25-year Environment Plan: Seven key talking points for sustainability professionals

With the dust settled on the launch of the Government's plan to improve the environment over a generation, edie has taken a look at seven key measures that could have the biggest impact on those in the sustainability and energy management community.

Green campaigners were delighted to hear Theresa May highlight the need to enhance the natural environment during her historic speech at London Wetland Centre yesterday (11 January). Her pledge to deliver a Green Brexit, pitched alongside an insistence that economic growth and sustainability can go hand in hand, will have gone down well in all environmental quarters.

There has been a much more mixed reaction to the long-anticipated environment plan that was launched by the PM. Some within the green community have hailed the document for its sense of direction and ambition to tackle plastic waste and enhance biodiversity, while others have lamented the lack of legal basis to underpin these ambitions.

As energy and environment professionals begin to dissect the major points of the 25-year Environment Plan, edie has rounded up the seven key measures that will likely have the biggest impact on the operations of the green business community.

25-year Environment Plan: Seven key talking points…

Green business council

One of the most relevant pieces for sustainability professionals is the pledge to kickstart a green business council that will help the Government to “encourage incentivise and create the right conditions for private sector innovation in green enterprise and environmental entrepreneurialism”.

It will advise ministers on the business case for companies to assess, address and report on natural capital risks and opportunities in their operations and supply chains, and look at the options on how to develop new natural capital markets.

Following the success of the Courtauld Commitment and the plastic bag levy, the council will explore avenues for new sector-specific environmental projects.

Natural Environment Impact Fund

The Government hopes that private sector financing for natural capital assets will be driven by a new impact fund. Defra will work with a range of partners from the public, private and charitable sectors to help stimulate innovation that can generate revenue and improve the environment.

A blend of grants and loans on a long-term repayment basis at below-market rates will look to help address some of the market failures that have limited the take up of profitable natural environment projects.

The plan states that this will “encourage innovation, help to develop the evidence base and develop a track record that could lead to such projects attracting mainstream investment and the creation of new natural capital markets”.

New ‘net gain’ principle for development

The Government is seeking to embed a ‘net environmental gain’ principle for development such as housing and new transport links, to ensire that biodiversity is left in a better state than before.

This builds on the model which insists that the planning system should provide biodiversity net gains “where possible”. The policy stresses that this should not have any additional burdens for housebuilders, but the plan is vague on what this would mean in practice.

Carbon offsetting mechanisms

The plan sets out how the Government will strengthen domestic carbon offset mechanisms to encourage private sector investment and develop markets for carbon reduction. “This will encourage more businesses to offset their emissions in a cost-effective way, through planting trees”, the document states. A reporting framework will be introduced for businesses to drive market demand.

Resources and Waste strategy

The Government’s overarching plan to achieve zero avoidable waste by 2050 and double resource productivity by 2042 will be facilitated by a new national Resources and Waste strategy.

It will set out the Government’s approach to slashing waste, promoting markets for secondary materials and incentivising producers to design better products. The strategy will include plans to develop a new strategic approach to prevent, detect and deter waste crime.

Plastic waste taxes and incentives

The Government has pledged to eliminate all “avoidable” plastic waste by the end of 2042, a timescale seen as too little too late by some experts.

There are some immediate measures that sustainability professionals in the retail and manufacturing sectors will still need to consider, such as a potential tax system for containers such as takeaway boxes and the extended 5p charge on plastic bags.

Meanwhile, businesses will be able to benefit from a innovation fund for plastic waste solutions, with money set to be allocated from the UK’s £7bn R&D pot.

National green infrastructure framework

The Government has pledged to draw up a national framework of green infrastructure projects, which will involve finding out what local authorities, developers and other stakeholders think is most important. A cross-government project, led by Natural England, will review and update existing standards for green infrastructure by summer 2019.

George Ogleby

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