Skip to main content

Why are the delays in UK Government publishing Its environmental targets so important?

In accordance with Section 4 of the Environment Act the UK Government were due to publish details of their environmental targets with the promise that they would be laid before parliament by 31 October.

However, the much-anticipated deadline has been and gone and with no indication from the UK government of when they are likely to publish the targets. The only update was made on 28 October by DEFRA which said it was unable to meet the 31 October deadline due to receiving 180,000 responses to its Consultation on Environmental Targets and they were “working at pace” to lay draft statutory instruments as soon as possible. Unfortunately, nothing has been heard since.

On 22 November, over 40 ‘Green Groups’ sent a letter to DEFRA to lodge an official complaint on the issue.  Writing to DEFRA is the first step in making an official complaint to the Office of Environment Protection (OEP).

The Wildlife Trust has accused the government of breaking the law by failing to set the targets, adding that it has been developing the targets for over  three years and has had months to prepare since the consultation closed.

The OEP has also waded into the furore regarding the delay by ‘warning’ the Secretary of State Therese Coffey that while they would not take any further action just yet, DEFRA had also missed five other legal deadlines for environmental measures largely connected with water.  Dame Stacey added that "It is in this context, and the significance of the failure to comply with landmark domestic legislation, that we will keep our decisions on the use of any formal enforcement powers under active review as you progress your work."

However it has been reported that the response to the delay by the OEP has been seen by many as more of a “growl” than a “roar”.

By way of a reminder some of the key wildlife targets proposed were to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030; increase species abundance by at least 10% by 2042 compared to 2030 levels; create or restore in excess of 500,000 hectares of a range of the decline in species abundance by 2030; and to improve the England-level GB Red List Index of species extinction risk by 2042 compared to 2022 levels.

All of this comes on the back of the start of CoP 15 (Conference of the Parties) Convention on Biodiversity being held this year in Montreal.  CoP15 started on 7 December 2022 and will run for 2 weeks. The CoPs for Biodiversity are held every two years and CoP 15 is a particularly important as a new global biodiversity framework is set to be adopted. 

The post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be the first global framework on biodiversity adopted since the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were adopted by the CoP in 2010.  Part of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were that by 2020 natural habitat loss would be halved and sustainable consumption and production would be implemented.  Worryingly according to a 2020 CBD Report, none of the targets have been fully met.

According to the Wildlife Trust, the government risked facing major embarrassment if it hadn’t published the missing targets in time for COP15. It said how can the UK appear on the world stage to talk about international commitments – such as protecting 30% of land and sea by 2030 – if it has failed to set targets at home?

This is perhaps a fair question and now that CoP15 has started, it will be interesting to see the outcome and how the UK government fair at the CoP. 

The message that comes across loud and clear from the opening statement of Antonio Guterres (Secretary General of the United Nations) is just how important and crucial this CoP is not only for nature but also for people. I have highlighted some of his comments below:

“Around the world for 100’s of years we have conducted a cacophony of chaos played with instruments of destruction.”

“The loss of nature and biodiversity comes with a steep human cost.”

“A cost we measure in lost jobs hunger disease and death.”

“A cost we measure in the estimate US$3 trillion annual losses by 2030 from ecosystem degradation”; “A cost we measure in higher prices for food and water and energy.”

“Nothing less than a bold global biodiversity framework” can stop destruction and inspire ambition and action."