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Commons Environmental Audit Committee Issues Report on the FCO

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  • Bob Conrich
    Friends, The Commons Environmental Audit Committee published its report on the Foreign Office this morning. As many of us hoped, it calls for increased
    Message 1 of 1 , May 23, 2007
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      The Commons Environmental Audit Committee published its report on
      the Foreign Office this morning. As many of us hoped, it calls
      for increased funding for environmental projects in the OT. It
      goes further than that, however, in calling for a third priority
      to be added to the present two of security and good governance in
      the Overseas Territories. The Committee believes that environmental
      protection should be a mandated priority in the OTs. This, in my
      view, would have two primary effects:

      1. Funding, especially in the uninhabited OTs and those of
      modest means, may be increased considerably. If environmental
      work were considered a vital service, as are education and health,
      environmental NGOs might be able to spend less time on begging for
      support and more time doing what they were intended to do.

      2. If OT Governors and Administrators were expected to monitor
      environmental protection as carefully as they watch for contingent
      liabilities, perhaps greater emphasis on environmental quality
      would be seen in economic and infrastructure development projects.

      The EAC report is quite long. Below is the section on the Overseas
      Territories. The full report can be accessed from


      Robert S. Conrich, CIArb
      Box 666
      Anguilla bob@...
      British West Indies Tel: 264 497 2505


      Select Committee on Environmental Audit Fifth Report
      UK Overseas Territories

      73. In our last report on the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, we discussed the importance of the UK Overseas Territories
      (UKOTs). These 14 territories, which include the Falkland Islands, are globally significant in terms of their biodiversity
      resources. We found during the course of the inquiry that many environments in the UKOTs are under threat, and that the current
      level of support being provided to the UKOTs for the protection of these resources are not adequate. We concluded that the
      "Government must act decisively to prevent further loss of biodiversity in the UKOTs", and that this would involve a move
      "towards increased and more appropriate funding for conservation and ecosystem management there".[113]

      74. DFID and FCO responded that they agree that "a longer-term funding commitment would enable a more strategic approach to be
      taken, but [that they] are currently providing resources to the Overseas Territories for environmental management to the fullest
      extent [they are] able".[114] The Government pointed out to us that FCO funding for the UKOTs via the Overseas Territories
      Environment Programme (OTEP) had been increased by £94,000 for the financial year 2007/08, to £469,000, although it stated that
      future allocations would depend on the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. DFID has also increased its allocation, to
      £1.5 million for the period 2007/08-2009/10, an increase of £125,000 annually. OTEP will therefore receive just under £1 million
      in 2007/08. It also highlighted the fact that the JNCC was enhancing its support for biodiversity in the UKOTs, "in part due to
      increased resources from DEFRA through its financial settlement".[115]

      75. The RSPB recently published a report that attempts to provide an outline estimate of the cost in meeting biodiversity
      priorities in the UKOTs, "to facilitate a comparison of current expenditures with identified needs". The analysis estimated that
      total costs amount to some £16.1 million per year between 2007 and 2011, in addition to existing local expenditure on
      biodiversity conservation. The report's authors concede that the estimates are only intended to be indicative, and are also
      incomplete, but they stress that the figures suggest that current funding is "insufficient to meet biodiversity conservation

      76. During the Sub-committee inquiry into the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the DEFRA Minister, Barry Gardiner MP,
      acknowledged the problems that the UKOTs face in meeting environmental degradation challenges.[117] The Sub-committee asked the
      FCO Minister about these concerns and he said that:

      We take very seriously our activities in the Overseas Territories. Many of those territories have limited capacity and so it is
      important that we help build capacity, build resources and we utilise across government our resources, whether it is Defra
      resources or DIFD resources or our own resources, and to do it in a practical way, not just getting them to sign up to
      activities but to actually help them in a practical way forward.

      So we have to make sure that we are very proactive in ensuring that our Overseas Territories are covered in an effective,
      practical way in international agreements or in any programme work that we are doing, whether it is in biodiversity or other
      programmes on sustainable development and that means in most instances putting practical programmes in place.[118]

      77. This strong acceptance by the Minister of the need to support the UKOTs, seems at odds with the current funding situation,
      which appears based on what the FCO and DFID can 'spare', rather than on a strategic assessment of need. The UKOT Conservation
      Forum (UKOTCF) stressed that they were grateful to the FCO, "not simply for contributing to their funding but also for their
      support in promoting improved environmental policies in the UKOTs".[119] The NGO provided a number of examples of the
      environmental projects that the FCO has contributed to, one in particular demonstrating the apparent current strategic disarray
      of environmental funding, as well as the benefits of increased environmental funding:

