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  • by Karma Loveday

Government warned green credibility at risk unless 25-year plan made statutory

The Natural Capital Committee (NCC) has told the government its top priory must be to put the 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) on a “a meaningful statutory basis” in the forthcoming Environment Bill promised for this year. The committee, chaired by Dieter Helm, warned: “Without a credible statutory underpinning, the 25YEP may end up as yet another interesting document on the shelf. The plan as it currently stands has no official status – it is neither Green nor White. Having raised expectations, the government’s environmental credibility is on the line.”

This was the lead recommendation of a series published by the committee last week in its State of Natural Capital Annual Report 2019. The wider message was that: “The gap between the ambition and the outcomes remains considerable and in order to meet the 2011 objective to be the first generation to improve the environment, substantive action is now very urgent. Business as usual is going to lead to failure.”

The NCC said a lead body should be designated and given responsibility for overseeing the delivery of the 25YEP and its ten goals. It advised also that only three principles should drive the implementation of the 25 YEP:

  • public money for public goods;

  • the polluter pays; and

  • net environmental gain.

All government departments should be required to adhere to these three principles in the development and implementation of any policy relating to use of or impact on natural capital the NCC said.

Other recommendations included:

  • detailed and enforceable milestones need to be established for the 25 YEP;

  • proposals in the current metrics consultation fall short of what is required

  • a five-yearly environment census to address the absence of data on the state of natural capital; and

  • a set of corporate accounting standards should be made available and a formal audit requirement implemented.

The NCC said the net gain consultation published by the government in December last year falls short of what is required to ensure that development does not lead to a net environmental loss. “The proposals are not comprehensive, and focus almost exclusively on biodiversity.”

The committee said overall progress since the 2011 white paper “has not been good”. Notable improvements include the better quality of bathing waters and the increase in the number of marine protected areas. A notable decline is a decrease of over 35% in the percentage of surface water bodies in England that have been assessed as attaining high or good ecological status, with only 14% of rivers in England meeting these standards.

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