The government has admitted that it has failed to hit its own deadline of October 31st for setting targets to drive environmental improvements for water, air and wildlife, which green groups and other MPs have decried as embarrassing for the UK as the COP27 climate summit in Egypt fast approaches.
According to the BBC, there had been plans in place to be ready for the climate change conference, where a delegation from the UK would have presented them to other nations.
But environment secretary Therese Coffey said in a statement to MPs that these targets would not be published by the deadline, despite this being required by law, because of the “significant public response” received in relation to a government consultation on said targets.
The government’s own Environment Act, passed in November 2021, required that at least one target be set in each of four priority areas – water, air, biodiversity and waste reduction. The delay has now called into question the latest prime minister’s commitment to going green as the government tries to get to grips with the economic turmoil currently facing the country.
Opposition MPs responded to the situation, with Jim McMahon – Labour’s shadow environment secretary – describing the failure to hit the targets as a “huge embarrassment [to the government] and deeply worrying for the UK’s environment.”
He went on to say: “This is yet another example of the Conservatives being all talk when it comes to the environment, but failing to provide the leadership and the action that is desperately needed.”
And Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP, tweeted: “Defra admits in a cursory statement slipped out this morning that it’s failed to fulfil statutory duty to publish environment bill targets. This matters.”
What may have also fanned the flames of discontent was news that Rishi Sunak would not be putting in an appearance at the COP27 conference, despite the fact that the UK hosted the event last year and would be handing the baton over, so to speak.
When criticised for his decision, Mr Sunak defended himself by saying that tackling climate change was, indeed, important to him but he also had to focus on the domestic challenges currently presenting themselves.
However, it has now just been reported that the prime minister will, in fact, be going to the climate summit following criticism from many quarters.
Reversing his decision, Mr Sunak said that there is “no long-term prosperity without action on climate change” and no energy security without renewable investment. He went on to add: “That’s why I will attend COP27 next week to deliver on Glasgow’s legacy of building a secure, clean and sustainable future.”
COP27 itself is due to start on November 6th, running until November 18th, marking the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.