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17 May 2019

'Minor delays': Brexit stunting 25 Year Environment Plan progress, Defra admits

The government has released the first annual review of progress against its 25 Year Environment Plan covering ambitions on clean air, water, biodiversity, and waste, prompting warnings from green groups that action to protect the UK's natural environment is progressing far too slowly.

Published yesterday, the Review claims 90 per cent of the actions set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan last year have been delivered or are being progressed, and as a result the UK is on course to create richer habitats for wildlife, improve air and water quality, and tackle the scourge of plastic pollution.

Of the 40 priority actions expected to make the most significant contribution to delivering the Plan's key goals, four have already been delivered and 32 are on track for "timely delivery", it states.

However, four actions - covering natural drainage systems, soil health and peatland, minimising chemical contamination, and development of local natural capital plans - are subject to "minor delays", which the report admits is "primarily due to resources being temporarily redirected to support our preparations to leave the EU".

Environment minister Thérèse Coffey hailed actions taken by the government over the past year, including extension of the 5p plastic bag charge, plans to ban items such as plastic straws, cotton buds, and stirrers, and publication of the long-awaited Resources and Waste Strategy late last year.

She also pointed to legislative actions aimed at moulding the UK's future outside the EU, such as the new Fisheries Bill, Agriculture Bill, and the Environment Bill, the last of which in particular has faced criticism from green groups for lacking sufficient environmental safeguards.

Coffey said the progress made to date is "encouraging", but also conceded "we know there is still more to do".

The review came alongside the publication yesterday of Defra's new indicator framework for the 25 Year Environment Plan to further enhance the transparency and monitoring of progress against the government's green ambitions.

However, green groups gave a lukewarm response to yesterday's progress report. Tom Fyans, deputy chief executive at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) welcomed the "fantastic commitment" of the 25 Year Plan but warned that to date there had been "a lot of warm-words and consultation, but not enough action".

In order for Defra's green commitments to have any lasting impact, he said it now needed to ensure its "warm words are matched by solid legislation, resources and funding that meet the challenge for the environment and communities across the countryside".

"As political wrangling continues over the Environment Bill and with the Agriculture Bill nowhere to be seen, it is important that momentum is not lost on these crucial measures that will deliver the ambitions of the Plan," he said. "At a time when our countryside, landscapes and environment are facing huge pressures, and with stark warnings about climate change - the greatest threat facing the countryside - more drastic and urgent action is needed."

Joan Edwards, director of policy at The Wildlife Trusts, voiced similar concerns, arguing that Defra "has failed to make significant progress" across all of the key goals of the 25 Year Environment Plan.

With Brexit having dominated proceedings in Westminster, he said the government's Agriculture and Fisheries Bills had "stalled in parliament with no date for their return" and as a result the UK was "missing the opportunity to help the 75 per cent of our land that is farmed do more to help nature recover".

"To achieve the government's laudable aim of being the first generation to leave the environment in a better state, we need a strong Environment Act that commits to securing nature's recovery and to establish a Nature Recovery Network which will enable us to plan a wilder future," he said.

Meanwhile, with the government's Withdrawal Agreement set to be put before parliament once again earlynext month, ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May confirming her resignation date, green groups are continuing to call for the government to firm up its environmental commitments and strengthen plans for its post-Brexit green watchdog.

Current plans have been widely criticised by Select Committees, green business groups, and campaigners, who have warned the proposed governance framework is weaker than the approach the UK currently enacts as part of the EU. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has hinted he would consider proposals to strengthen the planned rules and enforcement agencies, but new plans have not yet been forthcoming.

Article & image source - BusinessGreen

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