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House of Commons report on halting biodiversity loss

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  • Bob Conrich
    The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has this morning issued its long-awaited report on halting biodiversity loss in the UK, Crown Dependencies
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2008
      The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has this morning
      issued its long-awaited report on halting biodiversity loss in the
      UK, Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories.

      Below is a press release from RSPB about the report.

      Below that is that part of the report relating directly to the
      Overseas Territories. The full report consists of 215 pages and
      may be seen at


      Robert S. Conrich, ACIArb
      Box 666
      Anguilla bob@...
      British West Indies Tel: 1 264 497 2505

      Continued Government failure will result in species' extinctions
      10 November 2008

      Grahame Madge
      Media Officer
      E-mail: grahame.madge@...

      The Government is not doing enough to protect threatened wildlife in
      England and the UK Overseas Territories, warns the Environmental Audit
      Committee today [Monday 10 November, 2008]. This warning is echoed by
      the RSPB â€" Europe’s largest wildlife conservation charity.

      Dr Mark Avery, the RSPB’s Conservation Director, said: “Today's report
      is clear: the Government is not doing enough to protect threatened
      wildlife. The RSPB believes the Government must step up to the
      challenge of reversing biodiversity loss before it is too late.
      Wildlife doesn't have a voice of its own and we are pleased that the
      EAC has added its voice to that of over a million RSPB members in
      speaking up for nature.

      “Our wildlife is a national asset that is being lost at an
      unacceptable rate. Birds, plants and insects need more wild places
      where they can flourish and much more attention needs to be given to
      wildlife's needs in how we farm our fields, manage our forests and
      fish our seas. Biodiversity loss is as big an issue as climate change
      - both are symptoms of the unsustainable way that we inhabit this planet.

      “The economic downturn is no reason for inaction. Wildlife needs help
      from government now and it must not become collateral damage in
      pursuit of economic recovery. Preventing the extinction of 32 bird
      species from the UK’s overseas territories for £16m per year is one
      example of how saving the planet may not be as difficult or as costly
      as sometimes assumed. Restoring the wildlife richness of our
      countryside would enrich the lives of millions of people. What we
      need is political will to make these things happen.”

      Alistair Gammell, the RSPB’s International Director, added: “Across
      Europe and the world the United Nations fears that one species is
      becoming extinct every 20 minutes.

      “The UK Government, along with other governments, must invest in
      wildlife conservation if we are to avoid impoverishing our unique and
      rich planet.

      “Today’s report urges the Government to adopt a new target of not only
      halting biodiversity loss by 2020, but also to reverse the decline by
      this date. This is a wake-up call to protect wildlife, we hope the
      Government will commit to this new target. Failure will mean the
      inevitable extinction of many more species.”

      "The UK Government, along with other governments, must invest in
      wildlife conservation if we are to avoid impoverishing our unique and
      rich planet"

      The list of species and habitats in urgent need of conservation action
      has doubled over the last ten years. There are now 941 species and 56
      habitats on the priority list for conservation in England alone. The
      conservation of biodiversity is now so important it should be given
      far greater consideration in all Government policies, from planning to
      energy production.

      The RSPB believes that Government conservation action must be
      accompanied by specific, measurable and achievable targets for species
      and habitats.

      The RSPB recognises good progress has been made on the recovery of
      some species where targeted conservation action has been taken.
      Examples of bird conservation successes include: bittern; stone-curlew
      and the cirl bunting.

      -----------press release ends-----------------

      UK Overseas Territories

      39. The UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) are globally significant in
      terms of their
      biodiversity. They contain some 240 globally threatened species, 74 of
      which are critically
      endangered. Responsibility for local environmental policy is devolved
      to local UKOT
      governments where they exist. However, in evidence to us the UK
      Overseas Territories
      Conservation Forum (UKOTCF) argued that it is “entirely unrealistic to
      government and NGO bodies in these small communities to find locally
      all the human and
      financial resources required to monitor and protect their fragile
      natural environment”.58
      Consequently, it said, “local environmental legislation and its
      enforcement are often weak,
      including in critical areas such as spatial planning”.59 UKOTCF
      believed that under these
      circumstances the UK Government has a moral responsibility to support UKOT
      governments in protecting their biodiversity. It pointed out that the
      UK Government is
      accountable for UKOT biodiversity under international conventions. The
      UKOTCF also
      saw a link between the Government’s failure to ensure good standards
      of good governance
      in the UKOTs and negative impacts on biodiversity protection.
      40. Iain Orr of BioDiplomacy was critical of the continued failure to
      join-up government
      in dealing with the UKOTs. He argued that ministers and officials from
      Defra, Department
      for International Development, FCO, Department for Culture Media and
      Sport, Ministry
      of Defence and Ministry of Justice “need to have a shared
      understanding of what role each
      of them has in supporting the 2010 [biodiversity] target”.60 UKOTCF
      agreed that the
      government’s approach to environmental protection “remains fragmentary and
      41. In the past we have severely criticised the Government for failing
      adequately to protect
      the biodiversity of the UKOTs. In our Report on the UN Millennium
      Assessment, published in January 2007, we expressed concern about the
      continued threat of
      extinction of around 240 species in the UKOTs and argued that it was
      “distasteful”, given
      their lack of resources, that the FCO and DFID had argued that it was
      up to the UKOTs to
      fund protection of these species. We concluded that if the “Government
      is to achieve the
      […] 2010 target to significantly reduce the rate of biodiversity loss
      within its entire
      territory, the Government must act decisively to prevent further loss
      of biodiversity in the

