The five: missed UK environmental targets

5th January 2020 | Recycling

Politicians may flaunt their green credentials but a number of key targets – on air quality, tree planting, waste – are being missed.

Air Pollution
In 2020 the UK is set to achieve only three of the five targets for pollutant emissions set by the European Union, falling short on fine particulate matter (PM2.5) – the biggest threat to human health – and ammonia. Households are now the biggest contributors of PM2.5, with a resurgence of home wood-burning a major factor.

The UK failed to meet the legally binding targets for water pollution in 2015 and is not expected to achieve the extended target of 2021. According to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), only 35% of the UK’s surface water bodies are in good condition or better. In July last year, the Environment Agency pronounced the water companies’ efforts to protect the environment “simply unacceptable.”

2020 targets set in 2010 by the Convention on Global Diversity and the JNCC to protect species, curtail the degradation of land and reduce agricultural pollution are likely to be missed in 14 out of 19 cases. In addition, a 2016 RSPB report concluded that the UK was “among the most nature-depleted countries in the world.”

In the year to March 2019, only 1.420 hectares of trees were planted in England compared to the government target of 5,000. To meet our zero-carbon target, UK woodland cover will have to increase from 13% to 175. This will require planting over 30,000 hectares of trees every year for the next three decades. During the election campaign, the Conservative pledged to achieved that rate by 2025.

Despite a boom in recycling in the early 2000’s, the UK is set to miss the EU target of 50% of household waste being recycled or reused by 2020. The East Riding of Yorkshire has the highest rate 65%, with Newham in London the lowest at 17%. Nationally, the latest figures show recycling rates actually dropped between 2017 and 2018.

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