The Friday Digest: A policy freeze in need of thawing 

In a week that saw temperatures plummet below zero it seems apt that the government confirmed its obesity strategy is now frozen in time. Plans to introduce a 9pm TV advertising watershed for foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) along with new restrictions on online advertising will now come into force on October 1st 2025, more than two and a half years after the original planned start date of January 1st 2023.

The government confirmed the worst fears of health campaigners when it published a draft of the new regulations on December 9th. It follows a pattern which has seen ministers consistently row back from plans set out in the 2020 obesity strategy – a ban on HFSS multibuy deals is also now subject to a long delay.

Barbara Crowther, Children's Food Campaign co-ordinator, condemned “a disastrous and totally unjustifiable level of delay”, which the government has attributed to there being insufficient time for businesses to prepare for the implementation. Crowther, however, argued that “it is wrong to claim that industry has not had enough time to prepare, as the consultations took place in 2019, and the decision to introduce the 9pm watershed and online advertising restrictions announced in 2020”. 

Following the failure of the government’s voluntary sugar reduction programme, which saw average sugar levels for retail and out of home products fall just 3.5% and 0.2% respectively against a 20% target, the delay leaves a huge void at the heart of the government’s obesity strategy.

The packaging and plastics agenda isn’t quite frozen to the same extent albeit plans for a deposit return scheme for England and extended producer responsibility have been slipping and sliding for many months. The FT reported this week that a new tranche of single-use plastic items including cutlery and plates is due to be banned in Englandfollowing the 2020 ban on single-use plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. It said Defra secretary of state Thérèse Coffey is preparing to announce plans to phase out the items and replace them with biodegradable alternatives, citing government insiders.

The move would follow similar steps taken in some of the other home nations. The Welsh Senedd recently voted on stage 3 of the environmental protection (single-use plastic products) (Wales) bill that will see single-use plastics such as plates, plastic cutlery, and thin single-use plastic bags banned.

While plastics have maintained their heavyweight status on the sustainability agenda throughout 2022, biodiversity is still struggling to get a look-in. Several experts offering predictions for 2023 in a Footprint article to be published on Monday cited biodiversity loss linked to deforestation as an under-the-radar issue that will gain greater prominence in the year ahead. World leaders are currently meeting in Montreal to thrash out a new deal for nature at the COP15 summit. The meeting, due to close on 19th December, will set the framework for the next decade of global action on biodiversity loss, but it has so far failed to generate the same level of media coverage as the recent COP27 climate summit.

Nature loss drives almost a quarter (23%) of climate emissions. However, a new report from WWF and Aviva found the investment needed to protect and restore nature lags far behind action to attract climate finance. The two organisations are calling on negotiators at COP15 to set a ‘Paris-style’ global goal and help mobilise private finance to tackle the nature crisis.

With wildlife populations seeing a precipitous 69% decline since 1970 the planet can’t afford yet another year of glacial progress by policy makers.

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