The government has a 25 year plan to do something or other about nature – or was that the environment? Distressingly, they describe this as the 25 YEP.
Mrs M (our Mrs M, of course), speaking at its launch, said that plan would deliver “clean air, clean and plentiful water, plants and animals which are thriving, and a cleaner, greener country for us all". According to the Times, the main points are:
- Introduce a requirement for new housing and infrastructure to result in “environmental net gain”.
- Develop a new “nature recovery network” to create or restore about 1.2 million acres of wildlife-rich habitat outside existing protected areas, with opportunities to reintroduce species.
- A review of protected areas which will assess whether more national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty are needed.
- A new Northern Forest stretching from Cheshire to Lancashire and Yorkshire; a million new urban trees and the appointment of a “national tree champion”.
- Establish a £10 million nature-friendly schools programme to allow pupils to plant gardens, tend vegetable patches and set up bird feeders.
- Eliminate avoidable plastic waste within 25 years, including by encouraging supermarkets to introduce “plastic-free” aisles and considering taxes and charges on single-use items such as takeaway containers.
- Removing all consumer single-use plastics from the central government estate offices.
- Extend the 5p charge for plastic carrier bags to all retailers in England, closing the government’s loophole excluding smaller shops.
- Support water companies, retailers, coffee shops and transport hubs to offer new refill points for people to top-up water bottles free in every large city and town in England.
- Set up an independent statutory body to hold government to account on the environment.
- Create measures to assess progress on the 25-year goals and update the plan at least every five years.
However, according to its critics, all this amounts to not very much. You can read, the ever-readable George Monbiot, for example: "A grand plan to do nothing". GM begins in a sort-of even-handed way:
"In terms of rhetoric, the 25 Year Environment Plan is in some respects the best government document I’ve ever read. In terms of policy, it ranges from the pallid to the pathetic."
There's a lot of detail in his blog, but you'll have to read that for yourself. This is how it ends:
"But anything positive that emerges from this plan will be undermined by the oxymoron at its heart: the vision of “clean growth” on which it is built. We now know that the absolute decoupling of resource use from economic growth is an illusion, and even relative decoupling – consuming less per unit of growth – is slight and unreliable. The more an economy grows, the more resources it will consume. If it’s not plastic, it will be cardboard, and the cardboard is likely to be made from chewed-up rainforest. Clamp down on the use of cardboard, and something else will take its place. An economy that keeps growing on a planet that does not will inevitably burst through environmental limits, however sincere a government might be about seeking to reduce its impacts. The big conversation we need within government has still not begun. The plastic bottle has been kicked down the road."
That's a great closing sentence, but is the decoupling of resource use from economic growth really a complete illusion? Is the cardboard I use really made from rainforests? And you do need to ask where is the workable plan (over 25 years or whenever) for an economy that sustains and enhances human well-being without economic growth, in the face of human self-centredness.
As for me, I cannot see how the 25 YEP is really a plan, let alone a 25 year plan. It doesn't seem to last for 25 years, and the goals are woolly:
Goal – Examples of existing indicators
- Clean air – Emissions of key pollutants; number of high or moderate air pollution days; area of sensitive habitats with excessive levels of air pollution.
- Clean and plentiful water – Water quality in rivers and lakes, bathing waters, and groundwater; inputs of hazardous substances to the marine environment.
- Thriving plants and wildlife – Extent and condition of protected sites on land and at sea; status and trends of wild species and habitats.
- Reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards – Number of households better protected from flooding.
- More sustainable and efficient use of resources – Area of sustainably managed and harvested woodland; fish stocks harvested within safe limits; amount of raw materials consumed per person and resource productivity.
- Enhanced beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment – Area of woodland; people visiting the natural environment and volunteering for conservation activities.
See what I mean? It does at least reference the SDGs.
Meanwhile, maybe nature has a much longer term plan to do something about humans, and is still biding its time.