HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence submitted by UK Government


1. The UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) White Paper "The Overseas Territories, Security, Success and Sustainability" published in June 2012, confirms the Government’s objective to ensure that the rich, and internationally recognised, environmental assets of the UKOTs [1] are cherished. The UKOTs are home to many species and environments found nowhere else in the world – including an estimated 90% of the biodiversity found within the UK and the Territories combined. This biodiversity is crucial in underpinning sustainable development across the UKOTs, as it is across the world; and is of fundamental importance to the provision of social and economic benefits across our local communities.

2. Since the publication of the White Paper, the Government has launched a new funding mechanism to support environmental protection and climate change adaptation initiatives in the UKOTs. "Darwin Plus" is jointly funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Department for International Development (DFID), and will provide around £2m per year for UKOT initiatives. This new Fund provides a simpler and more co-ordinated source of funding, whilst maintaining the breadth of funding opportunities offered by Darwin and the previous Overseas Territories Environment Programme. Each of the three funding Departments have committed to maintain their spending commitments over the current spending review period, on natural environmental issues in the Overseas Territories.

3. In addition to the launch of this new Fund, the Government has also continued to roll out its Overseas Territories "Environmental Mainstreaming" programme, which had proved successful in the Falkland Islands and British Virgin Islands during 2011/12. Similar initiatives are underway, or in development for Anguilla, the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. The aim of this programme is to support policies to ensure green growth and sustainable development, underpinning the Government’s determination to support successful economic development, including through strengthened economic planning, management of public finances, promotion of free trade and protection of vital ecosystem services and natural resources. All Territories, which wish to participate in this programme, will be given the opportunity to do so by 2014.

4. Work is ongoing to support the delivery of the ‘United Kingdom Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy’, published in 2009. The overarching objective of this strategy is ‘to enable the UK and Overseas Territory Governments to meet their international obligations for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Overseas Territories’. It envisages the Government working in partnership with the UKOTs to establish a set of shared values in respect of biodiversity conservation.

5. In addition to supporting on-going OTEP projects, the FCO has provided funding during this year to support a number of strategic projects in the Territories. This includes a grant to the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to develop a Falklands Islands and wider South Atlantic Information Management System (identified as a priority action from the Environmental Mainstreaming project in the Falklands) and a separate grant to begin developing a lionfish response strategy for the Caribbean region. This year the FCO is also supporting a number of projects addressing invasive species eradication, waste management, sustainable fisheries and environmental monitoring across both its inhabited and uninhabited Territories.

6. DFID through the provision of budgetary support to St Helena and Montserrat is funding two full time international environmental expert posts: Director of Environmental Management Directorate St. Helena and Special Technical Adviser on Environmental Management – DoE/Montserrat.

7. Defra and DECC Ministers and officials represent the interests of the UK and UKOTs at a number of multilateral fora including this year at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Doha, Rio+20 in Rio and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Hyderabad.

8. In the last 12 months Defra has committed funding of approximately £2.7 million to biodiversity projects in the UKOTs. The majority of this funding (£1.7m) came from the Darwin Initiative including a three-year project to develop a Biodiversity Action Plan for Ascension Island and a scoping project under the Darwin Challenge Fund to look at marine ecosystem management in Anguilla and Montserrat.

9. Defra has also committed a further £1m to other projects in the UKOTs including over £500k on rodent eradication in the South Atlantic (South Georgia and Gough Island) and environmental mainstreaming in Anguilla.  These funds came from Defra’s budgets for international biodiversity and its research budget as well as the Flagship Species Fund.  

10. Environmental challenges are, however, increasingly threatening the future security and safety of the Overseas Territories and in particular their biodiversity which directly supports the livelihoods of their people. The Government remains fully committed to continuing to work closely with the Governments of the Overseas Territories, and with non-government organisations, to ensure that these valuable natural resources are protected for the future.

