Defra misses statutory deadline to set new targets for nature, air, water and waste

A stream in Snowdonia. Photo by Daniel Se├čler on Unsplash.
Green groups submitted a letter of complaint to Defra after the Government failed to meet a legal deadline on setting new environmental targets.

Two coalitions, representing organisations including the RSPB, Wildlife Trusts, Friends of the Earth and Woodland Trust, have sent a formal letter of complaint to the UK Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), after it missed the statutory deadline to set new targets for nature, air, water & waste. The coalitions have urged Defra to publish these targets as soon as possible.

The targets were outlined in the Environment Act 2021; a new system of environmental governance for England, which included the establishment of the Office for Environmental Protection, the embedding of environmental principles in policy making, and the establishment of legally binding targets to improve our air and water quality, restore biodiversity and tackle waste and resource efficiency.

This act included a legal deadline set by which the targets should be published to ensure that progress and ambition was maintained. Section 4(9) of the Act required the Secretary of State to lay the targets before Parliament on or before 31 October 2022 in the form of a draft statutory instrument(s). The targets were intended to drive forward progress in areas such as river quality by encouraging stronger government policy and providing certainty for business.

The complaint outlines that a delay in publishing the targets will disrupt the cycle of preparing and reviewing the Environmental Improvement Plan including the first interim targets. Section 10(3) of the Environment Act requires the first review of the first environmental improvement plan to be completed by 31 January 2023. The missed targets deadline joins other delayed policies and programmes such as the environmental principles policy statement, the revised National Air Pollution Control Programme and the bottle deposit return scheme.

The complaint letter is also shared with the new green watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which is able to pursue enforcement proceedings against the government if it finds there has been a serious failure to comply with environmental law.

Read the full complaint letter from the joint Greener UK, Wildlife and Countryside Link and the Healthy Air Coalition.