UK government sets out legally-binding targets to ‘build back greener’

The UK government has set out how it will use ambitious, legally-binding targets under its landmark Environment Bill.

The government will introduce long-term targets in four priority areas to drive significant and lasting environmental improvements: cleaner air; cleaner water; less waste; and more biodiversity.

Tackling pollution from agriculture to improve water quality was listed among the priority areas.

Further priority areas and targets can be introduced at a later date, informed by the latest scientific evidence, to tackle the most pressing or newly emerging issues.

This step will make sure both this and any future governments continue to deliver a ‘green recovery’ – meeting the Prime Minister’s commitment to “build back greener”.

These long-term targets will be supported by interim targets to ensure the UK stays on track – these will set out a five-year trajectory, and the government will report annually on progress.

Targets

The four priority areas and proposed objectives include:

Air quality

The government will explore targets focusing specifically on reducing public exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), the air pollutant that has the most significant impact on human health, to improve air quality across the country.

Resource efficiency and waste reduction

It will also consider potential targets to increase resource productivity and reduce the volume of residual waste and plastic pollution generated.

Biodiversity

The government said it will explore targets to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats in our protected sites on land, in freshwaters and at sea and in the wider countryside, and to increase species populations on land and improve marine biodiversity.

Water

The plans also will look to set targets to tackle pollution from agriculture and wastewater to improve water quality, as well as a target on water demand to reduce the volume that is abstracted.

‘Evidence-led and outcome-based’

Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “The targets we set under our landmark Environment Bill will be the driving force behind our bold action to protect and enhance our natural world – guaranteeing real and lasting progress on some of the biggest environmental issues facing us today.

I hope these targets will provide some much-needed certainty to businesses and society, as we work together to build back better and greener.

In a statement, Defra explained that it would use a “robust, evidence-led process” in collaboration with independent experts and stakeholders to set ambitious outcome-based targets, which will also apply to future governments.

To hold the government to account, the new environmental watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection, will also report annually on the progress that has been made in improving the natural environment in accordance with these targets.

Once targets are developed, businesses and communities will have an opportunity to share their views in response to a public consultation that is expected in early 2022.