      58 Ev 107
      59 ibid
      60 Ev 184
      61 Ev 107

      UKOT”.62 We urged the Government to increase funding for conservation
      and ecosystem
      management in the UKOT and to give Defra joint responsibility with the
      FCO and DfID
      for delivering this.
      42. We returned to this issue in our Report on Development and the
      Environment: the Role
      of the FCO. We found that the funding situation for environmental
      protection in the
      UKOT appeared to be based on what the FCO and DFID could spare, rather
      than a
      strategic assessment of need, and we reiterated our previous call for
      increased funding. We
      recommended that Defra should be involved at the highest level in a
      review of the
      Environment Charters, which describe the various roles and
      responsibilities of the
      Government and the governments of the UKOT (where they exist). We
      recognised that
      changes in departmental responsibilities would need to be reflected in
      Comprehensive Spending Review settlement. We concluded that failing to
      address the
      issue of biodiversity loss in the UKOT:
      [The Government] will run the risk of continued environmental decline and
      [further] species extinctions in the UKOT, 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
      community to take the strong action required for reversing environmental
      degradation in their own countries, and globally.63
      43. The Foreign Affairs Committee published a report on the UKOTs. It
      concluded that:
      […] given the vulnerability of Overseas Territories’ species and
      ecosystems, [the]
      lack of action by the Government is highly negligent. The
      environmental funding
      currently being provided by the UK to the Overseas Territories appears
      44. Recommendations that we have made in the past appear largely to
      have been ignored.
      There has not been an adequate assessment of funding needs and how
      funding might be
      delivered.65 In the review of the Environment Charters,66 the UKOTCF
      claimed that the
      government “felt unable to provide information to this exercise, which
      [it] attributed to
      lack of resources [… and therefore] consideration of fulfilment of
      commitments by
      [government] remained very incomplete”.67 A reassessment of the
      various roles and
      responsibilities of departments was not carried out as part of the
      Comprehensive Spending
      Review, and Defra has not been made jointly responsible for the UKOT.

      62 Environmental Audit Committee, First Report of Session 2006â€"07, The
      UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, HC 77
      63 ibid
      64 Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Seventh Report of Session
      2007â€"08, Overseas Territories, HC 147-I
      65 Ev 108
      66 The Environment Charters describe the responsibilities of the UK
      Government and the Government of each Territory
      for the conservation of the environment in the UKOTs
      67 Ev 108

      45. The Minister pointed out that funding was provided by DFiD and
      FCO, and argued
      that it was for those departments to address any funding shortfall,
      although she told us that
      Defra had tried to support the UKOTs through the Darwin Initiative.68
      She told us that she
      had not met recently with FCO and DFiD Ministers on the
      Inter-Departmental Group on
      Biodiversity, which was set up to help deal with the environmental
      challenges identified in
      the UKOT, but that a meeting would be arranged. An official told us
      that the group had
      met some four times over the past four years, and accepted that the
      intention was initially
      for it to meet every six to nine months.69 Joan Ruddock MP said that
      the Committee “may
      have a point to make about wider co-ordination [and that] I think we
      should be asking
      ourselves the questions that you have posed: Do we think this is
      sufficiently well
      coordinated across government? Do we think that the overseas
      territories are getting the
      maximum result from whatever funding government is able to give them?
      What more do
      we need to know?”70
      46. The Government has a clear moral and legal duty to help protect
      the biodiversity of
      the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, where it is the
      eleventh hour for
      many species. We are extremely concerned that recommendations that we
      have made in
      the past that would have helped to protect the environment of the
      Overseas Territories
      have been ignored. The Government must:
      • adopt a truly joined-up approach to environmental protection the
      UKOTs and
      Crown Dependencies, by bringing together all relevant departments
      including the
      FCO, MoJ, DfID, Defra, DCMS and MoD, and the governments of the UKOTs and
      Crown Dependencies;
      • make better use of the Inter-Departmental Group on biodiversity to
      provide more
      oversight and support for the development and implementation of effective
      environmental protection policy in the UKOTs, and expand the Group to
      other relevant departments;
      • have Defra assume joint responsibility for the UKOTs, and reflect
      this in future
      spending settlements; and
      • address the dire lack of funds and information for environmental
      protection in the
      UKOTs. An ecosystem assessment should be conducted in partnership with
      UKOT in order to provide the baseline environmental data required and
      to outline
      the effective response options needed to halt biodiversity loss.
      47. With leadership, and a relatively small sum of money, the
      incredible biodiversity
      found in our overseas territories can be safeguarded into the future.
      One of the most
      important contributions that the Government could make to slowing the
      global biodiversity loss currently occurring would be to accept its
      responsibilities and
      to provide more support for the UK Overseas Territories in this area.

      68 Q 176
      69 Q 172 [Mr Brasher]
      70 Q 177
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