MPs call for immediate publication of UK environment targets

The Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has sent a letter to Environment Secretary Therese Coffey, calling for the immediate publication of new long-term targets for air quality, water, biodiversity under the Environment Bill and for clarity on key resource and waste strategies.

MPs call for immediate publication of UK environment targets

The EAC has called for the targets to be published ahead of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) COP15 summit next month

The Chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, has today (22 November) written to the Environment Secretary, asking for a “culture of delay” within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to be addressed.

The department failed to meet a statutory deadline of 31 October to confirm targets for nature that are included under the Environment Bill. The Bill received Royal Assent in November 2021.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey told the House of Commons last week that she was “disappointed” that the targets were not yet able to be published.

The EAC is calling on the department to set out a publication timetable for the targets, ideally before negotiations continue on a new global treaty for nature in Canada from 7 December. The EAC is also calling for clarity on the publication of documents on initiatives such as the Extended Producer Responsibility scheme for packaging, the Chemicals Strategy, the Environmental Principles Policy Statement and the National Action Plan for Pesticides.

Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Rt Hon Philip Dunne MP, said: “In common with many other stakeholders in the environmental sector, the Committee is increasingly concerned to note delays in substantive policy progress at DEFRA in crucial areas where the Government now has control of policy.

“The country is facing grave challenges as we look to reverse the decline of our precious biodiversity. Prompt, clear and decisive action is now of the utmost importance. My letter to the Environment Secretary clearly sets out for her the Committee’s views on the policy areas which urgently need clarity after – in some cases – years of delay.

“I am confident that the new Environment Secretary, who is no stranger to DEFRA, will swiftly get a grip on these issues which have been backed up in her department. She will know that if we want the UK to be a global leader on sustainability, we must make more urgent progress. The Committee expects to see targets under the Environment Act published before global environmental leaders come together to discuss protecting biodiversity at next month’s landmark COP15 conference.”

The EAC has called for the targets to be published ahead of the final set of discussions on a global biodiversity treaty, which will be discussed as part of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s (CBD) COP15 summit next month.

The summit was originally planned for Kunming, China, in 2020. It was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and subsequently split into two parts, with the first part successfully completed in Kunming in October 2021 and the second meeting in Kunming taking place this spring.

The second meeting was unsuccessful, with no final deal agreed. Interim talks in Nairobi were, therefore, added to the UN’s calendar for this summer, and a final meeting for Kunming in autumn. However, China saw a spike in Covid-19 cases in the first quarter of the year and places including Beijing and Shanghai were put into lockdown. It has since been moved to Canada, and is scheduled to commence next month.

In its current form, the post-2020 framework includes a headline ambition of halting nature loss by 2030 ad delivering a net-positive impact on nature thereafter. There have been calls for a more ambitious agreement which would not, technically, allow nature loss to accelerate in the coming years.

Defra updated the draft Policy Statement on Environmental Principles in May 2022. One of the listed principles, the integration principle, states that policymakers should seek opportunities to embed environmental protection and restoration in all fields of policy that impact nature. Another, the prevention principle, states that all Government policy should aim to prevent environmental harm at the source. Reaction to these principles has been lukewarm at best, with many major green groups expressing concern that they will result in a downgrading of ambitions and actions. 

Earlier this year, the UK’s post-Brexit watchdog urged the Government to revisit its approach to environmental targets, warning that “comprehensive” statutory targets need to be introduced to help protect and restore the environment.

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) welcomed the goal of halting the decline in species abundance by 2030, but notes that Defra’s current plans “provide little clarity” on how these proposed targets will work alongside existing environmental commitments.

Specifically, the OEP has stated that the Government will need to develop a suite of targets to help meet the 25-Year Environment Plan. The OPE calls for associated apex targets and interim targets to be introduced to drive progress in the short-term.

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