'Little good news': Govt on track to miss two-thirds of its environment targets

England's environmental watchdog has admitted it has "little good news to report" in its latest appraisal of the government's progress on climate and nature targets.

The highly critical report scrutinised goals that included cleaning up polluted water and stopping vital species from dying, and found the government is not "demonstrably" on track to meet a single one.

In fact, it is on course to miss 14 of the 23 targets, including on protecting commercially important fish and shellfish populations, and reducing people's water consumption and waste.

The Office of Environmental Protection (OEP) was set up after Brexit to hold the government and other public authorities in England to account.

In its report today, it condemned the state of England's nature - which provides water, habitats for pollinators, food and resources for the economy.

The rate of species decline stood out as one of the most alarming trends, Dame Glenys Stacey, the OEP chair, said during a briefing in response to a question from Sky News.

The abundance of important species fell 17% between 2013 and 2018, topping off a period of "chronic decline" since 1970.

"Government has for a while now known it is trying to halt species decline by 2030 and that is so soon upon us," Dame Glenys said.

"We now face an eye-watering target there, and it's going to take quite a lot of further intervention to turn that around."

She said improvements are "absolutely required" because our environment also has to deliver our wellbeing, health and economy.

Read more:
Australian billionaire to open battery plant in UK
Greta Thunberg detained at eco protest
Rainforests still exist in UK, but where to find them?

Professor Robbie McDonald, the OEP's chief insights officer, said: "Biodiversity is a very good proxy for the wider state of the natural environment."

Stopping and reversing the decline in species would "require a whole host of improvements to the way in which land is managed, which would bring benefits to air quality, water quality, people's engagement with the environment", he said.

At global nature talks in Canada in December, the UK government lobbied for and signed a landmark global pledge to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030, seven years from now.

Yet at home it has only checked the state of around half of its sites of special scientific interest - areas important for their wildlife or geology. Dame Glenys called this "extremely neglectful".

The report urged the government to "close the gap between the current reality and its vision of the future or it will fail in its ambition".

It pointed to some improvement in air quality in recent years and in people's engagement with nature, driven in part by the pandemic lockdowns.

The report also welcomed action on tackling climate breakdown, with England's greenhouse gases reducing overall, but condemned the "poor" adaptation to climate change impacts like overheating in homes.

The damning assessment found the government's 25-Year Environment Plan "has so far failed to bring about the changes needed, at the pace and scale required".

The strategy was launched in 2018 by Theresa May, the prime minister at the time, with the aim of transforming England's environment within a generation.

An environment spokesperson said that since then, "we have funded new nature recovery projects spanning over 120,000 hectares, increased our tree planting rates and started work on the restoration of our peatlands at a landscape scale".

They added: "Building on our landmark Environment Act and its ambitious long term targets, our Environmental Improvement Plan will soon set out the comprehensive action this government will take to reverse the decline in nature, achieve our net zero goals and deliver cleaner air and water."

The government has also just agreed a set of new legally binding environment targets, is due to publish a new nature plan and "seems more settled of late", Dame Glenys said.

"So government has a particular chance now to reset and alter course."

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday, and The Climate Show with Tom Heap on Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.

All on Sky News, on the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.