Westminster’s Environmental Audit Committee last week published its second report of the 2021-22 session. The rightly critical report – The UK’s footprint on global biodiversity – follows on from the excellent first report of the session – Biodiversity in the UK: bloom or bust?
This second report acknowledges that “addressing biodiversity loss in the UK is only half the problem. The actions, decisions and consumption patterns of the UK affect biodiversity globally. If everyone on Earth lived like the average Briton, we would need three planets to meet humanity’s demands. The UK is contributing to a global problem. The world is witnessing the fastest decline in biodiversity in human history. One million animal and plant species are threatened with extinction. China will host the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 where the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework will be set. An initial virtual meeting is scheduled to be held in October 2021 with further in-person negotiations in the following year. At the conference, global goals will be set aimed at bending the curve of biodiversity loss. Unfortunately, none of the previous Aichi biodiversity targets, set ten years ago at COP10 in Japan, have been achieved.
To reverse the trend of biodiversity loss requires urgent and transformative change. To achieve this, developed economies need to lower their total material consumption and waste, and governments and businesses need to take pre-emptive and precautionary actions to avoid, mitigate and remedy the deterioration of nature. The UK has a large role to play in this. The Government has commissioned significant research into the economics of biodiversity and how to reduce the UK’s impact on commodity-driven deforestation. As host of COP26, the UK has an opportunity to push for the integration of these findings into climate and biodiversity agreements.
The Government has already demonstrated impressive global leadership on this front, leading the Global Ocean Alliance to protect 30% of the world’s oceans, signing the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature to reverse biodiversity loss by 2030 and through committing over £3 billion of its International Climate Finance funding to nature-based solutions to climate change. But the UK’s consumption patterns remain unsustainable, government performance against its own sustainable procurement policies has been limited, and overseas development assistance that aims to integrate poverty and environment objectives remains rare. We also regret that the Government’s international climate finance commitment, including its funding for nature-based solutions, is not new and additional funding, but rather a redirection of the existing and diminished aid budget.
The Government can and must do more if it is to turn its nature pledges into a reality. There are four key areas where Government efforts need to be stepped up:
- reducing the impact of UK consumption, trade and supply chains on nature;
- better protecting the UK’s Overseas Territories;
- mainstreaming biodiversity considerations into overseas development assistance; and
- advocating for a stronger, more ambitious Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework at the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15.
To achieve this, we propose a series of recommendations spanning commerce, international development and environment policy and the UK’s COP15 negotiating position. We want to highlight the following key recommendations:
- The Government should start the process of setting an environmental footprint target, where the UK recognises and seeks to reduce its total material consumption.
- Sustainability impact assessments should be conducted on all future trade agreements, and the Government should consider how to deliver environmental net gain in trade deals. Private sector participation in the Wildlife Financial Taskforce should be widened.
- The Government must reinstate the Greening Government Commitments for mandatory reporting on sustainable procurement by the end of 2021. As part of the Government Buying Standard all forest-risk commodities should be certified as sustainably produced.
- The UK should move to deforestation-free supply chains by making it illegal for UK businesses and the finance sector to use commodities linked to deforestation. At the very least, the finance sector must be included within proposed laws to ban UK companies using commodities linked to illegal deforestation.
- Given the importance to global biodiversity that the UK Overseas Territories represent, gaps in the protection must be rectified. Ministers should set out the long-term funding plans for the Government’s flagship Blue Belt Programme. Ministers should also set out how landscape scale environmental projects can be funded in Overseas Territories.
- Ambition is lacking in the first draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. Before and during COP15 the Government should advocate for the Framework’s 2030 mission to be to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030. The species goal should commit to stopping human-induced extinctions and the UNFCCC COP26 and UNCBD COP15 should be better joined together by featuring mutually agreed text on nature-based solutions to climate change in both agreements.
- The Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework will be meaningless if it is not implemented. The Government should support a review mechanism like that adopted under the Paris Climate Agreement which encourages countries to ratchet their national targets over time to match global goals. The UK should also push for a dedicated multilateral fund for the UN Convention on Biodiversity.
The Government has committed to leaving a lighter footprint on the global environment. Quite simply, this needs to start happening immediately: or in ten years’ time the international community might again find itself failing to meet any of its global biodiversity goals, but with no opportunity to reverse the damage done.”
CIEEM’s Head of Policy, Jason Reeves, notes that “the report highlights that we must intrinsically link all decision-making into nature protection and restoration, as has been noted in CIEEM’s own position statement on the COP events. If human society is to meet the challenge of biodiversity loss, meaningful action must start now!”