The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has today published its first monitoring report on the UK government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, warning that progress so far has been “slow”.
The OEP – a new independent watchdog launched following Brexit – said that environmental laws, strategy and policy have not yet been successful in significantly slowing down, halting or reversing biodiversity decline, the unsustainable use of resources, or pollution.
Its report raises concerns around the government’s ambition to leave the natural environment in a better state than inherited, suggesting that this “does not have cross-government support or the same urgency, gravitas and awareness” as the vision for net zero.
The watchdog also warns that many environmental targets are frequently missed due to them being insufficiently coherent, connected or applied, thus failing to drive the scale or urgency of response required.
It calls for better governance, monitoring, assessing and reporting, so that the government can see the impacts of new and existing policy interventions, and understand how environmental laws are being implemented in practice.
Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP, said: “The 25 Year Environment Plan 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 floor are not managed sustainably.
“The Environment Act and the new tools it provides creates a real opportunity for government to make the difference needed. We press government to use the Act to full effect, to deliver the environmental improvements needed for proper stewardship of the environment.”
The report comes four years after publication of the 25 Year Environment Plan, and sets out a framework of six ‘building blocks’ that need to be in place to accelerate progress.
These include understanding environmental drivers and pressures, creating a vision, setting targets, coherent strategy and policy, governance, and monitoring, assessing and reporting.
Under these six headings, the OEP makes 16 recommendations to government, which include:
- A comprehensive stocktake of the condition of the environment
- Immediate prioritisation of environmental concerns
- A clear, coherent and evidence-based vision for the 25-year plan
- A commitment to the environment and environment strategy across all government departments
- Ambitious long-term statutory targets
- Coherence across targets and clarity on how the range of targets in the same policy area relate to each other
- Accountability for the delivery of the 25-year plan across government
- All key government strategies and policies that affect the environment must be aligned with government’s ambitions for the environment
- Develop and publish an evidence-based, accessible, consistent and transparent way of assessing progress against the 25-year plan's objectives.
“It must set clear goals, ambitious targets and a coherent set of strategies, policies and delivery mechanisms to achieve each goal,” Dame Glenys continued. “It requires strong cross-government governance and accountabilities, with robust evaluation and remedies where measures fail to deliver.
“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.”
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