      [The]Ascension Seabird Restoration Project. This 2001-2003 project tackled another invasive problem—the feral cats on Ascension.
      It was technically challenging for the RSPB and the Ascension Administrator to manage because of the terrain and because the
      cooperation of every island resident and visitor was essential. However, because of its scale the project has already produced
      benefits far beyond the complete elimination of feral cats (the largest island anywhere on which this has been achieved) and the
      growth of new seabird colonies. The budget allowed for the first year's salary for a full-time conservation officer in the
      Ascension Island Government (Tara Pelembe, a Saint [Ascension islander] with a degree in geography). The project became the
      subject of her M.Sc and her full-time position—now wholly funded by the elected Ascension Island Council out of local taxes—has
      enabled her to work with local volunteers to establish (with funding from OTEP) Ascension's First National Park on Green
      Mountain. She has also supported work on Green Turtle conservation, attracting several graduate students from the UK.

      This textbook example of capacity building has, however, a catch. The seabird project was not a typical small project: it cost
      £0.5 million, the same as the FCO's current annual contribution to OTEP for ALL the UKOTs. While the RSPB and other Forum
      members had developed the environmental and business case for this project over many years, this had been repeatedly rejected by
      HMG on budgetary grounds. Ironically, the money was found from the FCO's programme budget, when a non-environmental large
      UN-related project fell through and there was a risk of an embarrassing underspend, which would have been clawed back by the
      Treasury. The fortuitous implementation of this strategic large project has a kick in the tail. The Ascension Conservation
      Officer has just been recruited to a new post in the Joint Nature Conservation Committee—to work on UKOTs issues. The Forum
      greatly welcomes this further demonstration of the JNCC's commitment to the territories: and we are delighted to see this
      example of Ascension helping with capacity building in the UK![120]

      78. We welcome the fact that FCO and DFID have, in the short term, increased their financial support for better environmental
      management in the UKOTs, but we are concerned that this has not been undertaken on the basis of an analysis of need. Research by
      the RSPB suggests that even with this funding increase a considerable funding shortfall will remain in the UKOTs for
      biodiversity protection.

      79. Iain Orr of BioDiplomacy told the Sub-committee that part of the reason why the UKOTs have been neglected by the Government
      is that they are often seen "by many officials and ministers as problems rather than as overseas relations sharing a common
      British heritage", and that the rest of Whitehall "often treats issues involving the UKOTs as for them or the FCO to 'sort
      out'".[121] He argued that "one of the FCO's prime undischarged responsibilities is to convince every part of [the Government]
      (especially the Treasury and DEFRA) that only by a sea-change in attitudes to the UKOTs will the UK be able to meet its
      commitments" towards them, both international and domestic.[122] The UKOTCF told us that the Government's domestic commitments
      to the UKOTs were established in a series of Environment Charters agreed in 2001. The Charters "have shared principles, followed
      by separate commitments made by each territory and by the UK".[123] The UK government's commitments follow a common pattern:

      Help build capacity to support and implement integrated environmental management which is consistent with [the territory's] own
      plans for sustainable development.

      Assist [the territory] in reviewing and updating environmental legislation.

      Facilitate the extension of the UK's ratification of Multilateral Environmental Agreements of benefit to [the territory] and
      which [the territory] has the capacity to implement.

      Keep [the territory] informed regarding new developments in relevant Multilateral Environmental Agreements and invite [the
      territory] to participate where appropriate in the UK's delegation to international environmental negotiations and conferences.

      Help [the territory] to ensure it has the legislation, institutional capacity and mechanisms it needs to meet international

      Promote better cooperation and the sharing of experience and expertise between [the territory], other Overseas Territories and
      small island states and communities which face similar environmental problems.

      Use UK, regional and local expertise to give advice and improve knowledge of technical and scientific issues. This includes
      regular consultation with interested non-governmental organisations and networks.

      Use the existing Environment Fund for the Overseas Territories, and promote access to other sources of public funding, for
      projects of lasting benefit to [the territory's] environment.

      Help [the territory] identify further funding partners for environmental projects, such as donors, the private sector or
      non-governmental organisations.

      Recognise the diversity of the challenges facing Overseas Territories in very different socio-economic and geographical situations.

