Our environment is in trouble - this is not news to us, nor has it been for a great length of time now. Climate change, plastic, pesticides, deforestation, urbanisation - all factors that are taking a toll on our natural world, and with the shadow of the UK’s departure from the European Union, and the uncertainty that surrounds this, a great many have feared for the safety of our ecosystems.
Thankfully, this uncertainty is somewhat beginning to dissipate, and, if all goes to plan, the UK could become a leader in environmental protection, becoming an example for others to follow. Currently, the EU has a series of directives that the UK must follow, with the government creating a series of laws that it must adhere to in order to meet the requirements of these directives. Should the government fail to do so, they can then be taken to court by the EU, however, after Brexit, we will no longer be held to these directives, and so that is where the government’s new 25 year plan comes in. This plan was put forward by the government with the aim of “leaving the environment for the next generation in a better state than we found it”. In order to do this, the Environmental Bill was drafted, set to be put into place after Brexit happens. The bill allows for 3 steps that would lead to us reaching our goal:
1. The creation of the Office for Environmental Protection:This will be a completely impartial body that will hold the government to account in all environmental maters, to ensure that any government in power is upholding its duty to protect the environment, taking action when necessary.
2. Introducing a clear set of principles:The bill will ensure the creation of a clear and concise set of guidelines for policy makers that must be regarded when creating new environmental policies.
3. Placing the 25 year plan on a statutory footing: The plan will be given legal standing, ensuring that it will be adhered to over the next quarter century, with the OEP producing annual progress reports, thus ensuring the government is delivering upon its obligations.
So now we know how it will all work, but what is the actual plan?
The 25 year plan is admittedly ambitious, going beyond that of minimising impacts, to the degree that the plan hopes to recover nature through the introduction of new large scale woodland, acting to recover various species of animals, plants and fungi - including that of insects. With insects currently under a great deal of threat, at over 40% of insect species declining, 1/3 of which now classed as endangered, this is indeed welcome news. These are the main goals that are hoped to be achieved by this ambitious plan:
1. Clean and plentiful water
2. Thriving plants & wildlife
3. Reduced risks from natural hazards like droughts & flooding
4. More sustainable and efficient use of natural resources
5. Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment
It is also hoped that the plan will help to manage pressures on the environment by mitigating and adapting to climate change, minimising waste, managing exposure to chemicals and enhancing biosecurity. Interestingly, the plan discusses working with the NHS, in order to create initiatives aimed at tackling loneliness and isolation for those with mild to moderate mental health issues through gardening, outdoor exercise and care farming.
Although this sounds incredibly hopeful and exciting, there are a number of critics who argue that the government is not gong far enough with this plan, questioning the power that the OEP will have to enforce regulations, especially with regards to climate change. Climate change legislation is argued by the government to be covered by the committee on climate change, however, this committee only has the power to advise and report, and can take no effective measures to hold the government to account should any regulations regarding climate change be ignored.The Campaign to Protect Rural England’s director released a statement explaining, “Environmental principles are crucial to the way law is created, from planning and land use policy to air quality and biodiversity targets, yet the draft bill offers only the weak requirement that ministers “have regard to” or consider them”.
Should the OEP not be given the full powers that are needed to ensure that the government puts the environment front and centre when discussing related policy, then the “green Brexit” that we have been promised maybe nothing but empty word
The 25 year plan has admirable goals, and if successful, can be the beginning of a much greener and greater Britain, however, only time will tell whether this plan will be given the power that is needed for serious change to be effected. Until then, all we can do is watch and wait…
You can learn more about the 25 year Plan here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/693158/25-year-environment-plan.pdf
Blog written by: Blair Watson