The environment is the bedrock of our economy, our security and our wellbeing. Healthy soils, oceans and woodland are vital for our food security, for mitigating and preventing flooding, supporting pollinators and biodiversity more broadly, and storing carbon.
As you are aware, in December last year, the Government published its Draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill. In addition to the creation of a proposed new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – the Environment Bill will focus on four main areas: air quality, the restoration of nature, waste management and resource efficiency, and water management.
I am concerned that, while the Draft Bill is a step in the right direction, the Government’s proposals will require a clear commitment to a level of funding which the Government has previously refused to provide for our public services. I am also aware that concerns have been raised by the National Audit Office that Defra has not done enough to engage other parts of government with its approach, nor set clear accountabilities for performance.
Addressing the environmental challenges that we face requires a transformational effort from government and urgent interventions now. It is therefore vital that we protect all EU environmental rights, standards and protections as a baseline, while introducing more ambitious domestic environmental policy than that guaranteed at the European level. This must include an Agriculture Bill which enhances the responsibility for farmers to conserve, enhance and create safe habitats for birds, insects and other wild animals and a Fisheries Bill which contains a clear, stated approach towards greater sustainability.
The remainder of the Environment Bill is expected to be introduced later this year. The Government has promised to consult on the wider aspects of the Bill and I hope it will listen to the concerns raised by WWF and respond accordingly.
I can assure you that further proposals within the Environment Bill will be carefully scrutinised once it enters Parliament.