Environment secretary Michael Gove has been told to develop specific and measurable goals as he develops policies around resource efficiency and waste, chemicals and the use of hazardous substances.
The call comes from the National Capital Committee (NCC), set up to advise the Government on achieving its objective of being part of “the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited”.
Gove asked the NCC to consider what Defra’s proposed 25-year environment plan should aim to achieve and what the necessary conditions are for success. He told MPs this month that the plan will be published by the year end.
In an advisory report, the NCC says the plan should set out a clear, accessible vision, expressed in ways that everyone can understand, “and provide quantified measures of success so that all know where they are heading and how close they are to achieving the goals”.
“This is Defra’s first task. Without it, the plan will most likely go the way of many well-intentioned initiatives in the past, and the overarching objective of leaving the natural environment in a better state for the next generation will not be achieved.”
The plan needs to recognise the sheer scale and urgency of the task
A dozen specific proposed goals relate to issues including air quality, flooding, habitat, green spaces and pollution.
Waste is not included in the list but the report adds that, while the proposals cover critical areas requiring action, “there are others where specific and measurable goals should be developed, including but not limited to, resource efficiency and waste, and chemicals and the use of hazardous substances”.
It goes on: “The plan needs to recognise the sheer scale and urgency of the task. At present UK natural capital is not even maintaining its current condition; it is declining.
”This is by definition unsustainable and, if unchecked, will not only leave the UK with a degraded environment, but with lower economic growth and a reduced quality of life for those that live here.”
The NCC says a separate body should be given a statutory responsibility to report on progress, reporting annually to Parliament and empowered by effective expertise and resources.
The Natural Capital Committee is an independent advisory committee. It provides advice to the government on the sustainable use of natural capital: natural assets including forests, rivers, land, minerals and oceans. The committee’s remit also covers the benefits derived from natural assets, such as food, recreation, clean water, hazard protection and clean air.
The second term of the committee runs from 2016 to 2020. Professor Dieter Helm chairs the committee, which is focusing on helping the government develop its 25-year environment plan. The committee’s initial term ran from 2012 to 2015.