Having examined a range of environmental issues over the course of this Parliament, we have in this report set out our 'environmental scorecard' and the policy levers that now need to be more rigorously applied to protect our environment while also promoting sustainable development.
The Prime Minister stated in May 2010 "I want us to be the greenest government ever". The Government has made some progress in some areas, including publishing a Natural Environment White Paper in 2011 and establishing the natural Capital Committee. The White Paper set out an ambition for this to be "the first generation to leave the natural environment of England in a better state than it inherited". It is not possible to measure precisely whether overall such ambitions have been achieved, but it is possible to identify the state of progress in particular areas of the environment. In our scorecard we have assessed biodiversity, air pollution and flooding as 'red' risks, and thus areas of particular concern. In none of the 10 environmental areas we have examined is satisfactory progress being made, so the remainder are assessed as 'amber'.
Emissions and climate change
Flooding and coastal protection
Resource efficiency and waste
Government must commit to improve the situation in all environmental areas. Action is required urgently, and must continue both in this Parliament and over the term of the next and beyond. To be able to do so requires improvements in data, processes, strategy and accountability.
We lack complete data on the state of the environment. The Government should use the development of the UN Sustainable Development Goals as an opportunity to identify and address data gaps and inconsistencies between databases.
Following the abolition of the Sustainable Development Commission, there is more still to do to embed sustainable development across Government. New effective processes and structures are needed to ensure environmental protection is also integrated into policy-making, not least because of the commitment and leadership that will be required to engage with the development of the Sustainable Development Goals and the need to ensure ecosystem services are available to the next generation. Environmental protection requires natural capital to be fully taken into account in Government policy-making, both for existing and new policy programmes. That requires the environment to be measured and valued, and for decision-making to be founded on a clear understanding of how policies may help or harm all aspects of the environment. It also requires departments to provide sufficient time and resources to ensure that environmental as well as social and economic impacts are fully considered.
Regulation is the essential underpinning of environmental protection. EU regulation was identified by the majority of respondents to the Balance of Competencies review of UK/EU responsibilities to have improved environmental performance. Some environmental taxes have been effective but fiscal measures have so far been relatively little used as an environmental policy lever. Overall, there has been no overarching system for identifying how different approaches might best be used to protect different areas of the environment, and there is no system for holding the Government to account for its overall long-term performance in this area.
To help bring the required leadership to environmental protection across Government and beyond, the Government should establish an overarching Environment Strategy to:
- set out strategic principles to guide the action needed to improve the quality of protection over the next 5, 10 and 25 years;
- include the actions and good practices required in local government, as well as the actions needed in central Government to help bring those changes about;
- facilitate a more informed discussion between central and local government about environment resource funding requirements for local authorities;
- encompass a clear assessment of the state of the environment including in each of the 10 environmental areas covered in our report;
- identify the research and analysis work that needs to be done and coordinated to fill gaps in the data that that such assessment requires;
- map appropriate policy levers to each environmental area and set out a clear statement on the place of regulation, public engagement and fiscal incentives as complementary measures. Such a Strategy should involve, for example, a reconsideration of the scope for greater hypothecation of environmental taxes to support expenditure on environmental protection programmes;
- identify how Government, local authorities and the wider community could co-operate to develop consensus on the actions needed; and
- set out how environmental and equality considerations will be addressed and reconciled in infrastructure and other policy areas across all Government departments.
The Government should set up an independent bodyan 'office for environmental responsibility'to (i) review the Environment Strategy we advocate; (ii) advise Government on appropriate targets; (iii) advise Government on policies, both those in Government programmes and new ones that could be brought forward to support the environment; (iv) advise Government about the adequacy of the resources (in both central and local government) made available for delivering the Strategy; and (v) monitor and publish performance against the Strategy and its targets.