Select Committee on Environmental Audit Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 60-69)



  Q60  Mr Caton: That really leads me on to my next question. In your written evidence to us you said that the Overseas Territories do not have the financial capacity to deal effectively with their environmental challenges. Have you assessed the level of funding that is required?

  Dr Fleming: The simple answer to that is no, but I think it is an important question, because various figures are being suggested and I am not entirely sure of the grounds for those. I think that it is an important step to take and one which could, and should, arise from territories doing their own action plans or strategic plans to implement the Environment Charters. If you set out the steps that you want to take, then you are better able to cost them and to estimate what resources may be involved. So I think that it is an important step to do that sort of analysis of what is current funding, what is desired funding and maybe what is necessary funding, and to see how big the difference between them actually is. The question then is where might those resources come from, and we are not necessarily able to say. Equally, however, there is another important point in relation to resources, namely that, regardless of how much resource you have available—and that may be funding, it may be help in other ways—it is quite important that it is targeted effectively and that it has a strategic direction: where do you want to spend this money? One of the—I would not like to use the word "difficulties"—with OTEP is that, in the past, it has largely been applicant-driven. There is nothing wrong necessarily with that; but equally, when a fund is being driven by applicants, it does not necessarily take you in the strategic directions that you may wish to take. This year, for example, OTEP have set out fairly clear guidance that they want to provide support "in the following areas", and most of the applications that I have seen are falling very closely into those categories. I think that it is therefore quite important that you focus your money on strategic priorities, and maybe seek to guide applicants towards those, but it is also important to see what returns your money has provided. In other words, there should be some form of follow-up monitoring; some form of looking at what legacy previous projects have provided, and how successful they were or not—because, of course, failures are sometimes as instructive as successes. If you look at the Darwin Initiative, they have similar processes of post-project monitoring; equally, they have to look at this challenge of legacy: how do you determine what the legacy from your spend has actually been?

  Mr Yeo: Perhaps I could make one additional point. It is certainly the case at the moment that most of the support the UK provides to the territories for biodiversity conservation is through time-limited projects; primarily through OTEP, but also to some extent through the Darwin Initiative. This is very valuable but it is not any substitute, in the end, for much more secure, long-term support for biodiversity conservation and environmental protection within the Overseas Territories. We firmly believe, therefore, that the resources that are made available to the territories for biodiversity conservation must be commensurate to the challenge—and the challenge is enormous. The global importance of the territories for biodiversity conservation is undoubted and it is huge. If the Government are really going to deliver their contribution towards the target to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss by 2010, it is clear to us that more resources are needed to support suitable measures within the territories.

  Q61  Mr Caton: Yes, more resources are needed, but as you said, Dr Fleming, it might not necessarily be financial resources. Is enough being done to build up institutional and knowledge capacity within the territories themselves?

  Dr Fleming: That is fairly difficult to answer without having a detailed knowledge of all the territories. Within the territories, we see very talented and very dedicated staff on the environmental side, but very often limited by the size of the territories themselves. Even those territories which have high GDP per capita, clearly if there are only 50,000 people in the territory it does not generate an enormous amount of income to use internally; and, of course, some of the territories themselves have very small populations. Therefore, how you generate internal, institutional capacity is potentially quite difficult.

  Q62  Mr Caton: Would one way be for the FCO or DfID to directly fund environmental posts in the territories?

  Dr Fleming: Clearly, some means of supporting posts, regardless of who it came from, might be desirable. It does not happen at the moment, to my knowledge.

  Q63  Mr Caton: What about those Overseas Territories that are not inhabited, by humankind at least? Are funds and management at the required level, and are there particular problems with these because of the remote nature of the territories?

