UK Government and businesses must take decisive steps to boost sustainable consumption critical to protect global nature
30 September 2021
The Government must strengthen its own sustainable procurement policies, and it should be illegal for UK businesses to use deforestation-linked commodities, if the UK is to demonstrate global leadership to protect nature, MPs say today.
The recommendation comes as the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) publishes its latest report, The UK's footprint on global biodiversity, and ahead of the preliminary meetings of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity COP15 in October.
Unsustainable consumption is driving many species to the brink of extinction, and must be tackled by the Government and businesses driving change.
MPs are concerned that a number of other commodities linked to deforestation, responsible for nature decline, are spiralling, such as soy, cocoa, timber, and pulp and paper. The Government must lead by example, and as part of the Government Buying Standard, should ensure all forest-risk commodities be certified as sustainably produced. All Government procurement – including that of large public bodies – should be subject to annual review to enhance transparency and identify any problem areas on sustainability. Further, bold action is also needed within the private sector to ensure the UK economy protects and enhances international biodiversity. As such, it must be made illegal for UK businesses and the finance sector to use commodities linked to deforestation.
Building on sustainability improvements domestically, the Government should use its position negotiating trade deals with other countries to demonstrate climate and environmental leadership. The Committee recommends that the Government ensures sustainability impact assessments are conducted on all future trade agreements. Further, the Government must consider how it can deliver environmental net gain in trade deals, reflecting its own domestic commitment around biodiversity net gain.
Consumption is one of the biggest causes of biodiversity loss, and to protect biodiversity, an environmental footprint target should be established that shows the impact imported goods are having on the environment.
With only weeks to go until the start of the COP15 talks to tackle biodiversity loss, the Committee is concerned that ambition is lacking. The Government should advocate for the post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework mission to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
Environmental Audit Committee Chairman, Philip Dunne, said:
“The UK – Government, businesses and consumers – have contributed to the decline of biodiversity. Government policies have not historically been monitored against biodiversity impact. We have a unique opportunity with new trade agreements to incorporate iron-clad standards for the environment, among other issues, which should be urgently addressed. Deforestation must be managed effectively, and we must ensure that every supply chain and the operations of the finance sector in the UK are free from unsustainable deforestation.
“Our Committee’s findings are clear: we must bring consumption to a sustainable level or the wildlife, animals and nature we hold dear are threatened. While this issue is bigger than any one person’s habits, if we all take action to tackle unsustainable consumption, we can make a lasting impact to halt biodiversity loss.
“This Government can really show leadership on these issues ahead of COP26 and the biodiversity COP next year: I hope it steps up to the challenge.”
The report’s publication comes as the Committee publishes the Government response to its first report which had a domestic biodiversity focus. A number of the Committee’s recommendations focused on improving the 25 Year Environment Plan, which were unfortunately rejected by the Government. These recommendations included: priority actions, and local delivery plans, being assessed annually; and setting long-term objectives for the Plan’s goals.
Some of the Committee’s recommendations are:
- Echoing our first biodiversity report, the Government must set an environmental footprint target by launching a consultation ahead of COP15 on how to model the overseas environmental impact of UK consumption. The Government should prioritise the development of the indicator on “Overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption of key commodities" as better understanding the environmental impacts of imported products is crucial to meeting our nature goals.
- In the HM Treasury's net zero review, the Government should also consider how environmental tax measures can be used to incentivise sustainable consumption patterns.
- Sustainability impact assessments should be conducted for all future trade agreements.
- To increase sustainability within UK global supply chains, we recommend that:
- The Government should set out a clear and accessible definition of sustainability within the context of the Government Buying Standards.
- The Government Buying Standards should require all acquired forest-risk commodities (in addition to palm oil and paper) to be certified as sustainably produced.
- To increase the sustainable use of forest-risk commodities we recommend that the Government:
- Make it illegal for UK businesses and the finance sector to use commodities linked to deforestation and at the very least, the Government must include the finance sector within proposed laws on forest-risk commodities in the Environment Bill.
- To improve further the state of biodiversity in the Overseas Territories, Ministers should set out the long-term funding plan for the Blue Belt Programme.
- The Government should explain how it intends to nature-proof overseas development assistance, and how compliance with this commitment will be monitored.
- In promoting a transformative Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, we recommend that the UK Government advocate for:
- A strengthening of the Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework's 2030 mission to align with the Leaders Pledge for Nature and G7 2030 Nature Compact to halt and reverse biodiversity loss by 2030.
- A more ambitious, SMARTer species goal (Goal A) which commits to stopping human-induced extinctions.
- Inclusion of reference to nature-based solutions in Target 8, so that the UNFCCC and UNCBD processes can be better linked.
- Stronger wording on the need to reduce unsustainable consumption and production patterns amongst developed countries.
- A Paris style review mechanism for biodiversity, which encourages Parties to ‘ratchet’ the level of ambition of their National Targets at regular review intervals.
- A dedicated financial mechanism for the UNCBD.
- To help pair the UNCBD and UNFCCC COPs, we recommend the UK focus on providing support to China on leading international environmental negotiations. We also recommend that China and the UK collaborate on how to integrate nature-based solutions across both COPs. Finally, we recommend that the UK encourage China to sign the Leaders' Pledge for Nature as a demonstration of its environmental leadership ahead of COP15.
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