EDITOR’S COMMENT: Targets to protect the planet are a noble ambition, but should never come at the expense of normal men and women paying energy costs or green taxes.

In an update to the Environment Bill, published today (19 August), the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) confirmed that it is developing time-bound, numerical targets aimed at tackling an array of environmental issues.

At least one “strong and meaningful” target will be introduced for each of the four priority areas for the Bill: biodiversity, air quality, water and waste. All targets will be deadlined for the mid-to-late 2030s and will be backed up with interim targets that will not be legally binding, to help spur early progress.

The goals should be set in statute by the end of October 2022 at the latest, the Defra documents state. The Department has promised to use a “robust, evidence-led” process for developing and implementing the new targets, such as was used for the UK’s updated Climate Change Act.

According to Defra’s documents, the UK’s post-Brexit watchdog for green issues, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) will report annually on progress against the new targets. Recruitment for the OEP’s inaugural chair began last week, meaning that the OEP is likely to be created in early 2021, subject to the Environment Bill receiving royal assent.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said the targets will be a “driving force” behind the Conservative Party’s overarching commitment to leave Britain’s nature in a better state. By enshrining targets in law, he said, the government will “guarantee real and lasting progress on some of the biggest environmental issues facing us today”.

The Environment Bill, in its current form, was first introduced in October 2019. It was reintroduced in January, then updated at a second reading in February, but its process has been shelved since then as Ministers grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Eustice argued that, by reintroducing the Bill with new targets “as soon as possible” once Parliament resumes after the summer recess, Defra will “provide some much-needed certainty to businesses and society, as we work together to build back better and greener”.

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