AppendixGovernment response |
· The Environmental Audit Committee published
its Environmental Scorecard Inquiry Report on 16 September 2014.
This examined progress across a number of environmental issues
and the use of policy levers which could help secure improvements.
· The Government has noted the Environmental
Audit Committee's report and is grateful for its views. We are
committed to protecting and improving the environment. This is
driven by a recognition thatin addition to its intrinsic
valuethe environment underpins the country's economy and
society's well-being by providing goods and services such as food,
clean air and water and space for recreation.
· This Government has a strong record on
environmental protection and we believe that the Committee's assessment
of progress is overly negative. Our environmental goals are challenging
and long term, and cannot be achieved overnight. However, we have
put an ambitious programme of environmental policies in place
to protect the environment for future generations, including those
set out in our landmark White Paper on the natural environment,
published in 2011. This has a strong focus on changing how we
view the natural environment and taking better account in decision-making
of the many benefits nature provides to people. Defra published
the first set of England Natural Environment Indicators in 2013
to track progress against the broad ambitions of the Natural Environment
White Paper. The indicators were updated in May this year.
· The Committee was particularly critical
in relation to air quality, flood management and biodiversity.
These are considered in turn below.
· Air quality has improved significantly
over time as emissions from transport, industry and other sources
have decreased. For example UK PM10 (Particulate Matter) and NOx
(Oxides of Nitrogen) emissions have more than halved in the two
decades up to 2012.
· We are investing heavily in measures to
continue to improve air quality. Over £2 billion worth of
measures have been announced since 2011 that will help reduce
emissions of both particulate matter and NOx (Oxides of Nitrogen)
from vehicles. This includes supporting the market for ultra-low
emission vehicles, helping to buy cleaner buses and retrofit existing
vehicles, and promoting cycling and walking. Good air quality
is vital for people's health and the environment which is why
we continue to take action to improve it. The Government takes
its obligations to achieve EU air quality standards very seriously.
The UK is compliant with EU legislation for nearly all air pollutants
however we still face a significant challenge on meeting NO2 limit
values in areas where we are exceeding. We are committed to ensuring
compliance with the Air Quality Directive in the shortest possible
Flood and coastal erosion risk management
· We will be spending £3.2 billion
in this Parliament on flood management and protection from coastal
erosion compared to £2.7 billion in the last. Going forward
we will be making record levels of capital investment spending
£2.3 billion in improving defences right up to 2021. We committed
an additional £270 million following the winter floods including
an extra £70 million revenue funding for floods maintenance
which the Environment Agency will spend where it will achieve
the most flood risk benefit. We already acknowledge the benefits
that various methods of natural flood management can provide and
it is already policy that all potential options should be assessed
when considering approaches for managing flood risk.
· We have introduced the Partnership Funding
approach which is enabling more schemes to go ahead and allowing
greater local choice. It is on track to bring in up to £140
million in external funding over the four years to 2015, compared
with £13 million during the previous four years. Early indications
suggest that up to a quarter (25%) more schemes will go ahead
in the coming years than if project costs were met by central
Government alone. Through partnership funding, 165,000 households
will have a reduced risk of flooding by the end of the current
Spending period, and the 6 year investment programme will reduce
the risk of flooding to a further 300,000 households by March
· Priority habitats and species have been
in decline since the 1970s, but the rate of decline is slowing
and our Biodiversity 2020 strategy aims to halt overall biodiversity
loss by 2020 and thereafter to move to net gain.
· We are committed to continuing implementation
of our strategy for conservation of England's biodiversity, working
to protect wildlife habitats both on land and at sea. Between
Jan 2011 and March 2015, we will have set in hand the creation
of 67,000 hectares of priority habitats such as arable field margins,
wetlands and woodlands. We have also maintained over 95% of our
Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)our most important
sites covering 1 million hectares / 7% of Englandin favourable
or recovering status. 62% of all priority wildlife habitats (i.e.
including habitat outside SSSIs) are now in favourable or recovering
· We have created 12 Nature Improvement
Areas (NIAs) that work at the landscape scale to create and restore
priority habitats. For example, within the NIAs 270km of boundary
and linear priority habitat (including hedgerows) has been restored,
created or managed to maintain or improve its condition.
· We are taking carefully targeted action
through Environmental Stewardship, as well as voluntary sector
initiatives, to provide the right conditions for priority species
(e.g. Stone Curlew, Cirl Bunting and Marsh Fritillary butterfly).
For very rare species Natural England works with partners on a
species recovery programme. We are also taking action to eradicate,
control and prevent the introduction of invasive species such
as the grey squirrel and signal crayfish, which also have economic
· We will be investing over £3 billion
from 2014 to 2020 to deliver environmental benefits through the
new Rural Development Programme. This is a larger share of the
Rural Development budget for the environment than previously (87%
compared to 83% within the previous programme).
Government's responses to the specific recommendations
· The Government's responses to the Committee's
recommendations (as set out on page 53 and 54 of its Report) are
set out below:
Government must commit to improve the situation in all environmental
areas, if not in this Parliament then over the term of the next.
The Government is committed to protecting
and improving the environment.
In our Natural Environment White Paper,
we set out the Government's ambition to be the first generation
to leave the natural environment of England in a better state
than it inherited. We are continuing to work towards this long
term aim. This is a challenging, generational ambition that will
not be achieved overnight or by government alone. However, we
have set in motion policies which improve how we view and value
nature both now and in the future. We have already implemented
the vast majority of the White Paper's commitments thus putting
in place foundations for the longer term.
