Why Boris Johnson should strengthen the UK Environment Bill

The UK Environment Bill could become a strong law that helps protect nature – including forests, water and air quality and the climate – both at home and abroad. But only if the government gets the details right.


The government has repeatedly promised to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation, and they claim their environment bill will put in place a new legal framework to make this possible. 

Getting the bill right is vital. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, and has a huge environmental footprint abroad as a result of many of the goods and products we import and consume. 

On October 20th, the House of Commons will begin to review a final round of amendments to the existing bill. This is a critical time to push the government to close some of the loopholes which would leave UK nature exposed, and to tighten the legislation to prevent products linked to deforestation from entering the UK, including soy, beef, palm oil, cocoa, coffee and rubber.

Improvements are needed to protect nature in the UK

After months of tireless campaigning since 2019, the bill now contains a number of important improvements thanks to pressure from people like you. One of the biggest improvements since this August is that England will now be the first country ever to have a target in law to halt nature’s decline. 

A big part of what matters now is action to actually deliver on those targets. For a start, that means banning industrial fishing in our Marine Protected Areas and immediately stopping the absurd practice of burning peatland, which releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. 

The government must also introduce legally binding short term targets to make sure action gets taken straight away to stop environmental destruction – an issue Greenpeace played a leading role in exposing back in 2019. Since then, many business groups and MPs across the political spectrum have spoken out in support of strengthening this part of the bill. 

We also have to be able to hold the government to account on the legal commitments they make. The Environment Bill sets up a new body (the Office for Environmental Protection), to replace European Commission functions, like being able to take the government to court when they breach environmental rules. But under the current proposals, this watchdog doesn’t have the sharp teeth – or the independence from the government – needed to serve its purpose.

How the Environment Bill could help stop global deforestation

Another part of the UK’s new environment legislation is designed to tackle deforestation abroad, through limiting the imports of agricultural commodities – such as soya, palm oil and cocoa, or products that are derived from them. While a welcome step forward, the draft proposal has several major gaps. As it stands, the bill won’t actually tackle deforestation around the world – and could make things even worse.

Deforestation, due to the trade in products like soya for animal feed, palm oil and cocoa, is driving the climate crisis. The UK’s industrial meat and dairy sector feeds millions of tonnes of soya to chickens, pigs and dairy cows – but it’s driving deforestation in some of Brazil’s most critical habitats.  

In a new, urgent push to protect forests, Greenpeace and other groups are calling on Boris Johnson to ban all agricultural commodities linked to deforestation from entering the UK. 

Current UK government proposals for a deforestation law in the Environment Bill aim only to ban products linked to “illegal” deforestation, defined according to local laws. This leaves the door wide open for products linked to “legal” deforestation and incentivises producer countries, like Brazil, to legalise even more forest destruction.

Right now, the Brazilian Congress is pushing through a suite of destructive bills that would make more deforestation legal, threatening the very existence of Indigenous Peoples, endangering wildlife and worsening the climate crisis. 

Weak UK environment law would continue fuelling the Amazon’s worsening fires 

While the Environment Bill is debated in parliament, the Amazon and other globally important forests are under unprecedented attack. 

Agricultural expansion is once again driving deliberate burning of these ecosystems. 2021 has seen some of the worst fires in history, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the integrity of the Amazon biome and the survival of Indigenous Peoples. 

By allowing products linked to deforestation to enter the UK, Boris Johnson and his government are in effect helping to fuel the fires raging in forests across Brazil.

Sign the petition demanding Boris Johnson show leadership ahead of the global climate conference by closing the loopholes in the Environment Bill to properly protect nature at home and abroad.

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