Greens call on government to meet trio of demands to fulfil environment pledge

Wildlife and Countryside Link has called on the government to adopt three key requirements when it publishes its long-awaited, 25-year Environment Plan, if it is to make good on its commitment to be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited. These requirements were: legally-binding environmental objectives; green investment; and accountability across government and the private sector.

Legally-binding environmental objectives – for wildlife, water, air and natural asset – each with a delivery strategy, timeline and milestones. WCL called specifically for the following:

  • Nature: objectives should include species conservation status, extent and condition of habitats and extent and condition of protected sites on land and at sea.

  • Natural capital: objectives for natural assets which provide services to people, such as critical thresholds for allowing renewable resources (like fish stocks) to recover, or protecting vulnerable but valuable natural assets like carbon sequestering soils, woodland cover, fresh water and green infrastructure.

  • International goals: objectives relating to the UK’s international obligations and impact on the environment overseas, such as the Sustainable Development Goals.

Green investment – ensuring public and private money supports greener towns, countryside and seas. WCL urges the CAP be replaced by a rural payments system that rewards environmental results; that the government’s infrastructure investment programme should put natural infrastructure on the same footing as built infrastructure, with a programme of investment and maintenance spending; and that business as well as the public sector be incentivised or regulated to support environmental objectives – for instance through reporting requirements, Payment for Ecosystem Services schemes, pollution taxes or market-based financing instruments.

Accountability across government and the private sector – applying the polluters pays principle and ensuring government and businesses are held to account for their environmental record. WCL would like to see:

  • Annual Parliamentary reporting.

  • Judicial oversight. “Without the European Commission’s complaint process, we need an accessible judicial mechanism to challenge public authorities for environmental infringements. The Supreme Court does hear some environmental cases, but extra capacity is needed for expert environmental judges and increasing access to environmental justice for ordinary citizens. Environmental expertise remains limited among judges and the judicial review process is highly restrictive in its scope, expensive and potentially subject to high levels of financial risk.”

  • Expert advice and oversight via a new, independent Office for Environmental Responsibility (or strengthen the powers and remit of the Natural Capital Committee) to offer expert advice and make sure that the plan is delivered.

  • Credible agencies. “Environmental agencies have been weakened by cuts. DEFRA’s budget has been cut by over 50% in a decade. Outside the EU, the government will need to empower the agencies to act authoritatively, independently, and on the basis of scientific advice.”

WCL added the 25 Year Environment Plan should be jointly owned across government and be subject to public consultation.