The Environment Act 2021 is a major piece of legislation which radically transforms environmental governance in the UK. Through four cornerstones the Act:
- establishes a new supra regulator of regulators, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which can investigate any public authority failing to comply with environmental law obligations and launch a new environmental review procedure in the courts;
- gives the environmental strategy for England a statutory basis and framework for progress reports to be scrutinised in Parliament;
- requires the government to set binding targets across various areas of environmental focus (such as biodiversity) to drive change; and
- salvages the core environmental principles that were contained in the EU Treaty, which risked being left outside of domestic law post Brexit.
However, the Act goes much further. It contains powers to make detailed regulations in several areas which will continue to emerge over the coming years as it is progressively brought into force. Amongst the many areas that the Act covers are:
- Water – requirements on water companies with regard to sewage pollution.
- Retail/manufacturing – obligations on buyers of commodities to undertake due diligence with regard to compliance with local laws on deforestation.
- Fast moving consumer goods – the introduction of drinks bottle deposit schemes.
- Property developers and investors – introducing a requirement for biodiversity net gain for developments and allowing for conservation covenants restricting land uses that interfere with conservation purposes.
- Automotive – recall of vehicles failing to comply with emissions standards.
- Hospitality – phasing out further categories of single-use plastics.
- Retail/manufacturing – extending existing obligations on producers of certain categories of goods to pay the full cost of recycling and disposal once they become waste.