The government has outlined its vision for a “greener future” as it published its 25-year environment plan today (11 January).

Prime minister Theresa May and environment secretary Michael Gove have pledged to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042.

Other measures in the ambitious plan to improve the environment within a generation include the introduction of new safeguards for wildlife and to connect more children with nature.

May, said: “This is a national plan of action, with international ambition. As well as setting an example for others to follow in our treatment of the countryside, rivers, coastlines and air, we will also bring the United Kingdom’s international influence to bear in pursuit of a cleaner and safer world.

“From reducing our carbon emissions and building resilience against the extreme weather associated with climate change, to leading international action to protect endangered species, the UK is an international champion for the protection of our planet and we will build on our record in the years ahead.”

The 25-year plan sits alongside the government’s Clean Growth Strategy, which sets out how the UK is “leading the world” in cutting carbon emissions to combat climate change and driving economic growth.

The industry’s reaction to the publication:

  • Jonathan Dobson, sustainability strategy manager, United Utilities

“Our business and the environment go hand in hand. That’s why protecting and enhancing it is a key commitment for us. It’s a responsibility we take seriously and we were especially pleased when the Environment Agency awarded us four stars for our environmental performance in 2017.

“Over the last few decades we have invested in improving wastewater networks and treatment works to solve environmental challenges and enhance the environment for future generations.

“The government’s 25 Year Environment Plan sets out to continue that progress in delivering clean and plentiful water by managing abstraction and leakage, improving bathing waters and reaching or exceeding objectives for protected water bodies.

“One of the key themes throughout is natural capital, which has been receiving considerable attention from government, regulators and companies.”

“The government said the plan will ‘help boost the productivity by enhancing our natural capital – the air, water, soil and ecosystems that support all forms of life – since this is an essential basis for economic growth and productivity over the long term.’

“And we couldn’t agree more. We rely on natural capital to provide the clean water that we then treat and supply to customers. Our wastewater treatment helps to protect and enhance the natural capital of the North West through removing pollutants before it is discharged back into the natural environment. We know that customers also get enjoyment from experiencing the natural capital that we own through providing access and recreation on our sites, like our Thirlmere and Rivington catchments.

“There is increasing interest in utilising natural capital approaches and many are expecting the water sector to be a key contributor. We’re up for the challenge and have been exploring how these approaches can help us to make better decisions about the management of our land, assets and business to make them all more resilient.”

  • Lawrence Slade, chief executive, Energy UK

“We welcome the government’s commitment to the environment and a sustainable future.

“As the PM’s speech highlighted, our sector has made great strides in generating cleaner energy at a falling cost and to help us go further and faster, the government must continue its support for those programmes which have successfully delivered change – and ensure they include the lowest cost renewables.

“It’s vital the decarbonisation of heating and electrification of transport follow suit if we are to meet our targets –  these present great challenges but also enormous opportunities if we are prepared to seize them.

“Expanding the scale of programmes to make our draughty homes energy efficient also offers a clear win win – one which would both reduce emissions and keep energy costs down for customers over the long term.”

  • Michael Roberts, chief executive, Water UK

“Water companies believe passionately in a healthier, greener nation and the positive contribution we make to that. We strongly endorse the Plan’s emphasis on a more holistic approach to tackling the big environmental challenges we all face. From tackling plastics pollution to encouraging more efficient use of water, we look forward to working with government and others to make the plan a reality.

“We believe that everyone should have clean, healthy, top quality drinking water, while also protecting the environment.  That is why we are going to work with retailers and local communities to make it easier for people to get drinking water for free in towns and cities all over the country. We’re pleased the government is supporting water companies’ action, which will improve people’s health and cut waste from plastic bottles.”

He added: “There is welcome focus on natural capital and catchment management to protect the water environment.  Companies fund around a third of the £13 billion spent every year on England’s river catchments and often also occupy the central, coordinating role needed to gather up to 50 or so local players.  The plan’s ambition for this model, and to work smarter, will bring benefits for river quality, farmers, flooding as well as water bill payers.”

  • Nina Skorupska, chief executive, Renewable Energy Association (REA)

“We welcome the government’s ambitions and believe that the UK’s compostable plastics industry can help the prime minister address many of the urgent issues raised in this plan. There are numerous products that are manufactured in the UK, ranging from coffee cups to carrier bags, that can reduce the non-biodegradable materials polluting our oceans and our countryside.”

She added: “Anaerobic digestion and composting can support government ambitions in relation to soil health by encouraging the cultivation of break crops and the production of digestate and compost, which acts as an organic alternative to fossil fuel derived fertilisers and soil improver to restore organic matter in soil.

“The renewable fuels industry is encouraged by the government’s ambition to increase the amount of waste that is turned into biofuel, and looks forward to working with them to grow the sector.”

  • Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU)

“Climate science is pretty clear now that to keep global warming well below 2 Celsius, the goal of the Paris Agreement, governments are going to have to do much more than ending coal burning and building out clean energy.

“We’re going to need some form of ‘negative emissions’ – measures that draw carbon dioxide from the air. And doing this naturally, through things such as restoring soil, restoring peat and planting trees, is by far the easiest option, as well as providing lots of other benefits.

“So, the government’s focus on these issues makes sense – it’s consistent with climate science, and forward-looking – but the plan is light on detail, something that ministers are going to have to address in the next few years.”

  • Mary Creagh MP, Environmental Audit Committee, Select Committee

“The plan delays answering the hard questions over how to tackle plastic pollution and fails to provide any legal basis for its ambitions for the environment, which will be needed after we lose EU legal environmental protections after Brexit.

“We cannot wait until 2042 to see action to reduce plastic waste. My committee has called for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, and for disposable coffee cups to be made recyclable by 2023, or banned if they are not.

“EU laws protect our treasured natural spaces and iconic British species, but my committee has warned they risk becoming zombie legislation after the UK leaves the EU. The government must pass a new Environmental Protection Act to make sure that environmental protections are maintained or enhanced after the UK leaves the EU.”

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