NAO report says Government needs to do more to achieve long-term environmental goals

The National Audit Office (NAO) – the UK’s independent public spending watchdog – has today published a report on the UK government achieving its long‑term environmental goals.

It is not yet clear that the government has in place what it needs to meet its long-term environmental goals, and it will need to shift momentum to achieve its ambition of improving the natural environment in England within a generation.

“The government wants this to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in England in a better state than it inherited. However, it is now nine years since the government set this ambition and it still does not have the right framework to achieve it. Some progress has been made on elements of the Environment Plan but significant action is needed across national and local government, working with business and the public, if the environmental goals are to be met.”

Gareth Davies, head of the NAO

The key findings of the report:

  • The 2018 [25 Year Environment] Plan brings together a number of government’s environmental commitments and aspirations in one place, but it does not provide a clear and coherent set of objectives.
  • Since publication of the Plan, Defra has developed more detailed strategies for just two of government’s 10 environmental goals: on resources and waste, and clean air.
  • Defra has also developed a wide-ranging Environment Bill, which would put its plans on a statutory basis, and help clarify long-term ambitions. However, government has yet to set a clear course for the development of a coherent and complete set of environmental objectives, and for a full set of costed delivery plans.
  • Government’s capacity to take forward environmental work has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic over the past six months, but progress was already slower than government had intended.
  • There are indications that skills and resources gaps could inhibit government’s progress in achieving its environmental ambitions.
  • Defra is developing governance arrangements to help manage the links between different environmental issues. But Government’s arrangements for joint working between departments on environmental issues are patchy.
  • Defra knows it will need to help people to change their behaviour but is only just beginning work to look at how it will do this in a coordinated and evidence-based way.
  • Defra’s approach to monitoring progress across the goals is developing but has some serious gaps.
  • Government does not yet monitor total spend on delivering its environmental goals.
  • Public reporting of progress is not well developed.

Read the full report.