Government failing on environment targets, watchdog finds

The government is falling ‘far short’ on progress to achieve environmental targets laid out in the Environment Improvement Plan (EIP), according to a new report. 

Out of 23 environmental targets, new watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), found that the government was off track on all of them.

The 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP) first set out in 2018 includes a range of steps and statutory targets to improve the environment, but little progress has been made in achieving these.

32 environment trends were analysed and just nine of these were found to be improving, while eleven were static and eight were worsening. Air quality is one such trend where some improvements have been found, with a decrease in levels of PM2.5, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide, as well as increasingly compliant vehicles in areas with Clean Air Zones. 

However, the report acknowledged a severe decline in species abundance, a lack of data reporting and little action taken to improve climate resilience. It’s also thought that four out of five legally binding commitments to reduce emissions by 2030 will be missed. 

people walking on green grass field near waterfalls during daytime

OEP Chair Dame Glenys Stacey said: ‘We have little good news to report. There have been some improvements in air quality in recent years. People’s engagement with nature is also up markedly. Both of these welcome developments are in part associated with societal changes brought about by lockdown. Yet many of the extremely worrying environmental trends that we spoke of in our first monitoring report remain unchecked.

‘Our assessment shows that the current pace and scale of action will not deliver the changes necessary to significantly improve the environment in England. But there is clear opportunity to change course.’

Agriculture must change, according to the report which acknowledged how vital it is for farmers to collaborate with the government on environmental aims. Incentives to encourage the use of land to boost environmental health were recommended.

It was also acknowledged that while the UK ‘continued to play its part on the international stage’, it was at risk of being outpaced on climate action at home, as the government missed deadlines for statutory targets and is lacking in its approach to climate adaptation.

The government is due to publish a statutory review of the EIP by the end of January, which is hoped will be more robust at tackling environmental challenges.

The OEP has said this should include clear policies and commitments, establish cross-government collaboration, have an overall delivery plan and set ambitious targets in areas which most need attention.

Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: ‘The OEP has delivered a clear warning that rapid, concerted action and investment is needed across Government to deliver the big green promise of halting the decline of nature by 2030.

‘To halt the decline of nature, the days of fluffy wish lists, and back-of-the-settee funding for nature policy must end. The Environmental Improvement Plan needs scientifically sound delivery plans to stop the decline in wildlife, backed by the funding to make it happen.

‘Of course, that means getting the whole of Government pressing in the same direction. DEFRA can’t make a success of restoring nature while DLUHC dallies on planning reform, and while BEIS presses ahead with the destructive deregulatory agenda of the Retained EU Law Bill. The Prime Minister should sponsor the Environmental Improvement Plan and rally the whole of Government to deliver it.’

Photo by reisetopia


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