The Government, as we have recommended previously, should put
the Natural Capital Committee on a permanent footing to allow
it to continue to co-ordinate a programme to improve environmental
monitoring data. The Government should use the development of
the UN Sustainable Development Goals as an opportunity to identify
any data gaps and inconsistencies between databases, to produce
a single dataset on the state of the environment. This would
provide a key component of an urgently required overarching Environment
In the Government's response to the Natural
Capital Committee's (NCC) second report on 21 October 2014, we
announced that the NCC's term has been extended by six months
to September 2015. This will ensure that the NCC's expertise will
be available to advise Government on the recommendations in its
third report. While the government of the day may wish to consider
which structures are needed to sustain our natural capital, under
this extended remit the NCC will conclude its work by the end
of September 2015.
We are working through the UK Environmental
Observation Framework (part of the Living With Environmental Change
partnership), of which Defra is a member, to improve the coordination
of environmental observations among the many government agencies
and research bodies in the UK. Also, as set out in our response
to the NCC's second report, we have undertaken to explore combining
data from various sources to provide composite species and environmental
indices that provide a clearer picture of the status of England's
The development of Sustainable Development
Goals was the key outcome from the Rio+20 Conference in 2012.
It is important that these new goals are simple, inspiring and
measurable. The High-Level Panel on Post-2015, which was co-chaired
by the UK Prime Minister, has called for 'a data revolution' to
generate new and more accessible forms of data to help underpin
the delivery of the new goals framework. Measurement is a critical
part of an effective monitoring and accountability framework that
can identify trends and track progress. More and better data will
help governments make better decisions and enable citizens to
hold their governments to account. With this in mind a 'data revolution'
group has been set up in the UN, and the UK is playing a crucial
role on this agenda as chair of the UN Statistical Commission.
This work will help to inform the development of appropriate indicators
and identify data requirements.
The Government should strengthen systems currently focussed on
embedding sustainable development and extend them to explicitly
address environmental and natural capital risks. Specifically,
it should renew its programme for auditing and improving departments'
compliance with impact assessment and policy evaluation guidelines,
and include in the review of departments' business plans an explicit
scrutiny of potential environmental harms.
Following the launch of the Sustainable
Development (SD) Vision in February 2011, the Government has taken
significant steps to strengthen the mainstreaming of SD into the
work of Departments. Each Department's business plan, for example,
sets out its contribution to SD and how it is embedded in the
decision making process. To improve transparency, guidance from
HM Treasury now requires departments to report progress on SD.
Government has also set itself ambitious targets on operations
and procurement to demonstrate leadership by example, and has
embedded SD in the performance criteria of all civil servants.
More specifically, published advice on
how to embed SD in Impact Assessments has been improved, including
guidance on taking account of the value of nature. To help drive
improvements, Defra has carried out a comprehensive review of
the uptake of environmental appraisal and sustainable development
guidance in impact assessments across departments recognising
that impact assessment practice is a long-term agenda and this
study can help to inform further progress. Our intention is to
repeat this review in future to monitor progress and Defra continues
to work with other departments on SD capability building.
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 (for example in formulating new Local
Plans), 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 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 cooperate 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.
We have already produced our Natural
Environment White Paperthe first such white paper on the
natural environment for twenty yearsand there are various
environmental strategies and overarching government policy statements
already in place, for example, for biodiversity, forests, soils
and marine policy. It is not clear that an additional high level
overarching strategy would bring added value or bring about enhanced
As we have previously recommended, the Government should extend
the remit of the Natural Capital Committee beyond 2015 to allow
it to reach its full potential and the Government should implement
the NCC's proposal for a 25 year plan. But this will not on its
own be sufficient to drive environmentally protective Government
action. The government should set up an independent bodyan
'office for environmental responsibility'whether by adjusting
the NCC's remit or creating a new organisation, to:
· review the Environment Strategy we
· advise Government on appropriate targets,
including in each of the 10 environmental areas we have examined;
· advise Government on policies, both
those in Government programmes and new ones that could be brought
forward to support the environment;
· advise Government about the adequacy
of the resources (in both central and local government) made available
for delivering the Strategy, and
· monitor performance against such targets
and regularly publish the results (or publish its audit of such
an assessment produced by the Government itself).
The proposals for legislation from the RSPB and
the Wildlife Trusts would address much of this necessary agenda,
which we therefore commend to the Government in this Parliament
or, given the proximity to the Election, the next.
The Government has no plans at present
to establish a new statutory "Office of Environmental Responsibility"
along the lines proposed or to give such functions to the Natural
Scrutiny of Government is already provided
through Parliamentary mechanisms such as the Environmental Audit
Committee itself. Also, we already have delivery bodies such as
Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission
to provide Government with expert advice on the environmental
implications of policies and on the state of the natural environment.
We note that the Committee commends the
RSPB/Wildlife Trust proposals for new legislation. The Government
has already set out its legislative programme for the remainder
of this Parliament so, as noted in the Committee's report, given
the proximity of the next general election this will now be an
issue for the next Parliament.
We are already working to improve the
existing framework of environmental regulation through the Smarter
Environmental Regulation Review. This process provides the opportunity
to set a clearer direction for environmental legislation for the
next decades. The expectation is that it could lead to rationalisation
and enhancement of existing legislation with better designed measures
fit for current and future challenges and opportunities.