The sixth annual report to the Economic Affairs Committee was published by the Natural Capital Committee, an independent government advisory body, on the 29 January 2019.
In January, 2018 the government published its 25 Year Environment Plan (25 YEP) setting out how it will deliver on its pledge to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation; a pledge was first made in the 2011 white paper, The Natural Choice. Then followed: the Agriculture Bill, embedding the public money for public goods principle; the draft Environment Bill; and consultations on indicators and metrics, and net gain. In addition, the Fisheries Bill aims to implement an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management to ensure that negative impacts of fishing activities on the marine ecosystem are minimised, and to avoid degradation of the marine environment.
Despite some successes, overall progress since the 2011 white paper has not been good. Based on the partial assessment of available data, it appears that only moderate / limited progress has been made towards some of the 25 YEP ten goals. Notable improvements include the quality of bathing waters and reductions in the emissions of sulphur oxides, mercury and lead into the atmosphere. In addition, the number of marine protected areas and number of heritage sites has increased since 2011.
Areas where progress has been much slower or declining include a decrease of just 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. Wildlife including bees, butterflies, farmland birds and bats have either continued to decline or stagnate in number. Only half of priority habitats are meeting the favourable status target of 80%. In addition, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transport sector have increased by 3%.
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.