MPs slam government's 'toothless' efforts tackling biodiversity loss

1st July 2021

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Christopher Caldwell

The UK government is not on track to deliver on its promise to improve the environment within a generation and is failing to stem the tide of biodiversity loss, a damning new report from MPs has revealed.

The report from the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) highlights how a lack of clear statutory targets is hindering action on biodiversity loss, and that the government's 25 Year Environment Plan does not provide sufficient direction to change this.

The MPs said that this is made worse by nature policy not being joined up across government and not consistently factored into policy making, with the UK thought to have the lowest level of biodiversity across the G7.

Moreover, the report suggests that recent biodiversity net gain policy does not go far enough in its current form, potentially enabling a lack of compliance monitoring and non-implementation of mitigation measures.

It states that, too often, governments spend more on practices that exploit the natural environment than conserve it, and that biodiversity loss is not being treated with the same urgency and ambition as climate change.

“Although there are countless government policies and targets to ‘leave the environment in a better state than we found it’, too often they are grandiose statements lacking teeth and devoid of effective delivery mechanisms,” said EAC chairman, Philip Dunne.

“We have no doubt that the ambition is there, but a poorly-mixed cocktail of ambitious targets, superficial strategies, funding cuts and lack of expertise is making any tangible progress incredibly challenging.”

The sheer variety of data systems and inadequate monitoring, coupled with a lack of ecologist expertise in the heart of government and in local authorities, presents challenges to introduce effective mechanisms to halt biodiversity decline, according to the report.

Funding cuts to bodies exacerbate this, and the EAC said that the government should consider increasing Natural England’s multi-year funding to reflect the scale of their tasks to protect nature.

Other recommendations outlined in the report include mandatory disclosure of nature-related financial risks, and the Bank of England conducting an exploratory exercise into stress testing biodiversity loss.

Furthermore, the government is urged to explain how it will move beyond GDP as the primary measure of economic activity, and towards an additional measure which includes consideration of the UK's natural capital.

“Despite central government’s responsibility for policy decisions, the responsibility for nurturing natural habitats also rests with each and every citizen,” Dunne continued.

“Work to embed nature into the national curriculum, and to inspire the ecologists of the future, is absolutely crucial if we are to protect biodiversity effectively for generations to come.”

Image credit: iStock

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