The extent to which UK Government strategy on the UKOTs embodies the principles of sustainable development and appropriately trades-off environmental protection, social development and economic growth?

11. The Government Strategy towards sustainable development in the UKOTs is set out in the White Paper. Economic, social and environmental development are not mutually exclusive and the UK Government strategy looks to harness advances in one of the three strands to effect positive changes in the other two.

12. Each of the UKOTs is responsible for shaping the future of its own community through proactive management of their environmental and economic resources. The UK Government strategy is based on providing the necessary tools to enable UKOT Governments to enshrine sustainable development within their policies, and to promote the capabilities required to implement these policies. Due to their small scale and isolation, many of the UKOTs face similar challenges, providing the opportunity to share information and best practices.

13. The two environmental mainstreaming pilot projects funded by the UK Government, in the British Virgin Islands and the Falkland Islands highlight this ability to share information and best practice. The aim of these stakeholder-led projects has been to raise awareness of the value of the environment in economic growth and development, and human wellbeing, and to identify ways to integrate or ‘mainstream’ that awareness into UKOT policies, regulatory frameworks and decision-making. By taking account of the goods and services delivered by the environment, such as flood protection, prevention of coastal erosion, and mitigation of climate change impacts, UKOT Governments decisions can be more balanced and help to provide a stronger foundation for sustainable economic growth and development. This in turn can help to ensure a healthy, productive and biodiverse natural environment, whose contribution to the economy is recognised and sustainably managed. The UK Government hopes that the Overseas Territories will welcome the opportunity to engage in similar initiatives in their Territories over the next 2 years.

14. By insuring that the natural environment and the ecosystem services it provides are intrinsically valued by Territory Governments we can ensure that development and growth in the UKOTs is sustainable, green and beneficial for their inhabitants.

How the UK Government is fulfilling its responsibilities to protect biodiversity in the UKOTs?

15. The UKOTs support a diverse range of unique ecosystems and habitats, sustaining a large number of rare and threatened species. It is estimated that over 90% of the UK’s biodiversity is located in its Overseas Territories, with more priority ecosystem types (including mangrove, coral, sea-grass beds, peatlands etc) occurring in the UKOTs than in the metropolitan UK. This biodiversity underpins many of the ecosystem goods and services that provide economic and social benefits to local populations.

16. The UK Government continues to offer advice on environment, climate and renewable energy issues and we will continue to work together across Government to deliver co-ordinated support on natural environment issues with each Department leading in their respective areas of responsibility.

17. Overseas Territories Governments are responsible for environmental management in their Territory. The UK Government, however, recognises that it has an important role to play in supporting the OTs, for example through capacity building and the provision and development of the specialist skills required to ensure the protection of the local environment. This is enshrined within the Environment Charters between the UK Government and Territory Governments which are delivered through the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy.

18. Defra leads for the UK Government on developing and implementing biodiversity strategies with the UKOTs; this is outlined in the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy [2] . The Strategy sets out clear objectives on biodiversity and ensures co-ordination between Defra, FCO and DFID on biodiversity. Defra chairs an Overseas Territories’ Biodiversity Group (OTBG) comprising officials from Defra, the FCO, DFID, JNCC and the UK Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA), which meets quarterly to discuss progress on the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy. Following a recent request from civil society organisations [3] closely engaged with some of the UKOTs [4] , Defra, in collaboration and consultation with the OTs and relevant NGOs, will explore the options for continued implementation of this Strategy.

19. Defra and its Agencies also represent the needs and concerns of the UKOTs at regional and international meetings, providing advice and financial support in meeting the requirements of international agreements and instruments. The UK Government has actively supported the attendance and engagement by officials from UKOTs at regional and international meetings, which has led to greater understanding and integration of biodiversity related policies.

20. Funding for biodiversity projects in the UKOTs has historically come from a range of sources from formal grant schemes, such as the new ‘Darwin Plus’ scheme, through to one-off grants to fund priority issues as and when funds were available. In the current negotiation for a new LIFE Regulation, the UK has been a strong advocate for UKOTs to be able use this fund for biodiversity and other environmental projects.

