UK government falling ‘far short’ on environmental improvement, watchdog warns

19th January 2023

The UK government’s progress on delivering its 25-year plan to improve the environment has “fallen far short”, with many “extremely worrying” trends remaining unchecked, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has warned today.

In its independent assessment of 32 trends across the natural environment, the post-Brexit environmental watchdog concedes that it has “little good news” after uncovering a “chronic decline” in species abundance across the country.

Although nine environmental trends assessed were found to be improving – such as climate change mitigation – 11 remain static, with eight deteriorating. No progress was found on the delivery of 23 environmental targets.

OEP chair, Dame Glenys Stacey – who has featured in IEMA's podcast series – said that the current pace and scale of government action “will not deliver the changes necessary” to significantly improve the environment.

She continued: “It was late setting statutory targets for the environment when required by law; there are other statutory deadlines missed, and it has not yet published its long-awaited statement on environmental principles for all government departments. Its absence is so regrettable.

However, she said “there is clear opportunity to change course” when the government publishes a refreshed Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) at the end of this month, adding: “This is a key opportunity to make meaningful cross-government plans to protect, restore and improve the environment. That plan must then be regularly refined and adapted, taking into account evidence on what needs to improve.”

Areas of progress identified by the OEP assessment include air quality and climate change mitigation, with greenhouse gases reducing overall, while people’s engagement with nature is also “up markedly”.

To help improve future delivery of the EIP, the report recommends:

• Better alignment and co-ordination at all levels of government, local and national, with actions that extend beyond Defra

• Better targeted and timely data collection and collation, with the goals of the EIP in mind

• Improved assessment of progress, with a purpose-driven monitoring, evaluation, and learning framework.

Commenting on the assessment, IEMA CEO, Sarah Mukherjee MBE, said: "It is important that the government is held to account, and today's report from the OEP highlights the urgent need for ministers to translate the ambitions of the 25 Year Environment Plan into real actions on the ground.

"It is encouraging that there has been progress in areas such as climate change mitigation and improving air quality, but, as the OEP points out, there is much more to be done, particularly in reversing the stark decline in species abundance across the country.

"IEMA will continue to support the government with its environmental ambitions, and we hope that its refreshed EIP, due at the end of this month, will have a renewed focus on delivery."

Image credit: Unsplash

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