UK’s environment plan makes ‘connecting children with nature’ a priority
Connecting children with nature and improving air quality are part of the UK government’s latest long-term strategy for meeting its environmental goals.
The Environmental Improvement Plan sets out, through various strategies, how the government aims to preserve, in its words, ‘this green and pleasant land for our children’.
It is essentially a revision of the Environment Plan published in 2018, which itself set out a 25-year plan for leaving the environment in a better for ‘our children, and our children’s children’.
That has included supporting children from disadvantage backgrounds, often in urban areas, to have better access to nature. This latest update builds on that, with a Climate Action Award recognising the achievements of children and young people in taking action to increase biodiversity and developing their climate awareness knowledge.
Increasing the number of children connecting with nature through school is also seen as vital to their futures. The Government says it will continue to examine how best to deliver outdoor learning as part of children’s development, and support the increased use of teaching of climate change within the curriculum.
Air quality is another important child-related element of the strategy, as local councils will be challenged to improve air quality more quickly and tackle what the government calls ‘key hotspots’. Councils’ performance and use of existing powers in this area will be more closely scrutinised, but they will also be provided clearer guidance, tools and, where necessary, funding.
The report claims that air quality in the UK has improved recently in recent decades, most notably emissions of fine particulate matter (PM), which is the most damaging pollutant to human health.
The risks to child health from toxic emissions is already well established of course, and the report acknowledges how ‘air pollution continues to be the biggest environmental risk to human health, with particular hotspots in some urban areas’. This is particularly the case in London, where of course Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah became the first person in the UK to have air pollution listed as a cause of death. She was just nine years old when she died in 2013.
The government says it will facilitate the roll-out of more Clean Air Zones by local councils in areas which are in breach of statutory air quality limits. But it is also indoor settings where more needs to be done, it adds. Air quality needs to be included as a ‘key consideration’ in the planning process.
The report highlights how the government has already set out ventilation requirements to maintain indoor air quality as part of changes to established building regulations. Moving on this will help address factors identified in cases such as the tragic death of Awaab Ishak, two, who died from prolonged exposure to to mould in his flat in northwest England in December 2020. That has since prompted a national review of landlord guidance on the health risks of damp and mould.
Therese Coffey, the UK Environment Secretary, said: “I know there is much more to do to restore nature – and to level with you, some of these challenges are not always so easy to fix as we might all hope.”