Government misses legal deadline to set binding environmental targets

Thursday 3rd November 2022

…blog by David Smith, Buglife Social Change and Advocacy Officer 


  • Government misses legal deadline to introduce new legally binding targets for air quality, water health, nature, and waste management
  • Buglife alongside other environmental groups submitted a letter of complaint to Defra
  • Missed targets join other Government commitments such as the National Action Plan on pesticides, GB Non-Native Species Strategy, and reform of designated landscapes on the list of Defra delays


Buglife alongside 41 other green groups has submitted a letter of complaint to Defra after the Government failed to meet a legal deadline for setting new environmental targets.

The targets, required under the Environment Act 2021 applying to air quality, water quality, nature and waste management, should have been published by 31 October. The complaint will also be shared with the new green watchdog, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP), which could choose to pursue enforcement proceedings against the government. If it finds there has been a serious failure to comply with environmental law, then further action is possible.

Read the complaint in full, and see the list of signatories, here.

The setting of new legal targets is a key part of the Environment Act 2021. The planned targets were intended to drive progress in areas such as river quality by encouraging stronger government policy and providing certainty for business.

The letter of complaint follows a recent decision by the High Court to find the Government’s climate strategy unlawful and request an updated strategy by March. The new version will have to show clearly how the government’s policies will deliver on its targets.

Legacy of missed plans

The missing of these targets adds to the list of promised initiatives from Defra designed to protect invertebrates and the natural world. Buglife remains extremely concerned about delays to important plans such as the National Action Plan on pesticides, the GB Non-Native Species Strategy and the reform of designated landscapes which remain out of date and risk further harm to species and habitats which need restoration and protection.

Alongside these delays, uncertainty about the future of environmental protections derived from European Legislation puts nature at risk. As it stands, the government is going ahead with its Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, which aims to remove hundreds of EU-derived environmental laws by the end of 2023. Plans are also afoot for “fundamental reform” of the Habitats Regulations, which could weaken the UK’s most effective and legally-robust laws defending natural habitats and wildlife.

Missing targets

Buglife does not believe the proposed combination of targets goes far enough to ensure the long-term certainty required to leave nature in a better condition. The proposed targets fail to address many of the commitments made in the 25 Year Environment Plan. Without legislative targets to enforce action, many of the initiatives required to halt the decline of species are at risk of not being delivered by this or future Governments. Of particular concern is the lack of targets concerning habitat connectivity, light pollution and pesticide regulation. Greater ambition and further consideration must be given to the target for species abundance and extinction, neither of which are fit for purpose in their current form for restoring invertebrate populations or preventing extinctions.

We are demanding that the Government use the targets delay to bring forward a stronger package of targets, capable of restoring the natural environment. We are calling for new ambitious targets to be published before the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in December to ensure that any bold statements from the UK Government on global nature recovery are not undermined by a failure to deliver at home.