The government is not on course to achieve its objective to improve the environment within a generation, an assessment by the Natural Capital Committee (NCC) says.
The next generation will, as a consequence, inherit a ‘poorer set of natural assets’, it says.
The interim NCC response and advice on a green economic recovery document sets out the its interim assessment of the government’s second 25 Year Environment Plan Progress Report.
The paper also presents the NCC’s recommendations to government for delivering a green economic recovery.
Overall, the NCC is concerned that the evidence presented in the Progress Report at best provides only a partial picture and mostly shows declines in England’s environment.
As a matter of urgency, the government should commit to establishing a comprehensive natural capital baseline against which progress can be measured
For example, there has only been a 2.2% increase in restoring terrestrial and freshwater protected sites to favourable condition since 2013; the figure currently stands at 38.9%, against a 25 Year Environment Plan target of 75%.
The 25 Year Environment Plan commits to improving at least 75% of water bodies to be as close to their natural state as soon as practicable; currently only 16% of England’s surface water bodies are in a ‘high’ or ‘good’ condition status, and this percentage is declining.
Progress on air pollutant reductions has stalled following significant reductions between 1990 and 2011.
Although there has been a decline in sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides emissions of just over 58% and just under 28% respectively since 2011, emissions of fine particulate matter and non-methane organic compounds have levelled off and ammonia has increased.
The government has yet to put in place the appropriate metrics and baseline required to measure changes in the environment, as advised by the NCC.
This not only prevents a proper assessment of progress but also misses opportunities to identify the projects with the highest economic value, the report states.
Meaningful statutory footing
“Nine of the 25 years have already passed and it is now looking very likely the next generation will inherit a poorer set of natural assets,” writes Professor Dieter Helm, chairman of the NCC, in the foreword of the document.
“To turn this around, the NCC has already recommended that the 25 YEP [year Environment Plan] should be put on a meaningful statutory footing, including statutory interim and long term targets to ensure the objectives are met.
“As a matter of urgency, the government should commit to establishing a comprehensive natural capital baseline against which progress can be measured. The NCC has set out in its detailed advice to government how this should be conducted, and subsequently repeated on a five year cycle.
“These steps are essential if the objectives of the 25 YEP are to be met and if the OEP is to inherit a workable framework to hold government to account.
“We can be green and prosperous, but it will not happen by default. The huge opportunities, both economic and environmental, should be grasped by this government.”