‘Failure on pretty much every aspect’: Government condemned as UK set to miss key environmental goals
Despite promises to tackle green issues, the UK is failing to make progress on crucial targets such as cutting CO2 emissions. An investigation by Greenpeace and the FT shows that the UK government is set to miss legally binding environment targets in 2020 and had failed on “pretty much every aspect” of protecting wildlife and the environment. Despite promises to prioritise green issues, the UK has made little progress on tackling CO2 emissions, air and water pollution, waste and overfishing, and had now increased tree planting or protected biodiversity. One reason for the failure to meet many targets was budget cuts in DEFRA. A Greenpeace spokesman said: “As rivers and air become more toxic, emissions and waste piles continue to rise, our oceans emptied of fish and countryside becomes devoid of wildlife, the government must be held to account for its failure to protect people’s health and nature.” On energy, only 11% of the UK’s energy was produced through renewables in 2018. This figure has grown by around 1% every year since 2014 (meant to be 15%). UK is on track to miss its carbon budget for 2023-27, and 2028-32. UK aviation emissions continue to rise.
‘Failure on pretty much every aspect’: Government condemned as UK set to miss key environmental goals
‘As rivers become toxic and countryside becomes devoid of wildlife, the government must be held to account,’ say campaigners
By Phoebe Weston, Science Correspondent @phoeb0 (The Independent)
12th November 2019
Despite promises to tackle green issues, the UK is failing to make progress on crucial targets such as cutting carbon emissions
The UK government is set to miss legally binding environment targets in 2020, according to an investigation that found it had failed on “pretty much every aspect” of protecting wildlife and the environment.
Despite promises to prioritise green issues, the UK has made little progress on tackling carbon emissions, air and water pollution, waste and overfishing, as well as increasing tree planting and biodiversity.
Boris Johnson promised to “do extraordinary things on the environment”, yet the country’s green credentials are in disrepute, according to the investigation by Greenpeace’s journalism unit Unearthed and the Financial Times.
Next year will be a key moment for the UK to show leadership in tackling climate and nature emergencies when it hosts the United Nations climate change summit COP26.
However, campaigners say progress has been crippled by budget cuts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).
“The government is failing to take sufficient action on pretty much every aspect of nature and the environment, despite endless promises to leave it in a better state than it found it. It’s set to miss more targets than an archer shooting blindfolded,” said Sam Chetan-Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace UK.
“As rivers and air become more toxic, emissions and waste piles continue to rise, our oceans emptied of fish and countryside becomes devoid of wildlife, the government must be held to account for its failure to protect people’s health and nature.”
The government has already had legal battles over its failure to tackle nitrogen dioxide pollution and is now on track to miss 2020 goals to reduce ammonia and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – despite targets being in place since 2012.
It is also on track to miss all of its internationally agreed 2020 biodiversity targets, with reports showing the UK is making “insufficient progress” on 14 of 19 targets. The UK has abandoned plans to conserve half of England’s best wildlife sites by 2020.
If tree planting continues at the same rate as the past two years, the government will fall 2 million trees short of its 2022 target to plant 11 million trees, the investigation found.
The pledge was initially set for 2020 but pushed back two years following a large shortfall.
The government’s own analysis shows it will meet its carbon budgets for 2019 to 2022, but will miss the following two targets which could make reaching net zero by 2050 impossible.
Currently 35 per cent of UK rivers are in good or better condition, which is well below the EU target requiring all water bodies to achieve “good” status by 2015.
Experts say it will be almost impossible to meet European Union requirements to recycle or reuse 50 per cent of household waste by 2020.
The government does not record annual figures for the carbon emissions from international aviation, only from domestic aviation. Figures are only produced from time to time, as in the DfT’s passenger and carbon forecasts. The more recent was in 2017. (36.2 million tonnes CO2 in 2015)
Report by Unearthed, from Greenpeace, is at https://unearthed.greenpeace.org/2019/11/12/environmental-targets-2020-uk/
UK set to miss raft of environmental targets in 2020 and beyond
As a decade comes to an end, the clock ticks down on the time available for the UK to meet an array of long standing environmental targets, from recycling to air pollution
By Emma Howard (Greenpeace, Unearthed)
and Joe Sandler Clarke
and Luke Barratt
and Georgie Johnson
@EmmaEHoward @JSandlerClarke @lukewbarratt @georgiefjohnson
The UK is on track to miss a whole range of environmental targets in the early 2020s, including many that are legally binding and come from the EU, according to an analysis by Unearthed and the Financial Times.
