Environment Bill

Date: 12.01.21 | in: Environment

The climate emergency has been an issue I have long campaigned on and one we must get right for the future of our planet. The Environment Bill is a crucial part of this, we cannot fail to address this as there is no Planet B!

This government have made endless claims that they care about the environment. But as with everything they promise, actions speak louder than words.

In January, Tory MPs voted down vital amendments to the Environment Bill, specifically to protect clean air and reduce deforestation, and have gone further to push the Bill back – leaving us in limbo and without key environmental protections for what could be over six months.

I believe we need a gold-standard Environment Bill with bold, swift action to cut carbon, safeguard habitats and protect declining species. However, at present, the Bill is nowhere near bold enough to match the scale of the environmental and ecological crisis that we are facing.

Watch my Environment Bill speech in parliament here: https://alexsobel.co.uk/2021/01/27/environment-bill/

As a former member of the Environmental Audit Committee, I have consistently held the government to account for decisions impacting on our climate. Below are some of the key issues that came up in the Bill:

Air Quality

This really is a once-in-a-generation Bill – and it has the potential to show real ambition to deliver on restoring our natural environment, including air quality.

Dangerous and illegal levels of air pollution are impacting the health of millions of people across the country, including those most vulnerable in our communities. The link between coronavirus deaths and air quality means that action to improve our air is more critical than ever. A recent Harvard study found that an increase in fine particulate matter of just 1 microgram per cubic metre is associated with an 8% rise in COVID-19 deaths.

Labour proposed setting a clear and coherent target in the Bill in line with internationally recognised World Health Organization guidelines on air quality, however, it was rejected by the Government.

I have long been on record as supportive of the WHO targets for air quality measures. Read: my 2018 submission to the Leeds Clean Air Zone.

Tree planting

Tree planting will need to play an important role in reaching net zero through locking in carbon. Yet, the UK has some of the lowest forest cover in Europe. I believe the Government should be required to publish a tree strategy for England and to set a target of achieving 19% forest cover across the UK. I am committed to combating climate change and working towards a carbon-free future in the UK by supporting investment in new green technologies and increased environmental protections.

Biodiversity and habitats

The climate emergency demands faster and bolder action to cut emissions and save precious biodiversity and habitats. Labour voted for amendments to put parts of the Climate and Ecological Emergency Bill into law, but this was voted down by Tory MPs.

I will continue to press the Government to put its promises on climate into law and to require Ministers to report on these targets. I am committed to combating climate change and working towards a carbon-free future in the UK by supporting investment in new green technologies and increased environmental protections.

Deforestation

Mass deforestation and land conversion taking place around the world, in particular the destruction of the Amazon rainforest, which is endangering millions of plant and animal species and risks exacerbating the climate crisis. The WWF has highlighted that over a quarter of the UK’s overseas land footprint – nearly 6 million hectares – occurs in countries at high, or very high, risk of deforestation or land conversion.

I had the honour to meet the hugely respected Brazilian indigenous leader Chief Raoni last year to discuss what I could do to support the land and people of the Amazon who had been affected by huge forest fires. A committed environmentalist, Raoni has campaigned against President Bolsonaro’s plans to open up the rainforest to miners, loggers and cattle ranchers. This threat to indigenous people and the Amazon rainforest through unfettered deforestation is extremely alarming.

I believe we must ensure that any goods placed on the UK market have fully traceable and transparent supply chains and do not cause adverse environmental and human rights impacts, including deforestation, forest degradation and ecosystem conversion and degradation.

I am concerned, more widely, that the new environmental regulator proposed in the Bill – the Office for Environmental Protection – is not strong enough and lacks sufficient independence from government, which has actively weakened its powers and scope.

The Bill is nowhere near bold enough to match the scale of the environmental and ecological crisis. We need a gold-standard Environment Bill with bold, swift action to cut carbon, safeguard habitats and protect declining species. As it stands, this Bill requires significant strengthening to deliver the environmental improvements needed.

The Government needs to act quickly to ensure this vital piece of environmental legislation is on the statute book in time. Amid the coronavirus crisis, protecting public health from polluted air is more critical than ever.

But the Conservatives have already broken countless promises to be the ‘greenest government ever’. They have allowed fracking in national parks, evaded their responsibilities on air quality and cut the funding for flood defences – which is a particularly crucial failure to the communities affected by flooding in Leeds North West.

Labour believes that investing in our environment is investing in our future. We will defend and extend existing environmental protections. We will champion sustainable farming, food and fishing by investing in and promoting skills, technology, market access and innovation.

I will continue to do everything I can to be a strong voice for my constituents, particularly on issues as important as our environmental future.

All details are correct at date of publication shown at the top of the article

Sign up to Alex's newsletter