When did ‘nature’ and ‘biodiversity’ become empty words, tools to be used as metrics to gain favour with the public? Target numbers are pulled out of thin air, and then disappear just as quickly as they appeared, only for us to be informed that we are behind; but new targets will be set. Is this a joke?
The Government’s new Environmental Improvement Plan, released 31 January, is a clear example of this mockery. It claims to have what they call an “apex goal” of “improving nature” (p 9). The idea that nature can be ‘improved’ is itself somewhat questionable, but semantics aside, the 262 page document has little by way of an action plan. It is crammed with endless, meaningless statistics. For example it claims that “65-80% of farmers will adopt nature friendly farming on at least 10-15% of their land by 2030”. Where do these numbers come from? How will this be achieved? And why 10-15%? Similar statements abound throughout the document. Many of the projected dates seem random, and some are blatantly too late to address the climate emergency we are facing.
Apart from the endless statistics and random dates littered throughout the document, it is riddled with vagueness. The government “will aim to achieve clean air”. The phrase “biodiversity net gain” appears 16 times but is trumped by the even vaguer “marine net gain” (p 62). All in the context of developments which will inevitably lead to loss of habitats and species. But that’s ok. Because the government aims to “Halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, and then increase abundance by at least 10% to exceed 2022 levels by 2042” (p 31). That takes a while to get your head around. Are they really trying to sell us the idea that we need to lose more species to gain them back again?
The news on sewage pollution isn’t much better. The government will require water suppliers to stop all sewage pollution by 2050. Those sites which already have designated bathing water status should be free of sewage by 2035. But until then it is ok for us to swim in crap at our designated spots; can’t be helped. Given the nationwide public actions against sewage pollution just last week like this one on the Thames, this is a dismissive slap in the face. “We don’t care, but we definitely won’t admit it” is the message being sent.
The government will also introduce a “Bees’ needs week” (sic!) (p 57). The bees may find this somewhat hypocritical, given the recent and recurrent emergency authorisation of bee-killing pesticides, most recently last week. We are not in primary school, and more awareness days do little more than provide a façade for destructive policies.
On a more positive note, I was happy to see that more support for farmers to take up agroforestry is finally being considered. Agroforestry is when planting trees is combined with other types of agriculture. It can have considerable benefits for wildlife, combat erosion and improve soil health, as well as providing vital carbon storage.
Many of the measures outlined in the Environmental Improvement Plan seem to have the right idea, but it remains to be seen whether there is any substance behind them. Some of the targets are laudable, should they be put into practice. However it seems somewhat beside the point when so much damage is actively being done to our environment every day, condoned by this government. HS2 has been a financial and ecological disaster and it seems impossible to believe that any decision- makers who push such destructive projects truly care about the environment. Destroy today, fix tomorrow? It sounds like the ecological answer to ‘build back better’; and we all know how that went.