Office for Environmental Protection calls on Government to strengthen ‘unambitious’ nature targets

The OEP has welcomed a few of the targets, but notes that others need to be amended

The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has today published its advice in response to Defra’s consultation on the proposed environmental targets.

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. 

The OEP has 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.

Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair of the OEP, said: “There is an urgent need to make significant progress over the next few years, in protecting, restoring and improving the environment.

“The statutory targets finally agreed will be an important stimulus and should so far as possible promote immediate as well as sustained action. We urge government to set statutory targets that are sufficiently comprehensive and that demonstrate the level of ambition needed to significantly improve the natural environment, as required under the Environment Act.”

The OPE also wans that three of the targets are “unambitious or lack sufficient urgency to reflect the scale of change needed”. These include the post 2030 species recovery target, the wildlife-rich habitats target and the PM2.5 air quality targets.

Earlier this year the OEP published its  ‘Taking Stock’ report, which assessed progress to date towards the 25 Year Environment Plan. The Plan was launched in January 2018 under Theresa May, with the aim of supporting an overarching vision to leave nature in England in a better state for the next generation.

The OEP’s report finds that progress towards the Plan’s goals has been slow overall, with nature in England continuing to undergo “worrying and persistent environmental decline”. The report outlines evidence documenting the decline of river water quality, persistent issues with poor air quality in urban areas, mismanagement of seafloor and several other negative trends.

To change the course of these trends and put England on track to meeting the Plan’s ambitions, the OEP urged the Government to give nature restoration and preservation cross-department support and to treat the issue with “the same urgency, gravitas and awareness as the vision of [reaching] net-zero.”.

The report sets out a string of recommendations for delivering this ambitious, joined-up and impactful approach, arguing that several can be delivered through amendments and additions to the Environment Bill. The Bill received Royal Assent in November 2021 – more than two years after it was first introduced. Its purpose is to preserve and strengthen environmental protections post-Brexit.

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie