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Bright Blue, the independent think tank for liberal conservatism, has today published a major new report, Global green giant? A policy story, which proposes original policies to ensure the UK become the global leader on stemming biodiversity loss.

In the run up to two major conferences in the Autumn of this year – COP15 to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in China, and the COP26 to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Italy and the UK – Bright Blue’s new report offers a blueprint for how Britain can become a global green giant on conservation.

The report proposes around 50 new and ambitious conservation ideas, both for domestic and foreign policy, across five themes: a green and pleasant land; ending the plastic scourge; protecting our marine environments; eliminating the illegal wildlife trade; and, global green leadership.

Patrick Hall, researcher at Bright Blue and co-author of the report, commented:

“Biodiversity decline and climate change are urgent and interlinked crises. The UK is a world leader in climate change mitigation, most recently shown through being the first major economy to adopt a net-zero emissions target. But there is a need and an opportunity to do the same for biodiversity – to become a global green giant on conservation. The current Government is starting to show that global leadership. But we need more new and ambitious conservation policies, both at home and abroad. 2020 is a critical year for the UK to step up.”

The Rt Hon The Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, Minister of State for the Environment, commented:

“This is a timely and important contribution to the debate on conservation and climate change.”

“Under the Conservatives, the UK is leading the world on climate change and has one of the most ambitious environment programmes of any country on earth. As we embark on what has been described as a ‘super year for nature’, culminating in the UN Climate conference in Glasgow, we have a huge opportunity to ramp up global efforts to combat environmental destruction and climate change, which are two sides of the same coin.”

“The landmark Environment Bill making its way through Parliament sets us on an ambitious course outside the EU and will cement the UK’s global leadership. Reports such as this from Bright Blue are always welcome and eagerly anticipated by policymakers both inside and outside government.”

 

Bright Blue’s leading policy recommendations are:

Global green leadership

  • At COP26, the UK should announce a new target to be the biggest funder of global conservation efforts in proportional terms through ODA and the establishment of a new ‘Global Nature Conservation Fund’ of at least £1 billion per year from the UK ODA budget. The UK has a legal target of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI) on ODA. Historically, there has been a pitiful amount of UK ODA spent on global nature conservation. Government funding for global biodiversity conservation averaged £75 million per annum between 2010 and 2013, the last period for which formal government figures are available, amounting to only 0.5% of the approximately £14 billion annual UK ODA budget. The UK Government’s recent £220 million for a new ‘International Biodiversity Fund’ to preserve the world’s endangered species and habitats and £100 million for a ‘Biodiverse Landscapes Fund’ to invest in the protection of mangroves and forests are a good start. This funding needs to be increased to at least £1 billion per year to stem the loss of global biodiversity. This fund should be hosted by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and announced at COP26. More broadly, to be a global leader on conservation, the UK should seek to be the country that proportionally spends the most on conservation ODA.
  • The UK should advocate for a complete international ban on all forms of whaling through the International Whaling Commission, with enforceable sanctions for countries which violate this. Six out of the 13 great whale species are currently considered endangered. In 2018, 1553 whales were hunted and killed. Despite the ban on commercial whaling issued by the International Whaling Commission (IWC), violations occur and often under the guise of ‘scientific research’. However, non-lethal alternative techniques for scientific research do exist today, in a way they did not a few decades ago.
  • The UK should create a new Special Envoy for Climate Change and Biodiversity, appointed by the Prime Minister. This role should be filled, and continued beyond 2020, by the President of COP26. The Special Envoy should seek to develop a strong partnership with China ahead of COP15 on the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in October 2020 and COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in November 2020, to build arguments and alliances around tackling both biodiversity decline and climate change. Recently, the UN appointed the Former Governor of the Bank of England as the UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. For the UK specifically, the Government has a ‘special representative’ for Climate Change, but this is inside the UN.

