Watchdog: UK government ‘painfully slow’ on environment protection

Watchdog: UK government 'painfully slow' on environment protection
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A government spending watchdog has warned that the UK government has been “painfully slow” in its progress towards protecting the environment.

The watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, pointed out that while the UK government has pledged to improve the natural environment within a generation a decade ago, there have been serious delays in addressing “critical” issues such as air pollution, water quality and wildlife loss.

The committee, composed of members of Parliament (MPs), argued that the 25-Year Environment Plan laid out in 2018 did not have a coherent set of long-term objectives or interim targets.

In its report, the committee mentioned that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) did not have “the clout to lead the rest of government… hold other departments to account or manage trade-offs between policy areas”.

Committee chairwoman Labour MP Meg Hillier said:  “If the prime minister is serious about protecting the environment, the issue needs to be owned by the whole of government. Where’s the strong political leadership? It’s just not there, despite all the words.”

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The report also indicated that the government failed to take into account the total costs of delivering its environmental goals. The committee claims that funding for environmental efforts had been piecemeal and that spending decisions do not consider environmental impacts.

Matt Shardlow of the insect charity Buglife added: “The environment can’t be put in a box. If we are to reverse the decline, there has to be action across departments.”

However, Defra released a statement saying: “This government has made significant progress in protecting the natural environment, improving biodiversity, and combating climate change.”

Green Covid-19 recovery

Last June, more than 200 top companies and investors in the UK called on the government to make a Covid-19 recovery plan for the economy in line with its commitment to address the climate change crisis.

The business leaders believe that ministers should take advantage of the lockdown to promote a green economy. The signatories to the letter to the prime minister include Lloyds Bank, Asda, Siemens and Sky, as well as Mitsubishi, Signify and Yorkshire Water.

In the letter, the group made several proposals, including gearing investment toward low carbon innovation, infrastructure and industries.

The businesses also want the government to focus its support on sectors that can take care of the environment, create jobs and foster the recovery while reducing carbon emissions.

They also want the government to ensure that the financial support it provides for bailing out firms will be well managed and in accordance to its climate goals.

Climate finance

This January, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the government will spend at least £3 billion of international climate finance on nature and biodiversity over five years.

The announcement was made by Prime Minister Johnson during a virtual address to the One Planet Summit for biodiversity in Paris. According to the Johnson, the climate finance will be used to protect nature and biodiversity, including marine life, forests and sustainable food production.

In his address, the prime minister claimed that humanity is causing destruction to species and habitats at “an absolutely unconscionable rate” and that the £3 billion will be spent in “protecting nature, whether it’s marine life or timber conservation or sustainable food production”.

The funding will form part of the country’s £11.6 billion contribution to a climate finance initiative.

Among the programs included in the initiative are conserving marine life, addressing deforestation and maintaining habitats such as mangroves that protect local communities from the effects of climate change.

“Obviously it’s right to focus on climate change, obviously it’s right to cut CO2 emissions but we won’t achieve a real balance with our planet, unless we protect nature as well,” Johnson added.

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