Legally-binding environmental targets published amid Khan criticism

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has called the targets disappointing, saying 2040 is too long to wait for people to breathe clean air.

Laura Elston
Friday 16 December 2022 21:19 GMT
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey described the targets as ‘ambitious’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
Environment Secretary Therese Coffey described the targets as ‘ambitious’ (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Landmark legally-binding environmental targets to clean up Britain’s air quality and waters as well as boosting the abundance of wild species have finally been published.

The 13 targets, which are part of the Government’s obligations under the post-Brexit Environment Act, include cutting exposure to the most harmful air pollutant to human health – PM2.5 – by 2040.

Other targets range from reducing household water usage and halving the waste per person sent to residual treatment by 2042, to increasing tree and woodland cover to 16.5% of total land area in England by 2050.

The Government came under fire when it missed the October 31 deadline to unveil its targets for air quality, water, wildlife, waste reduction and resource efficiency.

However, London mayor Sadiq Khan has branded the targets as disappointing.

“Missing the legal deadline for setting the vital new Environment Act targets did not inspire confidence in this Government’s green credentials, but the targets themselves are even more disappointing,” he said.

“2040 is too long to wait for people to breathe clean air when right now 4,000 people are needlessly losing their lives to air pollution every year in London alone.

“A target set this far into the future consigns yet another generation of children to the lifelong health effects of early exposure to excess air pollution.

“Earlier this month, the director of public health at the World Health Organisation challenged leaders around the world by asking how many air pollution deaths they were willing to shoulder responsibility for.

“I made it clear that my answer is none and I urge ministers to join me in treating this crisis with the urgency it deserves.”

The goal for cutting annual average levels of dangerous pollutant fine particulate matter PM2.5 to 10 micrograms per cubic metre across England by 2040 is double the World Health Organisation’s guideline limits.

A reduction in PM2.5 population exposure of 35% compared to 2018 to be achieved by 2040 also forms part of the publication.

The targets will aim to crack down on harmful pollution from sewers and abandoned mines, as well as improving water wastage.

The water demand target involves reducing the use of public water supply in England per head of population by 20% by 2037/38.

Other points in the final list include halting the decline in species populations by 2030, increasing species populations by at least 10% to exceed current levels by 2042, and restoring 70% of designated features in Marine Protected Areas to a favourable condition by 2042.

Environment Secretary Therese Coffey, speaking at the UN Convention in Montreal on Friday, said: “We are committed to leaving our natural world in a better state for future generations and today we are laying the foundations that will help deliver on this commitment.

“These targets are ambitious and will be challenging to achieve – but they will drive our efforts to restore our natural environment, protect our much-loved landscapes and green spaces and marine environment, as well as help tackle climate change.”

Ms Coffey told MPs in October the targets were delayed because 180,000 responses to its consultation need to be “analysed and carefully considered”.

The Government will publish its Environmental Improvement Plan in January setting out how it will work to achieve the targets in more detail.

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