England is fast approaching ‘tipping points’ whereby some environmental declines and degradation become irreversible and action must be immediate or it will be too late.
The warning comes from the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), a watchdog organisaton created last November under the Environment Act 2021. In its new report, Taking stock: protecting, restoring and improving the environment in England, it said that tipping points include a decline in fish stock, as well as the widespread use of nutrients on farmland.
The report noted: “It has been four years since the Government published its 25 Year Environmental Plan (25YEP). Regrettably, environmental laws and government strategy and policy have not yet proved successful in significantly slowing down, halting or reversing biodiversity decline, the unsustainable use of resources, or the pollution of the environment. There is little time left. With every year passing, it is harder to reverse negative trends. Their impacts are more significant and risk becoming irreversible.”
The OEP also criticised government in its ambitions. “Progress has been slow,” it said and it called for ‘purposeful, coherent and decisive’ action. The one positive was that the recently enacted Environment Act gives government new tools and a fresh opportunity to make a difference.
“Our message to government is clear: do not delay in making the changes necessary to protect, restore and improve our environment.”
OEP Chair, Dame Glenys Stacey said: “The 25YEP was an ambitious attempt to confront the challenges facing the environment, yet we continue to see worrying and persistent trends of environmental decline.
“Our rivers are in a poor state, bird and other species numbers are in serious decline, poor air quality threatens the health of many and our seas and sea floors and not managed sustainably. Given the urgency of the situation, our message to government is clear: do not delay in making the changes necessary to protect, restore and improve our environment.”
Environment Minister, Rebecca Pow said that she welcomed the report: “It acknowledges that the Environment Act gives us new tools to make a real difference to our environment. We are currently consulting on legally binding environmental targets, which include halting species decline. We have also launched a consultation to tackle storm sewage discharges and we have taken action to transform the way that we deal with waste.”
Gary McFarlane, CIEH Director for NI said he “fully concurred” with the OEP’s call to the government to aim high and act with greater expediency. “The evidence has been plain for some considerable time. We are destroying our natural environment. We cannot allow the damage we are currently inflicting to continue beyond irreparable critical tipping points. We are dangerously close to doing so.
“For far too long, economic growth has been prioritised over environmental sustainability. The government, and indeed wider society, must reverse this urgently and put environmental sustainability at the top of the priority list with the kind of ambitious and urgent planning and targets that this report is calling for.”
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