Pressure mounts on Defra to release environment strategy

An array of sustainability and environmental experts have told edie the Government must "stop dithering" and publish its long-awaited 25-Year Environment Plan, after a leaked version of the document was criticised for providing "grand promises with zero detail".

The comprehensive Plan, led by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) and the UK’s Natural Capital Committee, was initially due to be released last year. But delays have left green groups concerned about exactly when, and indeed if, the full document will be released.

It is understood that a 46-page final version of the Plan has been agreed upon by the Government, but ministers are thought to be keen on postponing the official document’s release until the future of the Brexit negotiations are made clearer.

The BBC this week reported it has obtained a draft version of the strategy, which maps out various pledges to improve specific areas of the environment including water, air quality, resource efficiency and the low-carbon economy. Environmentalists who have seen the plan believe it is full of good thinking but lacking in practical solutions, the BBC claims. 

ClientEarth chief executive James Thornton told BBC News: “To protect nature, we need targets, investment and accountability, not grand promises with zero detail. We have been waiting for the 25-year plan for over a year. This version is 46 pages of empty words, and now it seems the final plan might not even be published. This is not good enough.

“The Government must uphold strong and effective laws to protect the environment. This is especially important as the UK is leaving the EU, so the laws and funding that we have depended on to protect nature for many years are under threat.”

‘Lead by example’

In light of these latest developments, a host of environmental groups have been quick to stress to edie that Defra must publish the framework “as soon as possible” in order to reverse a decline in Britain’s natural environment and unlock private sector investment in natural capital and resource efficiency.

A spokesperson for sustainability advocacy association Aldersgate Group said: “Businesses are keen to work with government to develop the detail of the plan so that it can help support the increase of financial flows into projects that enhance the state of our natural environment and the long-term benefits it provides to society and the economy.

“The Government can help unlock new markets in ecosystem services via smart regulation or lead by example by developing a procurement policy that favours businesses with a focus on resource efficiency and natural capital enhancements.”

These views were echoed by Friends of the Earth’s nature campaigner Sandra Bell, who is also concerned about the maintenance of existing environmental laws as primary legislation post-Brexit.

“Ministers must stop dithering and publish their long-awaited plan for improving our natural environment over the next 25 years,” Bell said. “The Government must also make it clear that current EU environmental protections will be maintained or strengthened post-Brexit.

“Thriving nature is essential to our wellbeing, so it’s in all our interests to reverse its decline. Bold Government action is urgently needed – with strong legal-backing to make it effective.”

When contacted by edie, a Defra spokesperson underlined the Government’s commitment to publish a long-term, ambitious plan. “Our ambition is to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we found it,” the spokesperson said. “We are committed to publishing a long-term plan that builds on our long history of wildlife and environmental protection, and sets out a new approach to managing the environment.”

But the Environmental Industries Commission’s executive director Matthew Farrow labelled this statement a “meaningless platitude” and is calling for tangible action. 

“Stakeholders want to work with ministers to deliver a plan which both enthuses the public and sets out a clear framework showing what environmental outcomes we want and how they will be achieved,” Farrow said. “The Plan also needs to work well with the Industrial Strategy so that ‘green growth’ becomes a reality.”

Luke Nicholls & George Ogleby

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