The Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) has released its annual progress report today, citing that the government remains largely off track to meet its environmental ambitions
Of the 40 individual environmental targets, including legally binding targets set under the Environment Act 2021, the government is largely on track to achieve only four, partially on track to achieve 11, and largely off track to achieve ten. It was not possible to assess progress against a further 15 targets due to a lack of sufficient evidence.
Looking at what this means for progress across the 10 goal areas of the EIP, the OEP concludes that in seven of the 10 goal areas, progress has been mixed, and in three, progress has been limited.
Clean and plentiful water
The EIP23 goal includes an objective, originally specified in the 25YEP, to achieve clean and plentiful water by improving at least 75% of England’s waters to be close to their natural state as soon as is practicable. Targets were also set to reduce potable water demand and leakage and tackle pollution from wastewater. The report notes that most water companies saw a year-on-year increase in annual leakage in 2022 to 2023 and per capita water consumption in England has increased in the short term.
Some progress, but its limited
The OEP has noted progress in some areas, including significant reductions in some air pollutants. However, some are weak, and some are even noted as ‘backward progress’. The report stated, “Targets where government is largely off track span most EIP goal areas and include residual waste, sustainable fisheries, chemicals and improving nature.”
Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair of the OEP, said, “Deeply, deeply concerning adverse environmental trends continue. With the depleted state of our natural environment and the unprecedented pace of climate change, it does seem to many that we are at a crossroads.
“While some progress has been made, substantial challenges remain. Our assessment is that the Government is largely off track to meet its ambitions and its legal obligations.
“It is not easy for us as a nation to choose the right path, the right trajectory and to travel together at the pace needed, but we simply must.”
She went on to note that “Delivery bodies, local government, businesses and the environment sector need to know in full, what part they must play. In our view, the Government must do more to set out for Parliament, the public and all those who must play a role in how it intends to deliver its ambition.”
In response to the report, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
Since 2010, the government has created or restored habitat the size of Dorset, and in the last six months alone, we have implemented a ban on single-use plastics, begun the process of creating a new national park, planted nearly 5 million trees and worked with farmers to launch 34 new landscape recovery projects.
We were always clear that our targets are ambitious, and would require significant work to achieve, but we are fully committed to creating a greener country for future generations and going further and faster to deliver for nature.
We will carefully review the Office for Environmental Protection’s findings and respond in due course.