Environment Act: UK government proposes new legally binding targets

A proposed target to half the waste that ends up in landfill or is incinerated by 2042 has been announced by the UK government as part of a raft of new environmental targets.

The proposed targets will be a ‘cornerstone’ of the government’s Environment Act which passed into law in November last year, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

The proposed targets cover water, air quality and the diversity of wildlife and include halving the waste that ends up at landfill or incineration by 2042.

Environment Secretary, George Eustice, said: “These proposed targets are intended to set a clear, long-term plan for nature’s recovery.

“In a post EU era we now have the freedom to move towards a system that focuses on nature’s recovery as well as its preservation, and which places more emphasis on science and less emphasis on legal process.

“This change in approach will help us in the pursuit of the targets we are setting under the Environment Act.”

The targets consultation will include proposals to reduce residual waste (excluding major mineral wastes) kg per capita by 50% by 2042. It is proposed that this will be measured as a reduction from 2019 levels, which are estimated to be approximately 560 kg per capita.

Other proposals include:

  • Halt the decline in species by 2030 and then bend the curve to increase species abundance by 10% by 2042. We will create or restore in excess of 500,000 hectares of a range of wildlife-rich habitat outside protected sites by 2042, compared to 2022 levels;
  • A maximum annual mean concentration of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) 10 µg/m3 across England by 2040 and a 35% reduction in population exposure to PM2.5 by 2040 (compared to a base year of 2018);
  • Reduce nutrient pollution in water by reducing phosphorus loading from treated wastewater by 80% by 2037 and reducing nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment from agriculture to the water environment by 40% by 2037;
  • Improve our marine environment with 70% of designated features in the MPA network to be in favourable condition by 2042, with the remainder in recovering condition, and additional reporting on changes in individual feature condition; and
  • Increase tree canopy and woodland cover from 14.5% to 17.5% of total land area in England by 2050.

The proposed targets will now be subject to an eight week consultation period where government will seek the views of environment groups, local authorities and stakeholders.

The Environment Act put a key focus on driving forward nature’s recovery and the government is also setting out new proposals in a Nature Recovery Green Paper which will set out to support ambitions to restore nature and halt the decline in species abundance by 2030.

These proposals include calls for proposals on how the private sector can play its part; exploring measures to scale-up and de-risk a pipeline of investible nature projects through the £10 million Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund; and a roadmap to achieve 30by30 – government’s intended path to achieving the Prime Minister’s commitment to protect 30% of the UK’s land and sea by 2030.

As Nature faces ever-increasing pressures, including from the effects of climate change, it is no longer sufficient to maintain the remnants of Nature that have survived, but to invest in large-scale recovery.

In addition to the Green Paper, government and Natural England are providing a package of practical and financial support to help local authorities in areas affected by nutrient pollution to deliver the homes communities need.

Chair of Natural England, Tony Juniper, said: “Our network of protected sites has been the backbone of England’s conservation effort for seven decades. It has been vital for hanging on to many special places, and many of our most vulnerable species, but we can and must do better.

“As Nature faces ever-increasing pressures, including from the effects of climate change, it is no longer sufficient to maintain the remnants of Nature that have survived, but to invest in large-scale recovery.

“Ambitious targets to halt the decline in species abundance and to increase the area of land and sea protected for Nature, backed by a range of new policies to meet them, means that we are in a strong position to shift up a gear – not only protecting what’s left but also to recover some of what has been lost.

“Natural England will work with government and other partners to help achieve these important new environmental targets, ensuring that any new system of protections not only maintains but restores our depleted natural world, contributing to England’s Nature Recovery Network.”

The government’s response to the Green Paper and targets consultation is expected to be published in early summer 2022.

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