking system. It will also delegate greater powers to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs to combat waste crime; improving access to evidence, powers of entry and granting the ability to keep fixed penalty notices appropriate.

The Bill aims to support and enable landowners and managers, developers, local government and conservation organisations to work together to create or restore wildlife-rich habitats to enable wildlife to recover and thrive. It allows landowners to make long term, legally binding commitments to conservation. A conservation covenant is a private, voluntary agreement between a landowner and a ‘responsible body’ intended to conserve the environment and ensure the delivery of health and social benefits.

Transition period

The Environment Bill 2019-2020 will mean extensive change and opportunity for the food and farming sector over the coming decade and helps to address significant environmental challenges as the UK sets out on its own in a post-Brexit World. The change is potentially transformative to the agriculture sector and will require a great deal of work and focus to support the transition.

The date for the 2nd Reading of Environment Bill 2019-2020 has not yet been confirmed, however, ADAS will watch what will now be a rapidly evolving policy environment and bring updates and insights on how the new legislation will impact upon UK agriculture and food production.

If you want to know more about the impact of the Environment Bill on your area of interest and to discuss our wide range of services to support the transition – please contact Sarah Wynn.

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