Lord Randall was MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip until 2015, and is a former adviser on the environment to Theresa May.
Despite the constant narrative of politicians only “being in it for themselves”, most come to political life to leave a legacy for the next generation, not for personal aggrandisement. Standing up for guiding ideas and beliefs will create a better world for future generations.
This is the spirit of the Environment Act. Building on our 25 Year Environment Plan, this landmark legislation is a key part of fulfilling our commitment to deliver world-leading environmental protection.
In fact, we will be the world’s first government to set legally binding targets for species recovery. And we have every right to be proud and congratulate ourselves, delivering on the ambition of leaving our environment in a better state than we found it.
But words alone will not ensure that our ambition will succeed. We need action. So whatever you might think of the claims of an ‘attack on nature’ by the previous Cabinet, there is a clear public mandate to deliver on our environmental commitments. With everything else happening in the world, the public expects the assurance that tomorrow will indeed be better.
To a concerned public, we have used the Environment Act and our promise of these targets as a shield to defend against detractors and those who have questioned our environmental credentials. At PMQs last week, the Prime Minister spoke of our landmark Environment Act, and stated that the Government has ‘a clear plan to deliver’ on the provisions of that Act.
So it’s incredibly frustrating to find that we have missed the legal deadline for setting these targets due on 31 October 2022. The Secretary of State has said the reason for the delay was that there had been over 180,000 responses to the consultation – more evidence that the public cares passionately about our natural world.
This is something we need to address urgently, and December’s UN’s Biodiversity COP 15 would be an excellent opportunity to set an example for others to follow and halt the alarming loss of wildlife that is threatening to deprive future generations of the species that we consider common today.
We can only hope that this delay is used to address some of the obvious shortcomings of the draft targets which were highlighted by stakeholders in their response to the consultation earlier this year, and to share that – as yet unseen – delivery plan. Chief amongst them were the absence of any target for the recovery or the expansion of the protected sites on land that will be so vital to any hope of nature’s wider recovery, and the proposal that a future (and therefore unknown) baseline target would be set for the recovery of species. With ongoing declines in nature, that future baseline could actually allow the setting of a target for less wildlife than we have today in what is already one of the most nature-depleted countries on earth.
At the end of the year, we should once again be leading the debate to set global targets for nature to 2030. Our Government has been at the forefront of those who have signed up to the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, committing themselves to putting nature and biodiversity on a path to recovery by 2030. The UK has also been a leading player in the high ambition coalition of Governments committing to protect 30 per cent of their land and seas by 2030 – the so-called “30 by 30” commitment.
The absence of any targets under the Environment Act for protected sites on land to bank that 30 by 30 commitment in domestic law, and the risk of a species abundance target that locks in further declines, seriously undermines the Government’s credibility in the run up to COP15 – so here’s hoping that the delay is used to rectify those most obvious of shortcomings.
In the meantime, I think it is time to step back from hashtag wars. Neither “attack on nature” or “anti-growth alliance” make for serious dialogue and engagement, however strongly those views are held.