Green Matters: Harnessing the UK's Environmental Improvement Plan – Mitigating climate change and reducing harm from environmental hazards

12 minute read
27 February 2023

In our earlier articles in this Green Matters series, we have explored the first six goals within the UK's Environmental Improvement Plan (EIP) and how they seek to halt the decline in our natural world and improve it.

Now we turn to look at the EIP's aims for mitigating and adapting to climate change (goal 7) and ensuring reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards (goal 8). In light of the reforms expected, we also consider what steps businesses should take to plan ahead.

Goal 7: Mitigating and adapting to climate change

Key points

Due to climate change, there has been more intense and changeable weather, an increase in risks from pests, pathogens and invasive non-native species, which is leading to knock-on impacts to ecosystems, habitats species, agriculture, forestry and marine productivity. The EIP aims to renew efforts on mitigating and adapting to climate change.

The EIP sets a number of climate change targets:

  • Net zero emissions by 2050, including carbon budgets and 2030 Nationally Determined Contribution.
  • Produce a UK Climate Change Risk Assessment and National Adaptation Programme to address the risks every five years.
  • Phasing out the production of ozone depleting substances and reducing HFC consumption by 85% by 2036.
  • Limiting global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels and 1.5 degrees under UK presidency of the UN Climate Summit COP26.
  • Be a global leader in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss.

A number of interim targets, to be achieved in 2023:

  • Publish the third National Adaption Programme.
  • Update on progress and plans to reach net zero.
  • Publish a Land Use Framework setting out how the uses of land, and how climate mitigation and adaptation, will be balanced.

Reaching net zero

The Climate Change Act 2019 (Act) sets out a legal requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% (net zero) by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, along with a framework of carbon budgets in successive five-year blocks, and also a Climate Change Risk Assessment every five years. The EIP reiterates that at COP26 the Government committed to reducing emissions by 2030 by at least 68% compared to 1990.

Managing climate risk

The Government has committed to delivering £3 billion in climate financing over the next five years, including £200 million for a new Climate Innovation Facility. This is designed to scale-up technologies to help with impacts of climate change and will see a £10 million Water Management Grant Scheme introduced to prepare land managers for future climate impacts on clean water. Investments in climate science and research to understand climate change to 2100 is also proposed, to help in the ongoing matter of climate risk management.

National Adaptation Programme (NAP)

The third NAP (NAP3) will set out a range of adaptation actions against climate risks from 2023 to 2028. It will include policies and objectives for adaptation, filling the gap between the current action and the growing level of climate change risk. NAP3 will contribute towards the Government's 25-Year Environment Plan, ensuring delivery and management are suitable and adaptive to climate change.

Leading action internationally

Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) will implement the 10 Point Plan for Financing Biodiversity, which will provide the blueprint for how to finance nature's recovery and help provide nature-based solutions. The EIP includes detail around financing and support, both domestically and internationally, including: £9 million to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Climate Promise to support countries finding nature-based solutions, £40 million to the Global Centre on Biodiversity for Climate for research and development purposes, and a £500 million Blue Planet Fund to support developing countries.

Monitoring progress in adaptation

The EIP states that DEFRA has started work on an adaptation indicators programme, working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on its international indicators project, which will feed into the NAP3. A response to the Climate Change Committees 2022 progress report is expected by the end of March 2023, along with an annual greenhouse gas inventory and updated Energy Emissions Projections.

What does this mean for businesses?

All businesses should be alive to climate change and the need to mitigate and adapt to it. However, contrasted with some of the other goals in the EIP, there are fewer opportunities here for the commercial worlds. Businesses will need to be mindful of both new policy and regulation, as well as take into account increasingly environmentally-conscious customers and employees. These important stakeholder groups will expect to see best practice adopted, rather than a purely compliance-based approach (see our recent Tomorrow's World report for more insight into the attitudes and actions of Gen Z and how organisations can work collaboratively with Gen Z for good on these crucial environmental issues). 

Businesses involved in real estate and development should keep abreast of good land management practices, and the use of innovation and technology to mitigate the impacts of climate change. There is already a spotlight on biodiversity net gain, nutrient neutrality and air quality in the planning system, and climate change mitigation requirements are likely to continue to increase in scope and depth.

Goal 8: Reduced risk of harm from environmental hazards

Key points

Natural hazards pose a risk of harm to health, the environment, and to economies. There are a greater number of longer, more intense wildfires, floods, and droughts occurring, and temperatures and sea levels are continuing to rise. Large parts of the world are already affected by environmental hazards and that number will grow as the climate changes. The focus now is on action to secure a safe, healthy environment that supports lives and economies in a way that is both impactful and cost-effective.

The EIP sets a number of targets:

  • Investment in floor and coastal defence projects to better protect more properties.
  • Double the number of government funded projects, which include nature-based solutions to reduce flooding and coastal erosion.
  • Maintain at least 94% of major floor and coastal erosion risk management assets fit for their designed purpose through to March 2025, with the long-term aim being to reach 98%.

Flood defences and infrastructure

Upgrading and expanding national flood defences is a clear priority. This will include the accelerated delivery of flood defence systems in 23 areas across the UK, with £170 million of investment that will, in turn, protect 10,000 local businesses and safeguard around 100,000 jobs. The EIP expects delivery of 80 schemes through the £100 million Frequently Flooded Allowance fund to support communities where 10 or more properties have flooded twice or more in the last ten years.

The EIP notes that everyone should be aware of their risk of flooding and, along with DEFRA's Surface Water Management Action Plan, improvements will be made to digital services and support given to an industry-owned voluntary code of practice. This code of practice seeks to promote consumer and business confidence in measures to reduce the impact of flooding on buildings.

Nature-based solutions

The EIP highlights the need for nature-based solutions through the delivery of future projects. This includes increasing the number of government funded flood resilience projects and the deployment of the £750 million Nature for Climate Fund. DEFRA is also working with private companies to invest in natural flood management via the £10 million Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund.

Better preparations

The EIP notes the need to increase the public's understanding around the risk of flooding, with reference to homeowners and businesses alike. Planning policy is already clear that inappropriate development in areas at risk of flooding should be avoided by directing development away from those sites at highest risk. Where this is not possible, development should be flood resilient and resistant, safe for its users for the development's lifetime, and not increase overall flood risk. The UK Health and Security Agency is also developing a Single Adverse Weather and Health Plan to support preparedness for the impacts of climate change and environmental hazards.

What does this mean for businesses?

The EIP promotes sharing of best practice for reducing flood risk, finding and implementing nature-based solutions and managing heat in homes, towns and cities. Businesses going through the planning system will need to be aware of, and keep up to date with, the latest policy and guidance in relation to flood risk. Businesses will need to be prepared for measures that may be required by local planning authorities when applying for planning permission, such as: flood and drainage systems, overheating requirements for buildings, biodiversity net gain requirements, more green infrastructure being incorporated into developments, and so on.

What other reforms can you expect under the EIP?

For more insight into the 10 goals of the EIP, see our earlier insights below in this Green Matters series and look out for our final article on goals 9-10:

To discuss any of the points raised here about the EIP or any related issues it raises for your business or organisation, please contact sustainability partner Ben Stansfield and senior associate Emma Cartledge-Taylor

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