DEFRA have this week published plans to develop a set of long term, legally binding targets for environmental improvement, as part of what it has dubbed “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”.
The targets, which will be introduced as part of the new Environment Bill, will allow current and successive governments to be held accountable if they do not make progress towards fixed goals. The Bill will make regularly reporting against the targets compulsory and will create a new environmental watchdog – The Office of Environmental Protection – to monitor progress.
The announcement does not give any detail about the targets, which will be developed over the next 2 years, but the accompanying policy paper does describe how the targets will be chosen and the areas that will be prioritised for action. While we wait for more information about the shape of agricultural support and environmental regulation post-Brexit, we have been through the policy paper with a fine toothcomb to learn what we can about the direction policy-makers are taking.
What do we know so far?
The paper tells us that there will be at least 1 target in each of 4 priority areas:
- Air Quality
- Resource efficiency and Waste Reduction
There will also be a target for reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air – which can have serious adverse health effects as well as environmental impacts.
Between now and early 2022, the government will undertake what it promises will be a “robust, evidence-led process” to develop the targets, taking into consideration expert-advice, stakeholder consultation and parliamentary scrutiny. The targets will be put out for public consultation at the start of 2022 and will be confirmed by October 2022 before being enshrined in law.
The government’s 25-year Environment Plan has already set out some ambitious goals for the 4 priority areas outlined, such as the commitment to restore or create 50,000 ha of habitat as part of the Nature Recovery Network. The new targets will build on these commitments as well as on existing strategies for air quality, water and trees. So although the specifics of the outcomes, indicators or metrics that will make up the targets are not fixed, DEFRA already has a number of ‘objectives under consideration’ that do shed some light on what the targets could mean for future land management.
We will be publishing a series of posts over the next few days on some of the objectives considered in the paper and what they might mean for UK farming and other rural business.