The environment watchdog reports that government failures are posing a threat to nature in England.
The environment watchdog has released a scathing report revealing that the government is not meeting the majority of its environmental goals, putting nature at risk of a downward spiral that cannot be reversed.
According to the report released today, Dame Glenys Stacey, who leads the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), warns that England will not achieve its target of stopping the decline of nature by 2030 if immediate action is not taken. Additionally, the country risks missing other critical nature goals as well.
In the previous year, Rishi Sunak unveiled the Environment Improvement Plan (EIP), which established enforceable goals for government officials to achieve regarding nature and the environment. The PM stated that it would “facilitate advancements with revitalized determination.”
The OEP, established as an environmental oversight body post-Brexit, has determined that achieving the targets is in jeopardy and unlikely to occur unless there is a prompt implementation of policy changes to enhance nature.
The report indicates that the government is falling short on nearly all aspects of environmental protection, including the restoration of native British species, water quality, and regulation of harmful chemicals and pesticides.
The Environment Act of 2021, which has replaced EU law, includes legally binding targets to promote environmental protection. If any country within the bloc fails to meet these standards, the EU can impose sanctions. However, since the UK is no longer part of the EU, this is now the sole method for holding ministers accountable for safeguarding the environment.
Natalie Prossed, CEO of the OEP, stated that pursuing legal measures against the government would be constantly considered if they fail to meet environmental goals.
The report, covering the time frame of April 1, 2022 to March 31, 2023, discovered that out of 40 environmental goals established for England, the government is primarily making progress towards four, making partial progress towards 11, and mostly falling behind on 10. The advancement towards an additional 15 goals could not be evaluated due to inadequate evidence.
Stacey stated that the environment is not irreversibly locked in a downward spiral, but negative patterns persist, particularly in regards to climate change. It is crucial that action is taken immediately, but that does not necessarily mean starting from the beginning. Our partners in government and other areas have informed us that the mandated goals for species abundance are challenging, but attainable. However, there is growing doubt that they will be met.
Stacey expressed disappointment in the government’s delay in implementing policies to address water and air pollution and increase the population of certain species. She also criticized the government for taking a year to respond to the OEP’s previous report and not providing a clear plan for meeting the EIP.
The government has not effectively put its policies into action, with examples such as a sluggish pace of tree planting, which needs to be increased twofold in order to reach the EIP’s goal for woodland coverage. Additionally, the government has not fulfilled its promise to provide necessary chemicals and land-use strategies, which the OEP deems crucial for achieving the targets.
“Stacey stated that even with the government’s revised EIP, it remains unclear how they will effectively protect, restore, and enhance the environment on the necessary scale. It is also uncertain if they will be able to meet the required statutory and interim targets, as no detailed plans have been made public.”
She stated that the government needs to accelerate its efforts. While some policies are still in the early stages or have been long awaited, others are already established but need to be put into action promptly.
According to Steve Reed, the Labour party would take swift action to counter these developments if they were in control, stating: “The Tories are ruining our scenic landscapes. This study serves as a strong accusation against the government and further proves that our beloved countryside is not secure under Tory leadership.”
“They have departed from the UK, leaving it as one of the most environmentally depleted nations in the world. Our rivers, lakes, and seas are now facing unprecedented levels of pollution from toxic sewage.”
Labour is known for their efforts in preserving nature, as opposed to the Conservatives. They have established national parks, opened coastal footpaths, and implemented the first laws to safeguard the environment. Labour will continue to build upon this history and bring back a sense of pride to our rural areas.
Minister of Environment Rebecca Pow stated that the government has successfully developed or revived an area equivalent to the size of Dorset since 2010. In the last six months, they have also enforced a prohibition on disposable plastics, initiated the establishment of a new national park, planted approximately 5 million trees, and collaborated with farmers to initiate 34 landscape restoration projects.
“We have consistently emphasized that our goals are challenging and will require extensive efforts to accomplish. However, we are wholeheartedly dedicated to building a more environmentally-friendly nation for the sake of future generations, and we are determined to push even harder and faster in our efforts to preserve nature.”
“We will thoroughly examine the Office for Environmental Protection’s discoveries and provide a response in a timely manner.”