Thérèse Coffey accused of undermining Cop15 talks with weak targets | police15

The UK government has undermined talks at the Cop15 biodiversity conference by not setting goals for water quality or habitat protection in England, campaigners have said.

Environmental experts have been disappointed by the delay legally binding targets required by the Environment Act 2021, which were published on Friday, six weeks after the deadline.

Not only do they fail to set overall targets for the health of rivers and protected sites, but the targets are weaker than those set in the consultation. For example, the consultation recommended an increase in tree canopy and forest cover from 14.5% to 17.5% of the total land area in England by 2050. The new target is 16.5%. Water pollution targets have also been pushed back from 2037 to 2038, giving one more year for rivers to become polluted with nutrients and chemicals.

Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey announced the goals as part of a six-minute talk to delegates at police15 in Montreal, in which she spoke mainly about the oceans and said she was “a huge fan of science.”

She said: “Today in the UK, I announced that our new legally binding environmental targets will include restoring 70% of designated features in marine protected areas back to favorable condition, because we have to keep an eye on the magnitude of the environmental challenge we face.” Coffey has no further speaking engagements scheduled at Cop15.

Some have argued that it does not help international negotiations, where the UK is urging other countries to protect 30% of their land and sea for nature, when it is not setting overall targets.

Craig Bennett, CEO of the Wildlife Trusts, said: “I have to say the UK dealmakers are doing a good job on CBD [Cop15], but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has published targets that undermine that. It’s hugely disappointing.”

Campaigners are also angry that the targets were slipped on a Friday afternoon, when parliament is not sitting and the environment secretary is abroad, so they cannot be debated in the House of Commons.

Bennett said: “The idea that they are being published at a time when the Secretary of State is not available to comment and cannot answer questions about them in parliament is pretty poor; there are plenty of other times they could have done that. ”

There has been widespread disappointment among green policy experts, who had expected the targets to include general measures for water quality and protected sites.

Richard Benwell, Chief Executive of the Wildlife and Countryside Link, said: “The objectives of the Environment Act are more than political aspirations. They are intended to provide legal certainty, clarity for business, and a shared purpose across government. So a package without targets for protected sites and overall water quality is a half job.”

Ruth Chambers, from the Greener UK coalition, added: “It’s good to see the Secretary of State working hard to publish these targets after missed deadlines, but the absence of targets for things like river health and protected sites for nature doesn’t make sense. These are two of our most pressing problems.

“Now we need the government to show how it will meet the new targets and close the gaps where there are no targets at all.”

These targets may need to be redrawn, as they may not deliver significant enough environmental improvement. Benwell added: “In January, Defra is legally required to review whether the targets would result in a significant environmental improvement. The 2030 target to halt species declines is indeed positive, but without protected sites and water quality targets, the package does not measure up to that test. Defra should commit to consulting and filling these gaps without delay.”

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrats’ environmental spokesman, said: “Once again, the Conservative government has shown how short-sighted and irresponsible they really are… The environment secretary has a duty to protect our planet for future generations, but once again he has set aside this responsibility. in the tall grass. Undermining these goals is a shame and a betrayal. The government must change course immediately.”

The targets appeared to have been rushed after the government was chastised by the new post-Brexit environmental regulator, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), for missing the October deadline. Dame Glenys Stacey, President of the EPO, previously told Coffey that the possibility of taking formal enforcement action against the government for multiple failed targets was kept under active review. EPO You can initiate an investigation and take legal action if you deem it necessary.

Coffey said: “We are committed to leaving our natural world in a better state for future generations, and today we are laying the foundation that will help deliver on this commitment.

“These goals are ambitious and will be difficult to achieve, but they will fuel our efforts to restore our natural environment, protect our beloved landscapes and green spaces and the marine environment, as well as help address climate change.”

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