Updated: Feb 10
By David Hill, Director-General Environment, Rural and Marine, Defra
CSEN Senior Network Sponsor
The challenges of climate change, biodiversity loss, and poor environmental outcomes affect everyone. And they are stark. To give just a few examples, we have committed to improving at least 75% of our waters to be as close to their natural state as soon as practicable; yet currently only 16% of our waters are in a high or good condition status, and this percentage is declining. We have committed to restoring 75% of our protected sites to favourable condition; the figure currently stands at 39%, having increased by just 2.2% since 2013. We must meet legally binding targets to reduce emissions of five damaging air pollutants by 2030, to halve the effects of air pollution on health.
The Government has made some ambitious commitments: to achieve net zero by 2050; the 25 Year Environment Plan which commits that this generation will leave the environment in a better state than it inherited, including long-term goals on air quality, water, nature recovery, and waste. And in September 2020, the Prime Minister signed the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature, joining a high-ambition coalition of 70 countries to commit to address global biodiversity loss, and committing at the same time to protect 30% of UK land for nature recovery by 2030. These are bold long-term commitments with the potential to transform our environment for the better.
Translating these commitments into effective action requires a whole-of-Government effort, working in partnership with business, non-governmental organisations, local authorities, farmers, local communities and many more. The solutions don’t lie in any one single department – nature recovery for instance requires us to think through how all departments use their land holdings; how we plan new communities and infrastructure in ways that promote biodiversity; the links between nature and public health; how we harness green private finance, and utilise science and data. So it’s vital to build a clear understanding across Government of how multiple departments and agencies can play their part.
Building a community of interest right across the Civil Service on environment challenges is essential if we are to develop creative solutions to environmental problems and a genuinely systemic approach.
That’s one reason why I see the work of the Civil Service Environment Network as so important. Building a community of interest right across the Civil Service on environment challenges is essential if we are to develop creative solutions to environmental problems and a genuinely systemic approach. Our Joint Air Quality Unit – a joint team across Defra and DfT leading a programme with over 40 local authorities to reduce roadside NO2 emissions is one example of what I mean, but we need much more of this integrated approach right across the full spectrum of environmental challenges we face. Harnessing the insights and perspectives of colleagues from right across the civil service is a great place to start, and the ideas, challenge and insights of the network can genuinely help us make a difference.