Ahead of the second reading of the Environment Bill on Wednesday 26 February, the Aldersgate Group has published its briefing on the key changes it wishes to see. The Environment Bill is a vital opportunity to establish a new, ambitious and robust governance framework that protects and enhances the natural environment. Businesses fully support the strong enforcement of environmental law and the protection of the natural environment as a healthy environment is essential to a competitive economy - with most business models being reliant in one way or another on natural assets.
To realise the government’s ambition of having “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”, the Aldersgate Group highlights three changes that would make the Bills stronger from a business perspective:
Reacting to today’s government reshuffle, Signe Norberg, Public Affairs Manager of the Aldersgate Group, said: “With a rejuvenated ministerial team, it is crucial that the government turns its attention to the environmental, climate and clean growth agenda. With COP26 only nine months away, the UK can host the summit in a position of strength by putting forward a clear policy plan for delivering its net zero emissions target, progressing its Environment Bill and developing a trade policy that is consistent with its climate and environmental ambitions.
Signe Norberg added: “Having a minister in charge of COP26 will hopefully focus minds and enable rapid progress in organising the conference. UK climate diplomacy now needs to double down on the key issues that will be most contentious at the summit, including developing a viable mechanism to support countries that are already vulnerable to climate impacts and reaching agreement on a rulebook for international co-operation and carbon markets under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.”
Reacting to today’s speech by the Prime Minister, Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group said: “It's encouraging to hear the Prime Minister speak unequivocally about the urgency of acting on climate change. Hosting the most important climate summit since the Paris Agreement places a huge responsibility on the UK’s shoulders. Getting nations around the world to increase their emission reduction pledges at the summit and ensuring that developing economies and vulnerable nations get adequate financial support will be critical to the long-term credibility of global climate talks. A successful outcome at COP26 must therefore become a central, cross-government priority from now on."
"To maximise its influence at COP26, the government must ensure that its domestic and global climate policy agendas are fully co-ordinated. In practice, this means publishing a policy plan well ahead of the summit, setting out how the UK will put itself on a credible track to achieve its net zero emissions target. It will also require that the UK’s upcoming free trade agreements are consistent with and support the delivery of this target.” 
Nick Molho added: “Many businesses across the Aldersgate Group membership have already publicly committed to net zero and science-based targets and are taking meaningful action to deliver these. However, government must now recognise that policy support – in particular in areas that are hard to decarbonise – will be essential to help progressive businesses achieve their ambitions and ensure that their competitors are required to follow suit.”
 The Aldersgate Group will publish a new report in March, setting out businesses’ key policy priorities to put the UK on track for net zero emissions. The Group will also publish a new policy briefing in the Spring, setting out how the UK’s free trade policy can be consistent with high environmental standards.
Reacting to the announcement of the re-introduction of the Environment Bill, Nick Molho, Executive Director of the Aldersgate Group said: “Improving the state of the natural environment is essential to support a resilient and competitive economy, improve our ability to adapt to climate change and deliver much needed negative emissions to achieve the UK’s net zero target. Businesses have been keen to play an important role in this, but lack of clarity about future policy has deterred investment flowing towards the natural environment to date. That’s why we welcome the re-introduction of the Environment Bill today and the creation of a process to set legally binding long-term targets, backed up by environmental improvement plans.
The return of the Environment Bill sends an important signal to business, but more clarity is needed to ensure private sector investment rapidly materialises alongside ambitious government action. In particular, the Bill needs to clearly set out the expected ambition of future targets and how they will be set, provide for environmental improvements in each priority areas to be delivered in a cohesive way, and establish a more robust framework to incentivise successive governments to deliver on shorter-term interim targets as is the case under the Climate Change Act, where interim carbon budgets are legally binding.”
Nick Molho added: “In addition to a clear sense of direction, businesses value the reassurance provided by an independent and effective regulatory enforcement regime. We welcome the broad enforcement powers provided to the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) and the inclusion of climate legislation within these, but believe its independence needs strengthening in the Bill. Parliament should be given a key role in scrutinising the appointment of the OEP Chair and we would welcome greater clarity in the Bill on the OEP’s multi-year budget.”