Flooding and coastal protection, air pollution and biodiversity awarded red cards in report by Environmental Audit Committee
Sept 25th 2014
In a scorecard assessment of the Government’s green policies, the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee has looked at the Government’s performance in ten areas and awarded it a red card for three areas and an amber card for the remaining seven. Its efforts to reduce air pollution, protect biodiversity, and reduce the risk of flooding were all given red cards.
The Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said: “Our inquiry provides a wide-ranging examination of the state of the environment and shows that further and continued effort is required to protect it properly. A dedicated, wide-ranging ‘Environmental Strategy’ is needed, overseen by a new ‘Office for Environmental Responsibility’ to ensure the Government meets the requirements to protect human health and the natural world.”
The National Audit Office (NAO) published a review of Environmental Protection in July 2010, following the Prime Minister’s statement that he wanted the government to be “the greenest government ever.” The NAO examined 10 key environmental protection areas and published a follow-up review in June 2014 assessing progress in the same 10 areas. The Environmental Audit Committee’s report includes the NAO’s assessment of those 10 areas and recommended actions.
On flooding and coastal protection, the Committee says that 2.4 million properties are still at risk of flooding from rivers or the sea, and three million from surface water. More should be done to restrict the building of new homes on floodplains, says the report, and to reduce surface water flooding by integrating sustainable drainage systems into new developments.
On biodiversity, the Committee notes that the Government’s Biodiversity 2020 Indicators set targets for biodiversity to be achieved by 2020. Defra’s first assessment of progress against the Indicators in 2013 showed improvement against 13 measures, deterioration against 13 measures and little or no change in 11.
On air pollution, the report says that emissions of a number of airborne pollutants increased in 2013, after being steady between 2010 and 2012 and declining for a long time before 2010. The UK failed to meet targets for nitrogen dioxide pollution in 34 of the 43 zones specified in the EU Ambient Air Quality Directive in 2012, resulting in the European Commission launching infraction proceedings against the UK in February 2014 with regard to 16 zones that would not be compliant by 2015.
The Committee also notes the abandonment of the EU soil framework directive proposal, and recommends that the Government looks again at land management and soil erosion and the funding situation with regard to contaminated land remediation. The report notes the concerns of Environmental Protection UK and the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) about the withdrawal of central Government grants to local authorities for doing work on contaminated land remediation. The CIEH told the Committee that “without the prospect of necessary remediation being funded, it would be a reckless local authority which determined a site as contaminated without having identified an appropriate person able to pay.”
In conclusion, the Chair of the Committee said: “Effective action on environmental protection is essential, both during the current Parliament and beyond. Parties should therefore be considering credible environmental protection in their manifestos. I want them to use our report as both a wake-up call and a template for the measures that need to be put forward.”
For further information on the report, see “News from Parliament”.
Photograph: House Sparrow by gardenbirdwatching.com. Licensed under Creative Commons. The House Sparrow has an RSPB red status, meaning it has the highest conservation priority and needs urgent action. The RSPB says that monitoring suggests a severe decline in the UK house sparrow population, recently estimated as dropping by 71 per cent between 1977 and 2008 with substantial declines in both rural and urban populations.