How the UK Government is helping the UKOTs adapt to the impact of climate change?

21. A key long-term threat faced by the UKOTs is climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has identified the UKOTs as amongst the "most vulnerable" and "virtually certain to experience the most severe impacts" of climate change. Such impacts could include sea level rise; changes in weather patterns, more frequent extreme weather events; coral bleaching; ocean acidification; and sea temperature changes.

22. Between 2007 and 2011, DFID funded a project to enhance Capacity for Adaptation to Climate Change (ECACC) in the UK Caribbean Overseas Territories [5] . The main objective of the ECACC project was to support efforts by the UKOTs in the Caribbean to adapt to climate change and climate variability within the context of sustainable development. The project was implemented by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC) and helped establish National Climate Change Committees in Anguilla, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands (CI), Montserrat, and Turks and Caicos Islands. Other outputs achieved by the project were the development and implementation of public education and outreach (PEO) programmes and the completion of Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments. Climate change policy documents were also produced for each of the 5 UKOTs.

23. In addition to HMG providing technical advice and support to the UKOTs through funding on the ground personnel and providing access to departmental reports and expertise on an ad-hoc basis, Darwin Plus funding will support projects seeking to deliver outcomes in the areas of climate change resilience, mitigation and adaption and be accessible to projects linked to green energy initiatives.

24. The Government has also recently published a Foresight Project on the International Dimensions of Climate Change [6] . The project looked at climate change impacts overseas which could have an impact on the UK. A section of this report considered climate change impacts on the UKOTs, which could help UKOTs prioritise further work on climate change adaptation.

Whether the recommendations in our 2008 Report, Halting biodiversity loss, on safeguarding biodiversity and practising joined-up government to further conservation have been implemented?

25. Since Halting biodiversity loss was published in 2008 the Government has undertaken a number of measures which have contributed towards achieving the recommendations made in the report.

26. The UK Government and UKOT Governments have made good progress towards valuing the natural environment in the UKOTs. In order to meet the specific needs of the individual UKOTs, baseline data and ecosystem assessments are essential for developing biodiversity policy response options. This type of work is being undertaken in the UKOTs, with support from the UK Government and its agencies. Examples of this include terrestrial and marine habitat mapping exercises (such as the Darwin Initiative supported marine mapping in St Helena; and JNCC supported marine and terrestrial mapping in Anguilla), application of a National Ecosystem Assessment approach and assessment of the economic value of environmental goods and services to UKOT economies.

27. The National Ecosystem Assessment approach, pioneered in the UK, is being extended to the UKOTs through Darwin Challenge funded projects in Anguilla and the Falklands/South Georgia. These two projects, due for completion by 2015, will provide models for the application of this form of ecosystem assessment at the appropriate scale and in a way suited to support policy development in the UKOTs. These projects also provide an opportunity for the transfer of UK skills to the UKOTs.

28. The economies of the UKOTs are highly dependent on their natural assets. Understanding the economic role and value of ecosystems, and the geographical distribution of these values, underpins most, if not all, of the actions needed to integrate the environment into decision-making. Generally, a good understanding of the value of the environment, including the elements that contribute to this value and their geographical distribution, can assist in the development of a sound economic model for the creation of a green economy. Such studies are currently in progress, or planned, for the Falkland Islands, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.

29. This strategic approach provides the opportunity to link baseline biodiversity survey work and economic analysis to policy development with integrated ecosystem assessments and policy scenarios. Inherent in this approach is the need to transfer skills to UKOT personnel wherever possible (in the use of the appropriate computer skills and economic techniques) to make them more self-reliant. At the same time opportunities are being created for mutually beneficial links to be established between UKOT organisations and UK institutions.

