The UK’s green future outside the European Union will move a step closer today (Wednesday, February 26) with the Second Reading of the Environment Bill.

New powers were added to the bill during the stage, including on a clause to ensure future UK governments will have to consider whether new legislation will reduce existing environmental protection laws.

Opening the Bill’s Second Reading, Environment Secretary George Eustice said the Bill is a keystone in the Government’s vision to deliver the “most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”.

Eustice said: “We need to act now to turn things around. This Government was elected on the strongest ever manifesto for the environment and this bill is critical to implementing that commitment.

The Prime Minister is clear – and so am I – we will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth.

“This transformative Bill is at the heart of our work. It will see us recycling more and wasting less, breathing cleaner air, planting trees, safeguarding forests, and supporting nature recovery as we work to tackle climate change and reach net-zero emissions.

“And this is just the start. 2020 is a massive year for our natural environment and the UK will take its place at the head of the world’s table when we host the COP 26 climate change conference in Glasgow, driving real change across the planet.”

Eustice explained that the first half of the bill sets out five guiding environmental principles for terrestrial and marine environments for policy-makers.

These are:

  • That polluters should pay;
  • That harm should be prevented;
  • If it can’t be prevented, it should be rectified;
  • That the environment should be taken into consideration across Government policy; and
  • That a precautionary approach should be taken.

The Environment Bill sets out how we plan to protect and improve the natural environment in the UK, legislating to ensure the environment is front and centre in our future policymaking.

The Bill will:

  • Transform environmental governance and put environmental principles into law;
  • Establish the new independent Office for Environmental Protection to hold the government to account on the environment;
  • Introduce legally-binding targets to drive action by this and all future governments to significantly improve air quality, nature, water, and resource and waste efficiency.

Acting as one of the key vehicles for delivering the bold vision set out in the 25-Year Environment Plan, it brings about urgent and meaningful action to tackle the environmental and climate crisis we are facing.

Today, just a few weeks after the Bill was introduced, the primary legislation is being brought forward for Second Reading in the House of Commons. This is the first opportunity for MPs to debate the new Bill.

The Bill sets a new and ambitious domestic framework for environmental governance as we maximise the opportunities created by leaving the European Union.

This landmark bill aims to enhance wildlife, tackle air pollution, and improve the resilience of water supplies.

The Second Reading of the Environment Bill is due to conclude on Wednesday evening.

The Bill will then go to Committee Stage, with Report Stage and Third Reading following this, before transferring to the House of Lords for further scrutiny.