The government’s 25 year environment plan is strong on catchphrases and weak on action

The plan’s approach to taking control seems shaky in the extreme.

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In a week in which New York has responded to the global climate crisis with a lawsuit against fossil-fuel companies, and China has taken the lead in renewable energy investments, Theresa May’s government has used the launch of their 25 Year Plan for the Environment to announce – not much.

The Prime Minister launched the new environment strategy with a speech at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust’s Centre in Barnes.

Notable catchphrases included a promise of a Green Brexit in which Britain has “taken back control of our waters”.

Yet the plan’s approach to taking control seems shaky in the extreme. The plan “makes no solid commitments to new law and it lacks any detail about how we will enforce environment laws once we leave the EU,” says Karla Hill, the Director of Programmes at the lawfirm ClientEarth said in a statement.

Other early criticisms from environmental bodies include:

  • A Greenpeace statement querying the plan’s failure to support a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles.
  • Friends of the Earth’s CEO, Craig Bennett, censuring its failure to “get to the heart of the problems – especially the nation’s fossil fuel addition”.
  • The National Trust’s Government Affairs Director, Richard Hebditch, lamenting the scarcity of laws and institutions that can ensure the plan "isn’t just dependent on having a friendly minister who ‘gets it’.”
  • Mary Creagh MP, Chair of the Environmental Audit Committee, expressing concern that 2042 is too long to wait to reach zero “avoidable” plastic waste.

By its own definition, any 25 Year Plan lends itself to providing the start of the discussion, rather than an end. And there is much in it to welcome – from a pledge to get more inner city kids outdoors, to a new “Nature Recovery Network” that will create 25,000 hectares of new habitats.

But with the next 25 years so critical in the global fight to keep our planet’s natural systems in balance, the government’s lack of clarity is far from hopeful. If we can’t take back control of our climate soon, will any other kind really matter?

India Bourke is the online editor for the New Statesman's international edition.

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