30. Current work in Anguilla funded by the FCO, Defra and the JNCC demonstrates the value of UKOT specific projects tailored to capacity and needs. Here, marine and terrestrial habitat mapping and the development of GIS capacity (including training UKOT personnel) forms the basis for environmental economic studies, all of which will be integrated through an National Ecosystem Assessment to assist the Anguillan Government to determine its policy options in developing a green economy.

31. The UK Government has been practising a joined up approach towards its responsibilities to the UKOTs. In the recently launched White Paper on the Overseas Territories, the UK Government committed to deliver co-ordinated support on Overseas Territory natural environment issues, and to develop with the UKOTs a strategic approach to managing their rich environmental assets. The Government also committed to maintaining its spending commitments on UKOT natural environment issues over the current spending review period.

32. Following agreement of the Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy in 2009, Defra has taken the lead in coordinating a partnership of Government Departments overseeing its implementation. This partnership comprises Defra, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for International Development (DFID), and is supported by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). As part of this partnership, Defra established the Overseas Territories Biodiversity Group (OTBG), comprising officials from Defra, the FCO, DFID, JNCC and the UK Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA). Chaired by Defra, the OTBG is responsible for overseeing the delivery of the Strategy.

Whether UK Government strategy on the UKOTs is consistent with the conclusions and commitments on protecting biodiversity reached at the recent United Nations Rio+20 conference?

33. The outcome document from Rio+20 ‘the Future We Want’ provided assurance to the UK Government that its strategy for protecting the vital biodiversity in the UKOTs is in line with current international consensus.

34. Rio+20 identified that the promotion of sustainable tourism is key for many small island developing states for which tourism is the major industry. The UK Government’s strategy for achieving sustainable tourism in the UKOTs is outlined throughout the White Paper.

35. The sustainable use of oceans, seas and coastal areas through the designations of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) was also highlighted by Rio+20 as a vital cornerstone in protecting global biodiversity. The designation of MPAs is a sustainable method of ensuring that environmental protection and economic benefits are balanced for the benefit of the communities which rely on the marine biodiversity for their livelihoods. The UK government’s progress on designating MPAs in the biodiversity rich uninhabited UKOTs is outlined on page 12 of the White Paper.

36. Rio+20 advocated the application of an ecosystems approach to valuing the contribution of the natural environment to development. The UK Government strategy of providing the necessary tools and skills for Territory Governments to conduct ecosystem assessments and adopt policies which promote the valuation of the natural environment are consistent with this Rio+20 conclusion. This is also an excellent example of how the UK Government encourages the Territory Governments to make best use of an exchange of technology, information and methods of best practice to the benefit of the people of the UKOTs.

37. The UK Government has long recognised that the majority of UKOTs, as small island developing states, are unique concerning sustainable development and biodiversity protection due to their diverse biodiversity, unique vulnerabilities, size, remoteness, narrow resource and export base and exposure to climate change impacts and extreme weather. Through the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy [7] the UK Government is delivering its commitments to protect the biodiversity of the Overseas Territories which underpins their sustainable development.

How weaknesses in civil society and democracy in the UKOTs impact on conservation

38. The UK Government has a vision of making government work better. We believe in sound public finances, building economic resilience and effective regulation. We want to increase efficiency and effectiveness, ensure public funds are spent wisely, and foster a fairer, more open and mobile society.

39. The UK government continues to provide support for conservation in Overseas Territories through a number of organisations who, in line with the UK strategy, advise Overseas Territories on their specific area of policy competence. Defra provided funding for a wide range of projects to enhance research capacity in the UKOTs, and support small conservation projects identified as priorities by UKOT Governments. The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) has a dedicated seed conservation programme in UKOTs which comprises training in seed collection and storage techniques. JNCC has also provided project support for a wide range of conservation projects in the UKOTs. Important work strands in recent years include developing guidelines for the use of economic analysis in biodiversity; habitat mapping in the Caribbean; and marine and terrestrial invasive alien species control projects in the Caribbean and South Atlantic.