  Dr Fleming: The remoteness of some of the territories does give rise to particular challenges. If you take some examples, within the Tristan da Cunha group or within the Pitcairn Island group there are inhabited islands but there are also uninhabited ones. Some of the uninhabited ones are some of the most important seabird islands in the world, of course. I think that you have heard from earlier evidence that non-native species—maybe rats in the Pacific, maybe house mice and other species on Tristan, or Gough Island in particular—pose a significant threat to breeding seabirds, albatrosses and petrels in particular. Clearly, they pose significant logistical challenges in terms of undertaking conservation action. You have to get people out there and, if you were seeking to do an eradication programme, you would need to be able to ship out tonnes of poison, and so on. Certainly for Gough Island there is a study underway at the moment into the feasibility of eradicating mice. That will come up with a cost-benefit analysis and also a costed action plan. I suspect that the resources required to do that will be substantial and above the level that is available through OTEP at the moment. With these big challenges, therefore, some means ideally need to be found to be able to support them. OTEP can fund the feasibility studies perhaps, but it would probably take more than its annual resources to undertake the task which would deliver the greatest conservation benefit.

  Q64  Chairman: Do we share some of this knowledge with other countries, which may themselves only be at a developing status—I am thinking of the Galapagos Islands—which also have serious problems in terms of biodiversity being threatened by, in that particular instance, tourism and the arrival of cruise ferries, and hordes of Americans trampling over everything? Is there a good mechanism for sharing our knowledge and expertise?

  Dr Fleming: There are a variety of mechanisms for sharing knowledge. I will come back to tourism and cruise ships in a moment but, coming back to non-native species, New Zealand has the greatest capacity and technical knowledge for eradicating non-native species from islands. New Zealand specialists have been used in these various feasibility studies that I have referred to. There is also, through the World Conservation Union, an invasive species specialist group, a global invasive species database—all of which enable knowledge to be shared throughout the entire community of those interested in non-native species. On the tourism side, clearly that issue is quite a significant one, especially for our Caribbean territories where cruise ship tourism is very high. I am less certain about the mechanisms for sharing information on that, but there are some web-based knowledge-sharing mechanisms. The Global Island Network, if I have remembered it correctly, is one such means. I think that there have been sustainable tourism initiatives, initiated in part by FCO in the past, which can clearly help with that. However, I have to say that the tourism side per se is not really my main area of expertise.

  Q65  Chairman: So your organisation may not have made any representations on that sort of thing, where we hear now that green tourism is the way out of poverty for many of these areas?

  Dr Fleming: We may not have made many representations on that side of things in the past; but, as I mentioned before, we now have an environmental economist on our staff who is able to help look at that. We are also very interested in taking the ecosystem approach to a whole range of issues involving biodiversity. One of the advantages that the Overseas Territories have is that they are fairly small, discrete units, which enable you to take a holistic view of the planning and management of development and the environment, without having the complications of being a country the size of Britain with a population our size. Perhaps in future, therefore, we will look increasingly to advise on that. I think that the ecosystem approach as promoted by the Convention on Biological Diversity is one such means to try to take this bigger picture, tied in with valuation of the environment. It is also important to consider that, as you suggested in your question, the reason people go to Caribbean islands is not necessarily to see thousands of other people; it is for those features which make those islands special, and those features are very often linked to the natural environment. People go to dive on coral reefs or perhaps to enjoy bird-watching, and so on.

  Q66  Chairman: Do you think that there are areas of biodiversity which are not related to climate change but which, in terms of the FCO's priorities, may lose out because of more of a focus on climate change?

  Mr Yeo: If all the environmental resources of the FCO were directed to climate change, it would mean that there was not much left to address issues such as non-native species, which are such a big issue for Overseas Territories and other small islands. So, yes, certainly an exclusive focus on climate change would be to the detriment of other areas of environmental work.

  Q67  Chairman: I just want to come back briefly to the issue of where the environment sits as a priority in the work of the FCO. If we have seen, as you have suggested, this reduction in effort at the core of the FCO, is that also filtering out into our overseas posts?

  Dr Fleming: It is very hard for me to comment on that, not having a great deal of contact directly with overseas posts. Where we do have such contact, it tends to be through someone in Whitehall and therefore I do not feel qualified to answer that.

  Q68  Chairman: The concerns that you do have, though—and no doubt you have expressed those to the FCO—what has been their response, if any?

  Mr Yeo: Their response is simply that they are aligning their structures, their priorities, with the 2006 White Paper and their Sustainable Development Strategy. That is what is guiding their work and the structures to deliver it.

  Q69  Chairman: So they are listening kindly, but not necessarily paying attention?

  Mr Yeo: Possibly.

  Chairman: Thank you both very much for coming and giving us your evidence this afternoon. That concludes the session.

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