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Environment Improvement Plan 2023


On 31st January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published the much-anticipated revision of its cross-cutting framework strategy for the environment, the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023. The plan is the first revision of the 25-Year Environment Plan, required by law every five years under the Environment Act 2021.

Environmental Improvement Plan 2023

An updated strategy for the environment

The Environment Act commits the UK Government to producing an Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP), outlining the strategy for improving the natural environment and covering at least a period of 15 years. The 2018 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP) was designated the first EIP, with the first revision of the plan required by January 2023.

The Environmental Policy and Economics team at Logika Group are leading a multidisciplinary team of experts from across the Group and partner organisations to assess progress on delivering the 25YEP, designing an evaluation framework and conducting an initial process evaluation. The initial assessment of delivery and progress fed into the development of the EIP.

What has changed since 2018?

The 25YEP was structured around 10 goals, covering a range of environmental topics. These ten goals have remained in the EIP, although they have been reordered and reframed. Crucially, the goal of thriving plants and wildlife is now the ‘apex goal’ of the EIP, with the other goals grouped in relation to how they help to achieve this apex goal. This reflects part of the wider environmental policy context, including the statutory target that the government set to halt species decline by 2030, as well as the recent Global Biodiversity Framework agreed upon at the UN Nature Summit COP15 in Montreal at the end of 2022.

The remaining goals have been grouped into different themes as follows:

  • Improve environmental quality: Clean air, Clean and plentiful water and Managing exposure to chemicals and pesticides
  • Improve our use of resources: Maximise our resources, minimise our waste and Using resources from nature sustainably
  • Improve our mitigation of climate change: Mitigating and adapting to climate change and Reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards
  • Improve our biosecurity: Enhancing our biosecurity

These goals will then feed into the delivery of the final goal, Enhancing beauty, heritage and engagement with the natural environment.

Headline commitments

Reflecting the refocusing of the plan around the apex goal of Thriving plants and wildlife, the headline commitments of the plan include ensuring that every household will be within 15-minute walk of green space or water. The EIP states that 38% of people do not currently live within a 15-minute walk of green or blue space. In addition, the government have committed to the restoration of 500,000 hectares of wildlife habitat and 400 miles of river and to establishing a new species survival fund aiming to protect endangered species. 

The plan lays out a strategy to upgrade 160 wastewater treatment plans by 2027 and announces a plan to tackle the increasing pressures on the water system from pollution, new housing developments and the climate crisis. Storm overflow management has been widely debated in the media, as environmentalists are worried about the flexibility of the terms by which water companies are able to discharge raw sewage into our waters.

Our goal experts will be publishing deep dives into some specific updates and subsequent implications on their specialist subject areas. The first will be on air quality.

Environmental Targets

The Environment Act required setting at least one long-term statutory target spanning a minimum of 15 years for each of Air Quality, Biodiversity, Water and Resource Efficiency and Waste Reduction. The government did not publish these by the November 2022 deadline set in the Environment Act, but they were published late in December 2022. These targets are an important part of guiding the achievement of the EIP goals. 

Crucially, the EIP also introduces interim targets which have not previously been a part of the legislative framework. These cover a period of five years and lay out what progress the government will make in the period before the next refresh of the EIP, so will be fundamental to monitoring progress towards the long-term targets, and subsequently the overall achievement of the EIP goals.

Cross-cutting themes

Although the ten goals form the backbone of the EIP, it also outlines certain cross-cutting themes which underpin all of the goals in the plan:

  • Green jobs: Ensuring that the correct people, skills and jobs are available to support action needed to deliver on the commitment to leaving the environment in a better state.
  • Green finance: Aiming to raise at least £500 million per year of private finance into nature’s recovery by 2027, and over £1 billion by 2030. An updated Green Finance Strategy will be published later in 2023, building on the 2019 version.
  • New farming schemes: Transitioning away from direct payments under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and towards an Environmental Land Management based approach, where payments will be made for public goods, chiefly environmental and animal welfare outcomes, alongside food production. Details of the schemes are laid out in the Agricultural Transition Plan.
  • Biodiversity Net Gain: Ensuring that developments leave habitats in a better state for wildlife than before. Mandatory Biodiversity Net Gain requirements for new developments were introduced in the Environment Act.
  • Making green choices: Enabling all parts of society to play their part in line with the government’s six principles for green choices, which include making green action affordable and easier.
  • Greening Government Commitments: Driving the commitment to improving environmental performance from within the government. The Greening Government Commitments for 2021-2025 set commitments for emissions, waste, water usage and require government departments to report on various associated metrics.

The 25YEP also contained a commitment to embed the "natural capital approach" in the environmental, and wider, policymaking process. The EIP makes no mention of a natural capital approach for reasons which are not clear, but natural capital is mentioned as part of the discussion of other goals. The natural capital approach is a greater feature of policy development now than it was in 2018 and is included in the Treasury's central guidance on cost-benefit analysis, so will form a key part of delivering the EIP whether it is mentioned or not.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Logika Group is developing an Evaluation Framework for the EIP and its future iterations, which will be utilised to ensure that the EIP is making progress towards delivering its overarching commitment of improving the natural environment within a generation.

Annual progress reports will also be published by Defra providing updates on delivery, and the Outcome Indicator Framework publishes a series of environmental indicators which can be used to track environmental change.

What does this mean for environmental policy in the UK?

The framework under which environmental policy is developed and implemented in the UK has changed. The 25YEP laid out an ambitious, high-level strategy for the environment, and the EIP23 provides greater detail on how the government seeks to achieve it. Continued monitoring and evaluation will be essential to ensure that this ambition is followed through with delivery and that the high-level goals set in the 25YEP are achieved. The Logika Group are proud to have played a part in shaping the EIP and contributing towards achieving the government’s overarching goal of improving the environment within a generation and leaving it in a better state than we found it.

© Air Quality Consultants, Logika Consultants and Noise Consultants 2024