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Our Guide to the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023

What is the UK’s Environmental Improvement Plan? What targets does it set and how does the UK Government propose it will achieve these commitments?
Green News
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The UK Government published its Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) in January 2023, setting out the UK’s ‘delivery plan for the environment, building a greener, more prosperous country’. This builds on existing legislative frameworks such as the 25 Year Environment Plan, the Environment Act, the Agriculture Act and the Fisheries Act, and outlines a comprehensive strategy to halt and reverse the decline of nature in the UK. 

👉So what exactly is the UK’s Environmental Improvement Plan 2023? What targets does it set and how does the UK Government propose it will achieve these commitments?

What is the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023?

On January 31st the UK Government published its eagerly awaited Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP), setting out a five year delivery plan to restore nature, improve the UK’s environmental quality, and increase the prosperity of the UK. 

The Environmental Improvement Plan is required under the Environment Act and is a plan of action for achieving the commitments made by the UK Government in the 25 Year Environmental Plan.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stated that: “This plan provides the blueprint for how we will deliver our commitment to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.”

The Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 also seeks to help the UK abide by its international commitments and in many ways can be seen as the domestic adoption of the agreement on nature conservation reached at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December 2022, where nations agreed to protect at least 30% of nature by 2030. The highlights of the COP15 agreement include: 

  • Preserving, enhancing and aiding the recovery of ecosystems with the ultimate goal of restoring 30% of degraded ecosystems by 2030
  • Prevention of species extinction, with the target of a tenfold reduction in extinction risk across all species by 2050
  • The sustainable use of biodiversity and adoption of biodiversity-friendly practices
  • The protection of the rights of indigenous people, this includes ensuring that natural resources are fairly distributed
  • The reduction of pollution risks with the target of reaching levels that are non harmful to biodiversity by 2030

The UK Government was a strong proponent of the COP15 deal and the Environmental Improvement Plan reflects many of its aims. The Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 aims to not only halt the decline of nature in the UK, but to reverse its deterioration.

sheep in wild landscape

What are the goals of the Environmental Improvement Plan?

The Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 sets out a five year delivery plan to restore nature and improve the environmental quality of the UK’s land, air and water. It draws on the ten goals set out by the 25 Year Environmental Plan and details the progress made against them, it also lays out the UK's targets and commitments, and maps how it plans to continue to deliver on these. Let’s take a closer look at the ten goals: 

  1. Thriving plants and wildlife
  2. Clean air
  3. Clean and plentiful water
  4. Managing exposure to chemicals and pesticides
  5. Maximise our resources, minimise our waste 
  6. Use resources from nature sustainably 
  7. Mitigate and adapt to climate change
  8. Reduce the risk of harm from environmental hazards
  9. Enhance biosecurity
  10. Enhance beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment 

Let's take a closer look at the key provisions of the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 below. 

Thriving plants and wildlife

This goal requires the UK Government to focus on preventing a decline in biodiversity across the UK, something that the UK Government has already prioritised. For example, the UK government has already created and preserved huge areas of wildlife habitats and invested over £750 million in UK peatland restoration and tree planting via the UK’s Nature for Climate Fund. Additionally the UK Government has created protected marine areas totalling over 35,000 square miles. 

This is a good start and demonstrates that the UK Government is committed to preventing the decline of the UK’s biodiversity. However, the UK government itself recognises that this is not enough, and that they need to go further. To this end, the UK Government has laid out the following steps of action in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023: 

  • The creation of the Species Survival Fund which will focus on preserving and securing wildlife habitats
  • The creation, restoration and enlargement of seventy different areas for wildlife across the UK 
  • The protection of 30% of the UK’s land and sea (in line with the UN Nature Summit COP 15 commitment). To this end, the UK will create its first Highly Protected Marine Area in 2023
  • The implementation of the Environment Act 2021
  • Incentivisation of the UK’s farmers to adopt nature-friendly farming practices in order to transform the management of 70% of the UK’s countryside 
  • Updating the UK’s Green Finance Strategy to clearly lay out how the UK will make use of private finance to deliver on the UK’s green targets
bird standing in marshland

Clean air

Part and parcel of the goal to restore the UK’s nature, is the need to improve air and water quality. With regards to the UK’s air quality, this is something that has actually improved over recent years, however, it is still one of the biggest threats to both the UK’s environment and the population's health. 

In order to continue to improve the UK’s air quality, the UK Government has outlined the following steps in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023: 

  • Address the main sources of emissions across the UK in order to reduce pollution levels. This includes steps such as the reduction of limits for domestic burning appliances 
  • Supporting local authorities via funding, tools and guidance as they work to improve air quality within their areas
  • The introduction of farming incentives to help farmers and landowners reduce ammonia emissions. This also includes investment to improve slurry infrastructure
clean air with clouds and blue sky

Clean and plentiful water

When it comes to clean water, the UK Government has adopted a similar range of measures, specific actions include: 

  • The upgrade of over 160 wastewater treatment plants by 2027
  • The restoration of over 400 miles of river and the establishment of over 3,000 hectares of woodland along the riverbanks
  • The mandate of water efficiency labelling on household appliances and requiring water companies to reduce leaks in the system by 50% by 2050
sunny river and forest

