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Eco-watchdog sees legal threat over toxic air and water to force government to honor obligations

Eco-watchdog sees legal threat over toxic air and water in attempt to force government to meet clean-up obligations

  • Office for Environmental Protection warns it could take government to court
  • First report says overfishing and loss of natural habitats need to be addressed
  • Dame Glenys Stacey crisis should get the same support as net zero targets
  • She warns of ‘tipping points’ where slow decline in nature becomes catastrophic

Britain’s environment is in a ‘precarious state’ with toxic air pollution and wastewater in rivers as the most pressing problems, according to a new official watchdog.

Overfishing and damage to the seabed from trawling, loss of natural habitats and degraded soils must also be urgently addressed by the government, the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) insisted.

In its first report, the OEP warned that it could take the government to court as a last resort if it failed to comply with its legal obligations to clean up the environment.

Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the OEP, said the crisis affecting England’s air, water, landscapes and seas should have the same level of government support and urgency as climate efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero.

In a report, it warns of ‘tipping points’ where slow, sustained decline in wildlife becomes catastrophic — such as setting fishing limits above scientific advice, which can lead to fish stocks, and ongoing damage to the seabed, destroying the marine ecosystem.

If these issues are not prioritized and addressed before tipping points are reached, it will be much more difficult to reverse the declines, Dame Glenys said.

Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, said the crisis in England’s air, water, landscapes and seas should receive the same support as the government’s net-zero targets.

People walk across a bridge over the River Itchen near Ovington in Hampshire amid a warning about toxic air that is harmful to health and water pollution from sewage

People walk across a bridge over the River Itchen near Ovington in Hampshire amid a warning about toxic air that is harmful to health and water pollution from sewage

She said: ‘The 25-year environmental plan was an ambitious effort to address environmental challenges, but we continue to see worrying and ongoing trends of environmental degradation.

‘Our rivers are in a bad state, the number of birds and other species is seriously declining, poor air quality threatens the health of many and our seas and seabed are not managed sustainably.’

Turning the situation around won’t be easy, she acknowledged, but she urged the government to draft a clear and ambitious vision for the environment that will be a priority for all departments.

“We are all undeniably dependent on the environment, and its precarious state should be a concern for the entire government and a national priority,” she warned.

“There is a proliferation of targets,” she said, adding: “And they are often missed.”

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