On 31 January 2023, the UK Government published its Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 (the “EIP”), detailing how it plans to restore nature and improve environmental quality in the UK. In particular, the EIP proposes new commitments to upgrade wastewater treatment works, restore wildlife and promote nature-friendly farming practices. These new commitments underpin the ambitious international targets agreed at the UN Biodiversity Conference COP15 in December 2022, which the UK Government helped deliver (for further information about COP15, read our earlier blog post here).

The UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has said that the EIP “provides the blueprint for how we deliver our commitment to leave our environment in a better state than we found it, making sure we drive forward progress with renewed ambition and achieve our target of not just halting, but reversing the decline of nature“.

Background to the EIP

In 2018, the UK Government published its 25 Year Environment Plan (“25YEP”), which sets out the high-level actions that the UK Government intends to take to “help the natural world regain and retain good health” over the next 25 years. Under Part 1 of the Environment Act 2021, the UK Government is committed to refreshing the 25YEP every five years. The EIP represents the first iteration of such refreshment.

To achieve the UK Government’s main aim of “delivering cleaner air and water in our cities and rural landscape, protecting threatened species and providing richer wildlife habitats“, the 25YEP set out ten high-level goals, which continue to form the basis of the EIP. These goals are:

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

Content of the EIP

To achieve these ten goals, the EIP states that the UK Government intends to (among other things):

  1. Create and restore at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife habitats, starting with 70 new wildlife projects, including 25 new or expanded National Nature Reserves and 19 further Nature Recovery Projects;
  2. Ensure that 65-80% of landowners and farmers adopt nature-friendly farming practices on at least 10-15% of their land by 2030;
  3. Set-up a multi-million pound Species Survival Fund to protect rare species;
  4. Ensure everyone in England lives within a 15-minute walk of woodlands, wetlands, parks and/or rivers;
  5. Restore 400 miles of England’s rivers and establish 3,000 hectares of new woodlands along England’s rivers through the first round of Landscape Recovery projects;
  6. Challenge local councils to improve air quality by assessing their performance and use of existing powers;
  7. Introduce new targets for reducing plastic, glass, metal, paper and food waste by 2028; and
  8. Ensure environmental protection is at the heart of all new UK Government policy.

The EIP builds on the 25YEP by setting out how the UK Government intends to work with stakeholders, such as communities and businesses, to deliver these ambitions. To enable progress in achieving these ambitions to be measured, the UK Government has also published an Outcome Indicator Framework, containing 66 extensive indicators arranged into ten broad themes.

The Environment Secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has stated that the EIP will “force industry to clean up its act”. Businesses operating in the UK should, therefore, keep a close eye on the implementation of the EIP’s ambitions and how they may affect their operations.