Government largely off track meeting environmental ambitions

Damning report by the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) finds the Government remains largely off track to meet its environmental ambitions.

bird by the river kendall
Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

Formed shortly after the Environment Act 2021 gained Royal Assent, the OEP is the new public body to protect and improve the environment by holding the Westminster Government to account on its environmental law requirements. As part of this overarching objective, the OEP monitors if targets are being met, including the long term targets set in the Environment Act and their corresponding targets in the Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP).  

The recent report is disappointing in that it finds the Government to be largely off-track to meet its stated ambitions, statutory targets and other commitments, and says that it must speed-up and scale-up its efforts to restore, protect and enhance the environment at the level required.  Failure to meet the set targets is partly due to the lack of a delivery plan, without which it’s difficult to know how and if targets will be met, and to guage accurately if we are on track. 

According to the OEP, progress over the past year in three of the ten areas has been ‘limited’ and have raised particular concerns about challenges including water quality, water scarcity, sustainable resource use and climate adaptation. In the other seven areas covered by the plan has been determined as ‘mixed’ by the OEP. The report also raised issues regarding transparency from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) as the OEP stated that it was unable to assess progress against 15 of the 40 targets due to “lack of sufficient evidence”. The OEP do acknowledge that progress has been made in achieving significant reductions in some air and chemical pollutants.

Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair of the OEP, said: “While some progress has been made, substantial challenges remain. Our assessment is that government is largely off track to meet its ambitions and its legal obligations. Government must speed up its efforts. Many policies are in the early stages or are long awaited. In some areas the right policies are in place, but now must be implemented quickly”

“It must also scale up its efforts. Change has to happen at the right scale, if we are to change the trajectory. We give many examples in our report where scaling up is required. Lastly, government’s plans must stack up. Government must be clear itself and set out transparently how it will change the nation’s trajectory to the extent now needed, in good time”, she added.

The Government’s delivery plan must come urgently. The State of Nature report highlighted the serious decline in species abundance over the last 50 years. As the OEP Chair confirmed, good works may already have been done, but we are a long off the targets. The OEP has stated that the prospect of delivering most EIP targets is not fixed and that there is still time for the Government to intervene to drive more rapid, positive progress – speed and scale being of the essence.