Ending the plastic scourge

  • An increase of fixed penalty notices to a minimum of £500 to individuals caught littering by local authorities or the police should be implemented, with higher fines for repeat offenders. Fixed penalty notices for littering currently attract a fine between £50 and £80 in England and up to £150 in Wales. Elsewhere in the world, cities are kept much cleaner thanks to stronger penalties for littering. In Calgary, littering attracts a fine between CA$500-1,000 (£290-590), and up to CA$750 (£440) for throwing a lit cigarette out of your vehicle window. Littering in Singapore can attract a S$2,000 (£1,140) fine for your first offence, followed by S$4,000 and S$10,000 (£2,270-5,680) for subsequent offences.
  • The UK should ban non-recyclable black plastic as soon as is feasibly possible. Black plastic ends up in landfill or incinerated because near infra-red recycling assortment technology is unable to detect the carbon black pigments found in the majority of conventional black plastic packaging. Alternatives such as fibre-based packaging, biodegradable plastic or even simply using conventional plastic of a non-black variety are available. Many large retailers such Waitrose, Aldi and Lidl are already taking an industry lead to eliminate non-recyclable black plastic from their packaging.
  • There should be an increase in the minimum charge for ‘bags for life’ to 70p as soon as possible, but not an increase in the minimum charge for a single-use bag. Bags for life are stronger plastic carrier bags designed to be reused. In 2019, 1.5 billion bags for life were sold. As they are thick, they are made of more plastic and must be reused at least four times in order to have the same carbon footprint as a conventional single-use plastic carrier bag. However, they are being used as a disposable option by many consumers, meaning that their environmental impact is worse than conventional plastic bags. The minimum charge should be increased from 10p to 70p, inspired by the Irish rate of 70c per bag which has led to a 90% reduction in their use.
  • All producers and retailers across the UK which sell drink containers covered by a deposit return scheme (DRS) should be required to fund and operate a return point on their premises. After a recent consultation, Defra are still considering what type of drink containers would be included under a UK DRS, and have stated that another consultation will be undertaken in 2020 to determine this. Defra impact assessments estimate that a 15p deposit rate across all materials would incentivise an 85% return rate in the UK. It is still uncertain what model the Government will adopt regarding a DRS, and whether this will be financed by central or local government, or retailers themselves.

A green and pleasant land

  • Existing development restrictions on low-value Green Belt land in some areas should be relaxed if a more ambitious net biodiversity gain obligation is placed on developers than the proposed 10% increase in habitat value for wildlife post-development. Careful planning and the construction of environmentally-friendly homes can lead to a biodiversity gain from development. The Environment Bill will mandate a 10% increase in habitat value for wildlife for developments. Green Belt land which is low-quality – that is, land which has already been built on, been left derelict, or brownfield areas within the Green Belt – should be declassified and development permitted, if a net biodiversity gain threshold of higher than 10% is applied.
  • Every city in the UK, where appropriate, ought to include an urban nature corridor as part of the UK’s new national nature recovery network (NRN). NRNs identify where habitats and ecosystems are located, then link them via ‘eco-corridors’. They provide a refuge for species fleeing habitat destruction and facilitate carbon capture through fauna restoration and afforestation. The Government has pledged to develop 500,000 hectares into NRNs. However, the Government’s plan focuses primarily on rural areas and neglects the role that NRNs could play in improving biodiversity in urban areas. By extending NRNs into urban areas, it allows them to be more accessible to people and improve air quality and provides suitable, connected habitats to boost pollinator numbers.
  • Every state secondary school in the country should plant and name an area of trees to support the government’s new afforestation target. The Conservative Government has pledged to plant 30 million trees a year by 2025. This an opportunity to engage young people in conservation, but the Forestry Commission does not have a programme to engage young people. All 3,448 state secondary schools in the UK should be granted government funding to take a selection of pupils on a trip to learn about and do the tree-planting. The location of the tree planting should be decided in conjunction with the Forestry Commission, who are responsible for tree-planting targets.
  • The Government should introduce mandatory water efficiency labelling on all new applicable products and the introduction of minimum product standards for water efficiency. On current projections, many parts of the UK will face water shortages in 2050, particularly the South East. Reducing the demand for, and waste of, water is therefore paramount. The Government’s target for reducing everyone’s daily water use is established at 130 litres per person by 2030; presently, however, it is 149 litres per person per day. By comparison, per person water usage in Denmark is 80 litres per day. Through water efficiency labelling, houses and developments can then be retrofitted to a water efficiency standard. It also allows for minimum water efficiency standards to be imposed on all products sold in the UK. The UK does not currently have mandatory water efficiency labelling on products.

