Queen’s Speech climate measures ‘missed opportunity to show world leadership’

Campaigners also called for the urgent progress on the UK’s long-awaited Environment Bill

Daisy Dunne
Climate Correspondent
Tuesday 11 May 2021 17:00
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The Queen’s Speech was a “missed opportunity” for taking stronger action on the climate crisis with measures included falling “far short”, commentators have said.

In a speech in the House of Lords on Tuesday, the Queen officially reopened parliament and set out the government’s priorities for the year ahead.

In a short address covering a number of issues, the Queen made a brief mention of the UK’s priorities for tackling the climate and ecological crises and its role as host of Cop26, a key set of UN climate talks to be held in Glasgow in November.

“My government will invest in new green industries to create jobs while protecting the environment,” she said.

“The UK is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and will continue to lead the way internationally by hosting the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.”

The Queen also alluded to the return of the Environment Bill, but there was no mention of specific new legal targets for air pollution or stemming nature loss, as some campaigners had hoped for.

Reacting to the address on Twitter, Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the proposals outlined fell “far short”.

“We need a plan, not more empty pledges,” she said. “A lasting recovery from Covid has to be a green recovery with investment in green jobs across [the] UK.”

Matthew Lockwood, a senior lecturer in energy policy at the University of Sussex Business School, added that the speech should have been used to get the UK “on track” for meeting its short-term climate targets.

“The Queen’s Speech is a missed opportunity for a renewed and concrete vision for meeting our carbon reduction targets,” he said.

“The government’s policies ... see the UK drift off track for net zero [by 2050] by the mid-2020s.

“The December 2020 10-point plan, in theory, makes up the gap but there was only £4bn of new funding announced then, so it’s disappointing that there is nothing new in the Queen’s Speech given that this is the year that we are hosting Cop26 and we should be showing the world leadership on this issue.”

Campaign groups also called on the government to bring back the Environment Bill as “a matter of urgency”.

The bill, a landmark set of proposals for improving the UK’s natural environment post-Brexit, has been repeatedly delayed since it was first proposed in 2018.

In her speech, the Queen mentioned the return of the bill, saying: “Legislation will set binding environmental targets. Legislation will also be brought forward to ensure that the UK has, and promotes, the highest standards of animal welfare.”

The government also confirmed that the bill is to be amended with new measures to prevent sewage from flowing into rivers during storms.

A government spokesperson told The Independent that the bill would return to parliament in the “coming weeks and months”, but added there was not yet a “precise” time for its return.

However, Craig Bennett, chief executive of the Wildlife Trusts, said the bill must be brought before parliament before the end of the month.

“This was the third successive Queen’s Speech which has promised to pass an Environment Bill,” he said.

“With half of wildlife already in long-term decline, there’s no time to lose – the government must bring the bill back as a matter of urgency – and proceed to deliver it as quickly as possible.

“We cannot tackle the climate crisis and meet our net-zero target without similar ambition to meet the nature crisis head on – the two are inseparable. If the government wants to keep its commitment to passing the bill ahead of Cop26 in November, we must see the bill back in parliament before the end of this month.”

Beccy Speight, chief executive of the RSPB, agreed and said: “While the Environment Bill made a welcome return in the Queen’s Speech today, it is imperative that it is debated as soon as possible.

“There is a growing gap between what our prime minister says and what his government actually delivers.

“Our politicians have acknowledged that we are in a nature and climate emergency, but our government seems unwilling to act urgently and with a matching degree of ambition to the growing body of scientific reports showing that the UK’s wildlife is not simply at risk but is disappearing.”

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