Regulatory Outlook

Environment | UK Regulatory Outlook February 2023

Published on 28th Feb 2023

Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 | Environmental Targets (Biodiversity) (England) Regulations 2023 | Prime minister creates new Department of Energy Security and Net Zero

Environmental Improvement Plan 2023

On 31 January, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) published the Environmental Improvement Plan 2023. This plan is the first revision of A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment that was published in 2018. 

The revised plan reinstates what was already set out in the 25-year plan and outlines some of the forthcoming actions that Defra intends to take in order to make further progress. These include:

  • implementing the Environment Act 2021, which includes launching local nature recovery strategies to identify areas to create and restore habitat and achieving "net gains" in biodiversity to enhance the built environment;
  • Supporting businesses to implement extended producer responsibility for packaging from 2024 and introduce a deposit return scheme for plastic and metal drinks containers from October 2025 to drive higher recycling rates (see our previous Regulatory Outlook for more);
  • implementing due diligence requirements set out in the Environment Act 2021 to tackle illegal deforestation in supply chains; 
  • introducing a mandatory digital waste-tracking service to modernise existing waste record keeping to enable regulators to better detect illegal activity and tackle waste crime, including fly-tipping, illegal waste sites, and illegal waste exports; 
  • banning the export of plastic waste to countries that are not members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development; and 
  • publishing the Land Use Framework in 2023 to set out how Defra will balance multiple demands on land including climate mitigation and adaptation.

Environmental Targets (Biodiversity) (England) Regulations 2023 

On 30 January 2023, the Environment Targets (Biodiversity) (England) Regulations 2023 came into force. 

These regulations are made to create legally binding targets in the priority area of biodiversity: to halt the decline in species abundance by 2030, reverse the decline by 2042, reduce the risk of species extinction by 2042 and to restore or create in excess of 500,000 hectares of wildlife-rich habitat outside of current protected sites by 2042.  The regulations aim to ensure that the legal requirement under the Environment Act 2021 for the government to set a target that will halt the decline in species abundance by 2030 is met. 

Prime minister creates new Department of Energy Security and Net Zero

On 7 February 2023, it was announced that Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, had created four government departments: a new Department for Energy Security and Net Zero; a dedicated Department for Science, Innovation and Technology; a combined Department for Business and Trade; and a "refocused" Department for Culture, Media and Sport. The full transition programme will complete over the coming months. 

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero will aim to ensure the UK meets its goal to be net zero by 2050 and legally binding carbon budgets. The body will also support the development of markets in renewables, nuclear and other technologies to decarbonise industry. 

The "Making Government Deliver for the British People" policy paper outlines further details on the changes.

Guidance on emerging techniques for hydrogen production with carbon capture

The Environment Agency has published new guidance this month on emerging techniques for hydrogen production with carbon capture. The guidance is not a regulatory requirement but sets out and advises on the best practices for preventing or minimising the environmental impact of industrial hydrogen production. 

It covers large-scale industrial plants: producing hydrogen using methane (for example, from natural gas) or refinery fuel gas; capturing the CO2 produced within the process, carbon capture, or using post-combustion carbon capture to make it ready for permanent geological storage. 

The guidance will be useful for operators when designing their plants and preparing their application for an environmental permit, as well as for any other organisation that wants to understand how the environmental regulations and standards are being applied.


* This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.

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