Protecting our marine environments

  • The UK should implement a ban on bottom trawling in all its Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Bottom trawling is the practice of dropping a weighted net onto the ocean floor and dragging it. It frequently contributes to overfishing and undersized catches, leading to marine life being discarded. Bottom trawling also disturbs or destroys everything in its path, including rocks and coral reefs that are habitats for marine life. Many maritime species not intended to be caught, such as seabird and turtles, are also caught and often do not survive. Bans on bottom trawling are already in place in other countries such as New Zealand, Indonesia, and certain states of the United States. Presently, there is not a ban on bottom trawling in UK MPAs.
  • The UK Government should set a target of protecting 30% of UK domestic waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030. Existing MPAs cover about 1.2% of the high seas, with a UN agreement endorsing raising this to 10%. The UK has supported an international target of 30% of the high seas being MPAs by 2030. Nonetheless, only 25% of the UK’s domestic waters are currently MPAs. This level of domestic protection is lower than other EU countries such as France and Belgium that have 45% and 36.7% respectively, and it is inconsistent with the UK’s international aims.
  • The Government should increase the minimum criteria for the management of all existing and future MPAs in domestic waters and in UKOTs. MPAs vary in terms of the protection they provide the marine environment. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has devised a spectrum ranging from the most to the least protective. Of the IUCN’s seven management categories for MPAs, category IV, or “Conservation Park Zones”, allow for the conservation of whole marine areas with opportunities for “reasonable use and enjoyment, including limited extractive use”. Only 2% of the one million km2 South Sandwich Islands MPA, for example, meets this standard. Category IV should be the minimum benchmark for all UK and UKOT MPAs to conserve marine environments without enforcing overbearing restrictions, but MPAs should be more ambitious if possible.

Eliminating the illegal wildlife trade

  • Statutory duties should be placed on organisations with an annual turnover of £36 million or more within the UK to monitor and prevent financial flows that could reasonably be related to the IWT. In 2018, the Department for International Development (DfID) and the Foreign Office jointly launched The Wildlife Financial Taskforce with The Duke of Cambridge, which consists of representatives from 30 international banks and financial organisations and aims to increase investigations and prosecutions relating to the IWT. Membership of the Taskforce is currently voluntary. There is a compulsory a statutory duty for some organisations to prevent slavery in their supply chains exists, created through the Modern Slavery Act. This obligation applies to commercial organisations which have a turnover of £36 million or more. A similar framework could be used for mandatory monitoring of financial flows that may stem from the IWT.
  • New ‘Magnitsky Clause’ amendments to existing legislation should be introduced which would enable the UK Government to freeze UK-based assets of foreign citizens implicated in supporting the IWT, wildlife crime, and other forms of gross species and habitat destruction. The US Magnitsky Act 2012 allows their government to sanction individuals implicated in gross human rights abuses by freezing their assets. The UK passed its own version in 2018. Similar legislation should be enacted to sanction those who commit gross species and habitat destruction.
  • The UK should seek to remain part of EU-TWIX after fully leaving the EU and, especially in the final months of being Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth, should seek to improve evidence sharing between Commonwealth countries on IWT by advocating for and helping to build a Commonwealth version of the EU-TWIX scheme. EU-TWIX is a major enforcement programme with a database containing over 55,000 wildlife-related seizure records from EU member states since 2000. In 2015, the UK Government provided £50,000 for the EU-TWIX programme. It is vital for the UK’s role in tackling the global IWT that the UK retains access to this database. There is also no formal framework for intelligence sharing between Commonwealth countries to address the high rates of IWT that occur in member states. Currently, and for a remaining short period, the office of the UK Prime Minister is the Chair-in-Office, a position held by the leader of a Commonwealth country on a two year basis. The UK should use this leadership position to help build a Commonwealth version of the EU-TWIX scheme.

This report was guided by our Conservation Project Advisory Board. Members include:

  • The Rt Hon Lord Deben, Chair, Committee on Climate Change
  • Julian Glover, Associate Editor, Evening Standard, and Author, National Parks Review
  • Lord Inglewood
  • The Rt Hon Dame Cheryl Gillan MP, Former Secretary of State for Wales
  • Timothy Palmer, Trustee, Dorset Wildlife Trust
  • Stanley Johnson, Former Conservative MEP
  • The Rt Hon Lord Sir John Randall, Former Senior Environment Adviser, 10 Downing Street
  • Dominic Jeremy CVO OBE, Director General, Zoological Society of London
  • Benet Northcote, Board Member, Conservative Environment Network
  • Sam Hall, Director, Conservative Environment Network
  • Prof Alastair Driver, Director, Rewilding Britain

Membership of the advisory board does not necessarily mean endorsement of any policy ideas from Bright Blue, including in this report.