Dirty air that chokes lungs and water pollution from sewage and farming must be tackled as urgent priorities and treated as seriously as the climate crisis, England’s new environmental watchdog has warned government.
Depleted soils, loss of habitats, overfishing and damage to sea floors from harmful trawling must also be tackled urgently, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) urges in its first report.
It says tackling the sorry state of England’s air, water, landscapes and seas should be treated with the same urgency and resources as climate action to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The environment is in a “precarious” state, with air and water quality, species and habitats in freefall, despite ambition from government, said OEP chairwoman Dame Glenys Stacey.
The document says a thorough stocktake of the natural world, ambitious legal targets and coherent action are vital if the environment is to be a priority across all departments.
The OEP is also calling on the Government to reverse the decline in funding for monitoring the state of the environment over the last decade – but does not call for more resources overall to tackling the environmental crisis.
The watchdog was set up after Brexit to manage England’s environment, designed to hold the government to account on the monitoring and reversing destruction of nature and to act as a regulator on green laws. Questions about its funding and independence have raised concerns it lacks teeth.
It started operating in January this year so little assessment has been done about its efficacy.
Its first monitoring report on the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, announced in 2018, warns that, while the plans for the natural world are ambitious, progress on delivering them has been too slow.
“The 25 Year Environment Plan was an ambitious attempt to confront the challenges facing the environment, yet we continue to see worrying and persistent trends of environmental decline,” said Dame Glenys.
Turning the tide will not be easy, she acknowledged, but asked the Government to set a clear and ambitious vision for the environment which is prioritised across all departments.
“All of us have an inarguable dependency on the environment, and its precarious state should be a matter of concern for all of Government and a national priority,” she warned.
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