UK government sets out plans for legally-binding environmental targets

19th August 2020

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Ray Horsburgh

The UK government has today set out how it will use “ambitious“ legally-binding targets to deliver environmental gains, with a public consultation on the goals taking place in early 2022.

The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) said that at least one long-term target will be developed in four priority areas: cleaner air, cleaner water, less waste and more biodiversity.

These will be supported by interim targets and reported on annually by the government, delivering on the prime minister's promise to “build back greener“ from the COVID-19 crisis.

A new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection – will also report annually on the progress that has been made in accordance with the targets.

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “The targets we set under our landmark Environment Bill will be the driving force behind our bold action to protect and enhance our natural world – guaranteeing real and lasting progress on some of the biggest environmental issues facing us today.

“I hope these targets will provide some much-needed certainty to businesses and society, as we work together to build back better and greener.“

Specifically, the four priority areas, and proposed objectives for targets, include:

  • Air quality: exploring targets focusing specifically on reducing public exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5)
  • Resource efficiency and waste reduction: Potential targets will look to increase resource productivity and reduce the volume of residual waste and plastic pollution generated
  • Biodiversity: exploring targets to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats in protected sites on land, in freshwaters and at sea, and in the wider countryside, and to increase species populations on land and improve marine biodiversity
  • Water: Potential targets to tackle pollution from agriculture and waste water to improve water quality, as well as a target on water demand to reduce the volume that is abstracted.

The government said that further priority areas and targets can be introduced at a later date, informed by the latest scientific evidence.

WWF-UK welcomed today's announcement, but warned that more detail is needed on Britain's international environmental impact.

“Legally-binding targets are critical, but we need detail and urgency,“ said Kate Norgrove, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF-UK.

“To address the nature crisis, we need these legally-binding targets in the UK now – but just as urgent is the need to tackle the environmental damage we import.

“A credible Environment Bill has to help protect the Amazon and other disappearing habitats with tough new nature laws to eliminate deforestation from the products we buy.“

Image credit: iStock

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