Person testing for pollution in water

Plan to meet environmental targets proves divisive

Government’s five-year plan aims to improve air and water quality but organisations say joined up delivery is key
23 February 2023 , Steve Smethurst

Blueprint to leave environment “in a better state than we found it” is met with scepticism as Coffrey puts onus on councils to use their powers to better effect

Dr Thérèse Coffey, Environment Secretary has set out a five-year delivery plan to meet legally binding targets on water quality, biodiversity and waste, as well as international targets agreed at the COP15 UN biodiversity summit in December 2022.

The Environmental Improvement Plan promises to ‘restore’ 400 miles of England's rivers, along with new targets for reducing plastic, glass, metal, paper and food waste.

Dr Coffey said: “We have already started the journey and we have seen improvements. We are transforming financial support for farmers and landowners to prioritise improving the environment. We are stepping up on tree planting, we have cleaner air, we have put a spotlight on water quality and rivers and are forcing industry to clean up its act.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said protecting the natural environment was fundamental to the health, economy and prosperity of the country. "This plan provides the blueprint for how we deliver our commitment to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.”

Tony Juniper, Natural England Chair welcomed the plan. He said: “It will now require efforts across government and across society to translate its intent into action. This can be done, so long as priority is attached to it and we remain focused on joined-up delivery.”

However, Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP questioned the plan’s ‘worthy aims’. She asked: “How on Earth does it square with the action we see from her Department? Just last week, Defra gave the green light to an authorisation of the pesticide neonicotinoid, which we know kills bees.”

“Progress towards this target is painfully slow because government funding for biodiversity is more than 10% lower than it was a decade ago.”

Her argument was echoed by Craig Bennett, Chief Executive of The Wildlife Trusts, who pointed out that the Office for Environmental Protection recently warned that the government was not on track to meet any of its environmental targets set out in its initial 25 Year Environment Plan.

He said: “A dramatic increase in funding is needed if the UK is to reach its target to protect 30% of our land and sea for nature by 2030. Progress towards this target is painfully slow because government funding for biodiversity is more than 10% lower than it was a decade ago. The government must find new cash to do this – not just recycle existing funding pots under new names.”

Dr Coffey said that she was ‘very confident’ about delivery. “Some of the challenges are not always easy or quick to fix as we might hope, yet with our new legal duty to consider biodiversity, we are embedding nature in the heart of every decision that government will take for the long haul.”

She added that she was keen for councils to use the powers that they “have asked for in the past, yet are still not using”. She said: “It is for them to decide, with local nature recovery strategies, how they can best make improvements.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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