      Abide by the principles set out in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development and work towards meeting International
      Development Targets on the environment.[124]

      80. The Sub-committee asked the Minister whether his department had assessed the success of the Environment Charters, and was
      told that the "UKOTCF is currently gathering information on the progress in implementing the Environment Charter Commitments for
      each Territory". This is due to be published as a report towards the middle of this year, to feed into a wider review of the
      Charters with other departments and UKOT governments.[125]

      81. International commitments for which the Government also has a joint responsibility in the UKOTs include those under the
      Convention on Biological Diversity, Ramsar, The Convention on Migratory Species and CITES.[126] UKOTCF argued that the FCO does
      not have the expertise to address most of these domestic and international commitments, on which DEFRA leads in most cases.[127]
      It stressed that "the UK government and civil society will never achieve policy coherence on the UKOTs concerning trade,
      development and environment if this is treated as primarily a matter for the FCO".[128] The NGO argued to us that the "core
      problem" concerning environmental and governance issues in the UKOTs is that:

      … the UK exercises sovereignty over the territories primarily through the FCO (which appoints Governors and Administrators to
      work with the locally-elected governments), but in many specific areas that matter to the UK as a whole—and to the UK's
      international reputation - the FCO lacks essential skills or resources. This would not matter much as far as trade, development
      and the environment are concerned, if—as should be the case—other parts of HMG accepted their responsibilities and made staffing
      and budgetary provision for work relating to the UKOTs. A key FCO responsibility should, therefore, be acting as a champion for
      the UKOTs throughout Whitehall and in the FCO's network of relations with companies, NGOs and institutions whose expertise can
      benefit the UKOTs.[129]

      82. The RSPB provided us with an example of the failure of Departments to work together in providing adequate support for the
      UKOTs. It told us that when a UKOT has a query on an environmental issue for which the FCO is not responsible, it is not clear
      who should provide the support. It argued that the "roles and responsibilities are not clearly defined and it is almost as if
      they are trying to pass the responsibility between two government departments so it just slips between the cracks".[130] The
      RSPB also alleged that the UKOTs are not a high priority for DEFRA, and also that "although they have perhaps the expertise they
      do not have the connections on the ground like the Foreign Office does".[131] Sarah Sanders from RSPB did accept that "there has
      been a move to try and improve working relationships between [FCO, DEFRA and DFID] for the UK Overseas Territories but… there is
      still room for a lot of improvement".[132]

      83. We are disturbed that witnesses have stressed to us that departments other than FCO and DFID do not provide the level of
      support to the UKOTs that is required. Although DEFRA does provide some direct and indirect support, the level of this does not
      fill the specialist environmental gaps that are apparent in the UKOTs. We recommend firstly that DEFRA be involved at the
      highest level in reviewing the Environment Charters. The Inter-Ministerial Working Group on Biodiversity should provide the
      focus for this review to ensure coordination between departments. It is necessary for this review to assess whether both the
      Government, and the governments of the UKOTs, have met their respective obligations under the Environment Charters and
      Multilateral Environmental Agreements. Secondly, DEFRA should be given joint responsibility towards the UKOTs. This should be
      reflected in an updated UK International Priority, to include environmental protection alongside security and good governance in
      the UKOTs. This will also have to be reflected in DEFRA's Comprehensive Spending Review settlement. Finally, as part of the
      Environment Charter review, the case for larger and more routine funding must be explored. Given that the Treasury is currently
      conducting a spending review, it is imperative that this funding analysis feeds into, and influences, the Treasury's ultimate
      decision as to spending allocations for FCO, DFID and DEFRA.

      84. If the Government fails to address these issues it will run the risk of continued environmental decline and species
      extinctions in the UKOTs, ultimately causing the UK to fail in meeting its domestic and international environmental commitments.
      Failure to meet such commitments undermines the UK's ability to influence the international community to take the strong action
      required for reversing environmental degradation in their own countries, and globally.

      113 Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2006-07, The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, HC 77, paragraphs
      133 & 140 Back

      114 Government response to the Committee's First Report of Session 2006-07: The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, May 2007,
      www.parliament.uk Back

      115 ibid Back

      116 RSPB, Costing Biodiversity Priorities in the UK Overseas Territories, 2 April 2007, www.rspb.org.uk Back

      117 Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2006-07, The UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, HC 77, Ev 44 Back

      118 Ev 62 Back

      119 Ev 73 Back

      120 Ev 73 & 74 Back

      121 Ev 17 Back

      122 ibid para 29 Back

      123 Ev 72 Back

      124 Ev 72 Back

      125 Ev 64 Back

      126 Ev 73 Back

      127 ibid Back

      128 Ev 75 Back

      129 Ev 74 Back

      130 Qu 8 [Ms Sanders] Back

      131 Qu 10 Back

      132 Qu 11 [Ms Sanders] Back

      © Parliamentary copyright 2007
      Prepared 23 May 2007
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