OEP response to consultation on environmental targets

We have provided advice to government in response to its consultation on environmental targets.  We are calling for targets to be set that are comprehensive and ambitious, to meet the urgent need for action to protect, restore and improve the environment.

Dame Glenys Stacey, Chair of the OEP, said: “There is an urgent need to make significant progress over the next few years, in protecting, restoring and improving the environment. 

“The statutory targets finally agreed will be an important stimulus and should so far as possible promote immediate as well as sustained action. 

“We urge government to set statutory targets that are sufficiently comprehensive and that demonstrate the level of ambition needed to significantly improve the natural environment, as required under the Environment Act.”

We provide advice on the thirteen target proposals. We commend five of the targets, make five recommendations for targets to be amended and we ask for a number of additional targets to be developed.

We identify a number of overall themes and key messages from our analysis: 

Targets must be comprehensive and cover the full range of priorities

We think all goals in the EIP should have an associated apex target, supported by a range of interim targets. However, the proposals do not include apex targets for all 25 YEP goals, and it is not clear whether other non-statutory apex targets are planned to accompany the next iteration of the 25 YEP. 

Relationships between targets needs setting out

The consultation document provides little clarity on how the proposed targets will work together with existing commitments under national legislation and through international commitments.

We reiterate the need for government to map the targets and commitments that are important to achieve the 25 YEP goals, and to order them into a clear hierarchy and taxonomy.

We state that Government will need to develop a suite of targets over the next EIP cycle, with priorities informed by the Significant Improvement Test. 

Inconsistent levels of ambition across proposed targets

Several of the proposed targets are ambitious, and we commend them. In particular halting the decline in species abundance by 2030. It reflects the need for urgent and immediate action and will require recovery of a range of habitats, while also mitigating the pressures that impact many parts of the environment.

However, three targets are unambitious or lack sufficient urgency to reflect the scale of change needed. We recommend that the post 2030 species recovery, the wildlife-rich habitats target and the PM2.5 air quality targets are amended to reflect this.

Delivery requires planning and immediate action

Environmental change typically lags behind intervention. It is paramount that government meets the October 2022 deadline to set targets, and that it moves quickly to assemble resources and co-ordinate delivery activity. This is particularly important for the target to halt the decline in species abundance within eight years.

Many targets appear to rely on significant policy instruments that are currently under development. Those relating to agriculture and land management will be critically important in addressing recovery of the land and water environment, as well as driving species recovery. We are therefore concerned at the slow progress of the Environmental Land Management scheme.

Dame Glenys added: “We congratulate government on progress so far and hope that our advice will allow the strengthening of the proposed targets. 

“We will assess progress against the targets through our next monitoring report, and going forward we will also evaluate and report on whether the targets will significantly improve the natural environment in England.”