Government remains “largely off track” to meet environmental targets


Houses of Parliament

The UK Government remains “largely off track” to meet its environmental ambitions and must speed up and scale its efforts, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) annual progress report has found.

The OEP report found that while overall resource use is decreasing and resource efficiency is increasing, consumption of materials is still too high.

The report also found that waste generation and incineration are continuing to increase but recycling rates have stalled. Although there has been progress regarding waste crime, there are still high numbers of incidents, the report states.

The OEP says this suggests that measures to drive the management of waste up the waste hierarchy are currently ineffective and that meeting commitments will be “challenging”.

The OEP report provides an assessment of the Government’s progress towards legally binding environmental targets and the goals of its Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP). It covers the period 1 April 2022 to 31 March 2023.

Our assessment is that government is largely off track to meet its ambitions and its legal obligations.

Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair of the OEP, commented: “While some progress has been made, substantial challenges remain. Our assessment is that government is largely off track to meet its ambitions and its legal obligations.”

The OEP’s assessment of 40 individual environmental targets, including legally binding targets set under the Environment Act 2021, found government is largely on track to achieve four, partially on track to achieve 11, and largely off track to achieve 10. It was not possible to assess progress against a further 15 targets due to a lack of sufficient evidence, the OEP says.

Targets where government is largely on track relate to specific pollutants and wastewater. Targets where government is largely off track span most EIP goal areas and include residual waste, sustainable fisheries, chemicals and improving nature.

The report identifies several factors the OEP says are impeding progress. The OEP highlights that “key policies, strategies and regulatory frameworks” are not developed or delivered after being announced, which creates uncertainty, presents barriers to progress, and results in missed opportunities.

The OEP also says the urgency with which positive actions are being implemented is “frequently lacking”.

The report reaffirms several recommendations the OEP made following last year’s assessment of progress, and makes further recommendations for each goal area of the EIP. The recommendations to the Government are:

  • Implement the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 effectively.
  • Develop and implement clear and effective governance.
  • Develop and implement delivery plans.
  • Set and vigorously pursue clear and achievable interim targets.
  • Develop and implement an effective monitoring, evaluation and learning framework.

Resources, waste and the circular economy

Circular economy

The OEP found that there is a lack of actions focused on a circular economy and resource productivity, and a greater focus on these measures would bring economic benefits while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and risks from chemicals.

The report found that progress is hindered by the “limited pace and scale of measures” being implemented. 

While the OEP says progress in areas such as waste crime is encouraging, what it calls the “low level of ambition” to increase resource efficiency and drive the management of materials up the waste hierarchy means progress towards government’s commitments is “largely off track”. 

The Government can “deliver significant change” by committing to a legally binding resource efficiency target under the Environment Act 2021 and putting in place the framework to achieve a circular economy, the OEP says. 

In support of a new target, the OEP says government should further develop its implementation of circular economy measures aimed at designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems.

The report found circular economy measures can contribute to meeting not only government’s waste and resources commitments but also other EIP23 goals.

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