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New legally binding environment targets set out

Targets to protect our environment, clean up our air and rivers and boost nature have been published.

Legally binding targets to protect our environment, clean up our air and rivers and boost nature was recently (Friday 16 December) published following extensive consultation as part of the government’s commitment to leave the environment in a better state for future generations.

Together they will drive forward action to tackle climate change, restore our natural capital and protect our much-loved landscapes and green spaces.

The Government will publish its Environmental Improvement Plan in January 2023 setting out in more detail how we will achieve these targets, including interim targets.

Publication of the targets recently follows three years of detailed consideration of the scientific and economic evidence, which was published in March 2022, to inform draft targets. A comprehensive consultation on these was run earlier this year which saw over 180,000 responses from a range of individuals, businesses and other organisations.

Sitting at the heart of the government’s Environment Act, the targets require us to:

  • Halt the decline in species populations by 2030, and then increase populations by at least 10% to exceed current levels by 2042
  • Restore precious water bodies to their natural state by cracking down on harmful pollution from sewers and abandoned mines and improving water usage in households
  • Deliver our net zero ambitions and boost nature recovery by increasing tree and woodland cover to 16.5% of total land area in England by 2050
  • Halve the waste per person that is sent to residual treatment by 2042
  • Cut exposure to the most harmful air pollutant to human health – PM2.5
  • Restore 70% of designated features in our Marine Protected Areas to a favourable condition by 2042, with the rest in a recovering condition.

Our world-leading target to halt the decline in species abundance will be followed by a target to reverse that decline, alongside a further target to reduce the risk of species extinction. This will be supported by our target to restore or create more than 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat, which will also help the UK to meet its international commitment to protect 30% of its land and ocean by 2030.

Targets to cut harmful pollution reaching our rivers will help achieve our ambition for more water bodies to be in their natural state, with an 80% cut in total phosphorus pollution from wastewater treatments by 2038 helping to safeguard our waterways.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey, speaking at the UN Convention in Montreal recently, said:

We are committed to leaving our natural world in a better state for future generations, and today we are laying the foundations that will help deliver on this commitment.

These targets are ambitious and will be challenging to achieve – but they will drive our efforts to restore our natural environment, protect our much-loved landscapes and green spaces and marine environment, as well as help tackle climate change.

Marian Spain, chief executive of Natural England, recently said:

The message is clear: without the ambitious targets to tackle climate change and reverse the long-term decline in Nature, we will be unable to sustain the ecosystems on which we rely for our health and our prosperity.

We therefore welcome today’s publication of the statutory targets needed to put Nature recovery at the heart of the government’s priorities. With the first targets only eight years away, we are already working with the government and with businesses, land managers and environmental charities through the Nature Recovery Network Partnership to ensure that we are on track to turn around England’s loss of nature and deliver the ambitions set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.

The UK is an international leader on the environment and nature. We have created or restored plant and wildlife habitats the size of Dorset, we are investing more than £750 million in the environment through our Nature for Climate Fund, and we have established a network of marine protected areas across 130,000 square miles of English waters. But we want and need to do more, as these targets demonstrate.

Under the UK’s Climate COP Presidency, 145 countries – representing over 90% of the world’s forests – signed a pledge to halt deforestation and land degradation by 2030.

The announcement comes as environment ministers participate in the high level segment of  COP15 in Montreal  to agree an ambitious Global Biodiversity Framework. Countries like the UK are seeking to build support for the adoption of a robust framework including the target to protect 30% of the world’s land and ocean by 2030. Recently (15 December 2022) the UK announced its participation in the Donor Joint Statement which commits billions of new finance annually from international donors to close the nature finance gap.

A Written Ministerial Statement has been laid in the House of Lords, which can be read here.


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