In a decade that saw David Cameron promise to lead “the greenest government ever” and Theresa May pledge to “leave the environment in a better state than we found it”, and Boris Johnson promise to “do extraordinary things on the environment”, the data tells a different story.
The analysis of performance against existing targets comes amidst uncertainty over the future of the UK’s environmental regulation.
Boris Johnson recently scrapped a commitment to meet EU environmental standards post-Brexit. The change to Theresa May’s deal mean that though EU standards have already been transposed into UK legislation many could be undone in future.
Tom West, UK environment lead at Clientearth, told Unearthed that: “without a separate binding obligation not to row back from existing environmental standards, there is a risk that the government could relax commitments relatively easily, in the future. That’s why we need a legal commitment to non-regression on environmental standards in primary legislation.”
Moreover, the oversight role of the EU Commission and courts will cease to exist at the end of the transition period.
The government has set out plans for a new environmental watchdog – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – but it won’t have the power that the EU has had to impose hefty fines on the government. It could, however, bring legal proceedings against a public authority regarding an alleged breach of environmental law, through a mechanism in the Upper Tribunal called “environmental review”.
It is a long article, with some large images. Below are the sections on air pollution and climate
The UK’s most prominent failure to meet EU derived targets is probably air pollution.
The government has been breaching EU standards on nitrogen dioxide concentrations for years, and has been held to account for it in the courts, but less well covered is its record on total emissions (as opposed to the concentration in the air). This is tracked through the EU’s National Emissions Ceiling Directive, which set targets for 2020 for five pollutants: nitrogen oxides (NOx), non-methane volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs), sulphur dioxide (SO2), ammonia (NH3) and fine particulate matter (PM2.5).
Official projections anticipate that the UK will meet its commitments on the first three of those pollutants, but miss those for ammonia and PM2.5 – the most damaging pollutant of all to human health.
As a result, in April the UK was obliged to come up with a plan to hasten progress (pdf), which includes proposals to cut emissions from agriculture and domestic heating. But the government’s own data shows that even if all of these proposals were in place and having an effect before the end of next year (which is unlikely), they would only just meet the PM target and would likely still miss the ammonia target.
“It all seems to be too little too late,” Katie Nield, ClientEarth’s UK clean air lawyer told Unearthed. “The UK has been aware of its 2020 targets for over seven years now, so why are ministers still to face up to what is needed to comply with the law and protect people’s health from air pollution?”
Ammonia emissions have been on the rise again over the last decade, due to a lack of action in the agricultural sector. Meanwhile particulate pollution has been decreasing, but not at a fast enough rate to meet the target. Households are now by far the largest source of PM2.5, as the popularity for burning wood at home is on the rise.
The emissions commitments are set by the UN’s Gothenberg Protocol, which the UK is signed up to independently, so when it comes to Brexit we’ll still have them, but the EU will not be there to enforce them.
The UK’s success in reducing emissions from coal power is well documented but in other areas of the economy the UK is actually behind the curve.e.
For example, it has a target from the EU to produce 15% of its energy – electricity, heat and transport – through renewables by 2020.
According to Dave Reay, professor of carbon management at the University of Edinburgh, the UK is exceeding its specific electricity target, which is to generate 30% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020, thanks to its progress on offshore wind.
But when it comes to the overall target, however, the latest figures show that only 11% of the UK’s energy was produced through renewables in 2018. This figure has grown by around one percentage point every year since 2014, so the government will need to double its rate of progress if it is to hit its target.
Possibly more crucially, the UK is set to miss two upcoming carbon budgets. These budgets, part of a system established in 2008, are legally binding limits on the net amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted in the UK over a series of four-year periods.
According to the government’s own analysis from earlier this year, the UK will meet its budget for 2018-22, but will miss targets for the following two periods.
Prof Reay told Unearthed: “To put us back on track, we would need some really far-reaching changes, right across government. And at the moment, we’ve got little bits around the edges as far as I can see. So we’re not on track to meet those.”
If it does fail to meet a budget, the government is legally obliged to explain to Parliament why this has happened and to set out how it intends to be more ambitious in the following budget.
Prof Reay said he’s worried the government will decide to borrow against its over-performance on past budgets, which, he said, wouldn’t be in line with its net zero target or the Paris agreement.
He added: “This is the number one priority and they need to get that.”
and there is a lot more at