Managing exposure to chemicals and pesticides

In addition to the water and air specific measures, the UK Government also wants to tackle chemical and pesticide exposure which can affect both the land and water systems. The UK Government will achieve this by: 

  • Creating a new Chemicals Strategy in 2023 which will regulate the sustainable use of chemicals in the UK and will include measures on authorisation and restrictions 
  • Supporting farmers to utilise nature to tackle pests in place of pesticides
field of wheat

Maximise our resources, minimise our waste

Resources are finite, which means that we need to manage how much we’re using and to reduce any resulting waste. The UK Government wants to work towards a circular and sustainable economy to protect the country’s natural resources. To do this, they have committed to: 

  • Boosting recycling rates and ensuring consistency across all areas of the UK 
  • The ban of single use plastics in the UK by October 2023
  • The introduction of a deposit return scheme for plastic and metal drinks containers to drive higher rates of recycling (this will be effective from 2025)

recycling bottles piled up

Use resources from nature sustainably

Closely related to the goal to maximise our resources and minimise our waste is the necessity that we use resources sustainably. To this end, the UK Government will: 

  • Invest in tree planting, skills, and innovation with the aim of establishing a sustainable timber supply in the UK 
  • Create a map of soil health for the UK and bring 40% of agricultural soil in England under sustainable management by 2028
  • Introduce due diligence requirements to ensure that illegal deforestation does not enter into the UK’s supply chains
two people planting trees

Mitigate and adapt to climate change

Climate change is having profound effects on our environment and biodiversity. Increased frequencies of heatwaves, drought, and flooding are just some of the challenges the UK now faces. Therefore, it’s not possible to protect the UK’s nature without also looking to prevent climate change. 

This is also something that the UK has already committed to with the adoption of the legally binding target of net zero emissions (compared with 1990 levels) by 2050. In fact climate change mitigation and adaptation are now one of the UK Government’s primary focuses, with a number of statutes and regulations already addressing the matter. It’s therefore no surprise that climate change also comes under focus via the Environmental Improvement Plan. 

The UK Government has outlined the following measures in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023: 

  • The UK Government has committed to publishing its Land Use Framework in 2023, setting out how they plan to address climate change and land use in the UK 
  • Additionally, the National Adaptation Programme (3rd edition) will be published in 2023, setting out the UK’s 5 year strategy to ensure that the UK is doing everything it can to adapt to the impacts of climate change
  • The UK Government will continue to push for global answers and collaboration when it comes to climate change 
barren and dry landscape with dead tree

Reduce the risk of harm from environmental hazards

The effects of climate change are far reaching and pose a risk of harm to the environment, the economy and also to the health of people across the UK. In order to reduce this risk, the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 contains the following steps:

  • Increased investment to improve flooding defences. This includes a pledge of over £100 million to be spent on protecting the most vulnerable flooding areas
  • The adoption of future farming schemes that incentivise farmers to reduce the risk of wildfires, droughts and floods
big waves crashing into pier

Enhance biosecurity

Climate change increases the likelihood of disease, pests and invasive non-native species. Therefore the UK Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 contains steps to help protect the UK’s biosecurity. These are: 

  • Publication of the 2023 Plant Biosecurity Strategy for the UK which delivers a five year plan to tackle invasive species and protect the UK’s native plant species
  • Changes to the UK’s border import controls to reduce the threat of pathogens, pests and invasive species entering UK territory

Enhance beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment

Spending time in nature has a huge benefit for the health of the UK’s population, in fact, spending just fifteen minutes a day in nature can boost emotional well being. But unfortunately, depending on where you live, this is not always something that is easy to access. The UK Government wants to address this, and has adopted the following strategy in the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023: 

  • The headline pledge is that the UK Government wants to ensure that everyone in the UK lives no more than fifteen minutes walk from a green or blue space
  • Continued progress on the delivery of the English Coast Path and Coast to Coast National Trail 
  • Creation of the Green Belt and identification of key areas for nature conservation
  • Continued funding to deliver on the target that half of all journeys in UK towns and cities can be cycled or walked by 2030.
people sitting in grassy park watching the sunset

What impact will these measures have?

The scope of the UK’s Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 is far reaching. Around 70% of the UK’s countryside will be impacted and between 65 to 80% of landowners and farmers will be required to adopt nature-friendly farming practices as a result of the plan. 

It provides a blueprint for the UK in reaching its commitment to leave the environment in a better state than they found it, and in reversing the decline of the UK’s nature. 

However, whether or not the UK Government can actually deliver on these commitments remains to be seen. A recent study by the Office for Environmental Protection found that the UK is not on track to meet existing environmental targets under the Environmental Act. 

The Office for Environmental Protection found that progress was the exception rather than the rule. It found that in the UK there has been a 17% decline in species abundance between 2013 and 2018 as well as an increase in the production of waste per capita of 13% between 2014 and 2019. It delivered the stark warning that the UK is on course to miss every key nature and environmental policy target. It did however state that the Environmental Improvement Plan offers an opportunity to turn things around. 

The Environmental Improvement Plan is an important step forward but the UK Government must build on the objectives and commitments and ensure that the plan is delivered at pace. Where gaps in the UK’s policy emerge the UK Government also needs to be proactive and reactive in remedying this. Delivery is possible if the UK Government remains committed and follows through with funding and policy to support its targets. 

What about Greenly? 

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