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25-year environment plan

Published Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Government published its 25-year plan to improve the environment on 11 January 2018. This briefing paper provides an overview and background to the plan, picks out key themes and commitments, and provides a summary of stakeholder reaction.

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Background to the plan

The idea of a 25-year environment plan arose from a proposal in a Natural Committee Capital (an independent advisory committee to the Government) report in March 2014 that the Government should provide a 25 year framework to maintain and improve natural capital. The Government then endorsed this recommendation. A framed commitment for a 25-year environment plan was later made part of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs’ (Defra) former single departmental plan (2015-2020), published February 2016.

The Natural Capital Committee (an independent advisory committee to the Government) published advice and recommendations on what the Government should consider in developing the plan on 28 September 2017.

Aims of the Plan

The final plan, A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment was published on 11 January 2018. Launching the Plan, the Prime Minister identified the protection and enhancement of the natural environment as a "central priority" for the Government as part of delivering its manifesto pledge to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it”. Aspects of the Plan relate to England only, whereas others relate to the UK as a whole.

The executive summary commits the Government to championing sustainable development and further elaborates the broad aims of the Plan:

"...to deliver cleaner air and water in our cities and rural landscapes, protect threatened species and provide richer wildlife habitats. It calls for an approach to agriculture, forestry, land use and fishing that puts the environment first. The Plan looks forward to delivering a Green Brexit – seizing this once-in-a lifetime chance to reform our agriculture and fisheries management, how we restore nature, and how we care for our land, our rivers and our seas."

The Plan sets out the following 25-year goals which the Government aims to achieve:

  1. Clean air
  2. Clean and plentiful water
  3. Thriving plants and wildlife
  4. A reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards such as drought and flooding
  5. Using resources from nature more sustainably and efficiently
  6. Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment

The Government also commits to managing pressures on the environment by:

  1. Mitigating and adapting to climate change.
  2. Minimising waste.
  3. Managing exposure to chemicals.
  4. Enhancing biosecurity.

Brexit

The plan is framed in the context of Brexit and the Government’s previous commitments to continue EU environmental rights on a UK legal basis and its intention to uphold its obligations under international environmental treaties. The Plan confirms the Government will consult on any changes to environmental regulation it may identify, and reiterates the Government commitment to implementing international agreements. The Plan clarifies that it is not pre-empting discussions with the devolved nations regarding the shape of common frameworks after Brexit, but confirms the Government will continue to work with the devolved Administrations on these aspects. 

The Plan reiterates the Government’s intention to consult on a new, independent statutory body that would hold Government to account for upholding environmental standards in England; and to consult on the scope and content of a new policy statement to ensure environmental principles underpin policy making.

Key policy areas

The Plan sets out a number of 25-years goals and a combination of new and existing strategies, targets, mechanisms and commitments in order to meet its goals. Some of the key area policy areas and announcements in the plan include:

  • Using a “natural capital” approach to protecting and enhancing the environment, by recognising its tangible and non-tangible economic benefits.
  • The establishment of a green business council to advise government on “environmental entrepreneurialism”. A natural environment impact fund is being mooted to support this which would use natural capital valuations;
  • Introducing a principle of “environmental net gain” into planning decisions where wider natural capital benefits will be assessed as part of the planning process;
  • Achieving zero avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042 through a number of initiatives;
  • A commitment to reducing the risk of harm to people, the environment and the economy from natural hazards including flooding, drought and coastal erosion.
  • The aims for a post-Brexit sustainable fisheries policy, based on a natural capital approach;
  • A new commitment to publishing an overarching chemicals strategy to set out the UK's approach as it leaves the EU;
  • Initial proposals for a new environmental land management system (based on paying public money for public ‘goods’ such as environmental enhancement), which will be set out in a Command Paper later this spring - a pre-cursor to the Agriculture Bill which will set out post-Brexit support arrangements for farmers;
  • A target of ensuring the sustainable management of soil by 2030 and establishing sufficient data to understand the current state of soil health;
  • An aim to increase woodland in England in line with the aspiration of achieving 12% cover by 2060: this would involve planting 180,000 hectares by the end of 2042; and
  • A goal to mitigate and adapt to climate change by doing “what is necessary to adapt to the effects of a changing climate”.The Government proposes to update the Plan at least every 5 years, and to report annually on progress to Parliament. A set of indicators will be developed to monitor progress.
  • Next steps

Initial reaction

Overall reaction to the Plan has been mixed. Many have welcomed its ambition and promises on some specific areas like plastics pollution and sustainable land management, with Dieter Helm (chair of the Natural Capital Committee) reported to comment that the Plan is “substantive” adding that “nothing on this scale has been brought forward for at least a decade”. On the other hand, the Plan has been criticised for making no solid commitments to new legislation and lacking in urgency. The legal NGO Client Earth has stated that the Plan is “full of empty promises” and called for strong nature laws as the UK leaves the EU. A Defra media blog from 12 January 2018 stated that the Government will legislate when needed in relation to individual policy areas.

Commons Briefing papers CBP-8196

Authors: Sara Priestley; Elena Ares; Emma Downing; Louise Smith; Gabrielle Garton Grimwood; Georgina Hutton; Sarah Coe

Topics: Agriculture, Animals, Climate change, Countryside, Environmental protection, Fisheries, Forestry, Pollution, Waste management, Water

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