40. Conservation and the combating of environmental pressures offer opportunities for civil society and UKOT Governments to interact on environmental issues. Through utilising tools such as environmental mainstreaming it is possible to increases local engagement on environment issues as well as identify policy and knowledge gaps which highlight areas where priority action needs to be taken. However, some UKOTs lack adequate environmental legislation, which can hamper conservation. Environment is a devolved issue, but the UK Government are ready to offer advice and guidance to the UKOTs where needed.

How the introduction of ‘Marine Protected Areas’ could safeguard the marine environment in the uninhabited territories

41. The UK is committed to the principle of designating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in international waters. Specifically, we supported the call in 2010 by governments of States party to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to strive for MPA and other area-based mechanisms covering 10% of our oceans by 2020.

42. Ensuring that this CBD target is met will mean that at least 10% of coastal and marine areas are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems.

43. The UK is therefore striving to lead the way in the environmental management of its uninhabited UKOTs. These UKOTs cover many millions of square kilometres and we are developing a strategic approach to large-scale marine management including through the establishment of the world’s largest MPAs.

44. Through continued efforts, each of the uninhabited UKOTs (South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, the British Indian Ocean Territory and the British Antarctic Territory) already have in place marine protection measures and are now some of the world’s most sustainable and well managed marine areas.

45. In February 2012 the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands declared a sustainable-use MPA covering over 1,000,000 km2 of the Territory’s maritime zone, including 20,000 km2 of no-fishing zones. This establishes the waters around South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands as one of the largest areas of sustainably managed ocean in the world. The declaration of the MPA builds upon the management measures already in place which exceed the requirements of the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). As a result, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has certified the island’s toothfish fishery, which is rated as the third highest scoring MSC-certified fishery in the world. The declaration of this MPA also contributes to the World Summit on Sustainable Development’s global commitment to establish representative networks of MPAs by 2012. The MPA will be monitored through scientific programmes and enforced through a dedicated patrol vessel.


46. The Administration of the British Indian Ocean Territory has developed a legislative framework which underpins the protection of sites and species of particular importance, and has designated special reserves. These include an area of Diego Garcia which has been designated as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands. This work, together with the establishment of the no-take marine protected area in 2010, has contributed to the very high levels of nature conservation achieved in the Territory and highlights the UK’s intention to ensure the on-going protection of this unique environment.

47. In the region of the British Antarctic Territory, the UK secured agreement, in 2009 at the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), to the designation of the world’s first high seas MPA. The UK Government is continuing to work within CCAMLR for additional marine protection areas in the Southern Ocean.

48. The environmental stewardship of the marine environments of the uninhabited Territories in particular is exemplary. These delicate and vital ecosystems which provide for highly biodiversity rich environments are being protected through identified measures with the intention to ensure they continue to thrive.

29 November 2012

[1] The UK Overseas Territories are: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Ter ritory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, the Pitcairn Islands (including, Pitcairn, Henderson, and Ducie and Oeno), St Helena and St Helena Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha), South Georgia and So uth Sandwich Islands, Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekelia (on the island of Cyprus), The Turks & Caicos Islands.

[2] UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy (2009). Defra. http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13335-uk-ot-strat-091201.pdf

[3] Falklands Conservation, RSPB, St Helena National Trust, UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum

[4] Falkland Islands and St Helena

[5] http://www.caribbeanclimate.bz/closed-projects/enhancing-capacity-for-adaptation-to-climate-change-ecacc-in-the-uk-caribbean-overseas-territories-project.html

[6] International Dimensions of Climate Change – Final Report (2011). BIS. http://www.bis.gov.uk/assets/bispartners/foresight/docs/international-dimensions/11-1042-international-dimensions-of-climate-change.pdf

[7] http://www.defra.gov.uk/publications/files/pb13335-uk-ot-strat-091201.pdf

Prepared 14th January 2013