UK environmental tipping points fast approaching, watchdog says green politics – Advice Eating

Environmental tipping points are fast approaching in the UK, the Office for the Environment (OEP) has said.

Potential turning points – where the gradual decline suddenly becomes catastrophic – include loss of wildlife, collapse of fisheries and dead, polluted rivers, the watchdog said. The OEP is a new official body set up after Brexit to hold government accountable. Its first report, published on Thursday, said ministers had shown ambition but these measures were too slow.

The government launched a 25-year environmental plan in 2018, but the OEP says the ongoing and worrying declines must continue and the minister must use the opportunities offered by the new environmental law to implement urgent and coherent action.

“We ask the government to recognize that in some areas turning points are fast approaching. Because if you don’t, it’s going to be a lot harder,” said Dame Glenys Stacey, the OEP Chair. “If you come to very limited numbers [of wildlife species]the effort to turn it around is immense and takes a terribly long time.”

She highlighted the ongoing damage to marine life. “Progress there has been impressive at best. But the government can largely reverse these negative trends if it wants to.”

Stacey added: “A sustainable environment is not only beautiful to have, it is essential to human well-being, progress and prosperity. Turning the tide to achieve this is extraordinarily difficult, but urgently needed for our prosperity, health and well-being, and absolutely necessary for generations to come.

“The first 25-year environmental plan was an ambitious attempt to address environmental challenges, but progress towards that goal has been too slow. “We continue to see worrying and ongoing trends in environmental degradation. But with the environmental bill, the government has a valuable opportunity.”

Simon Brockington, OEP’s Chief Insights Officer, said: “A tipping point occurs at the point where a very slow and sustained decline suddenly becomes catastrophic. We see a long-term decline in biodiversity and call on the government to take action. The serial setting of catch quotas over catch limits over time can lead to a collapse in fish stocks and we have seen many examples of this.”

He also highlighted seabed trawling, which he says is “destroying the integrity of the ecosystem,” and the pollution of farmland and rivers with fertilizers and livestock manure. “For turning points, those would be the ones I would highlight,” he said.

Natalie Prosser, the regulator’s chief executive, said the UK is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world and air pollution causes tens of thousands of deaths a year. “Climate change affects the environment and biodiversity. We are heading towards a major turning point.”

She said the government has missed many environmental targets and funding for monitoring the environment has declined over the past 10 years.

The OEP report identifies six “building blocks” needed to save the UK’s environment, including a comprehensive inventory of the state of nature, a commitment to action by all government agencies, long-term legally binding targets and accountability for achieving those targets.

“The building blocks have to be firmer, clearer, heavier, and pursued with real determination and intent,” Stacey said. “Many environmental trends are taking decades to materialize and there is increasing pressure on government to be immediate. So if we’re not careful, the environment can always come second. We will rue the day we don’t take stock and speak up.”

Richard Benwell, the head of Wildlife and Countryside Link, a coalition of 65 nature and conservation organizations, said: “It’s been 10 years since the government promised to pass on the environment in better condition – 10 years that biodiversity has been lost has declined further. The OEP poses a simple challenge: this overarching goal must now be rooted in ambitious goals and an urgent delivery strategy.”

Joan Edwards of the Wildlife Trusts said: “Despite all the initial promises of the 25-year environmental plan, the government has seriously backed down. The goals of reversing the decline of nature are so ambitious that in 20 years we could have even fewer wildlife than we do today. The steps outlined by the OEP provide a framework for the government to deliver on its promises, but we need a lot more political willpower.”

Environment Secretary Rebecca Pow said: “We welcome this report, which recognizes that our Environment Law gives us new tools to make a real difference to our environment, to put it at the heart of government and to help us move towards a sustainable future to bring nature to the streets to recover in this decade. We are currently deliberating on legally binding environmental targets, including a world-leading goal of halting biodiversity loss by 2030.”

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