The UK’s footprint on global biodiversity Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Consumption, trade and supply chains: the UK’s impact on global biodiversity levels

1. Consumption patterns in the UK are unsustainable. Addressing these patterns is key to the UK’s contribution to the alleviation of global biodiversity loss. The first step is to recognise the need to reduce the UK’s overall consumption. We welcome that the Government has commissioned the Joint Nature Conservation Committee to develop a global environmental footprint indicator, but we are disappointed that the Government has not then committed to setting a global footprint target using this indicator to track progress in order to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint. (Paragraph 23)

2. In 2018 the Government announced it would devise an indicator on the overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption of key commodities. It appears that little to no progress has been made in developing this indicator. This is disappointing and shows a lack of prioritisation in addressing one of the biggest drivers of land conversion, biodiversity loss and carbon emissions at a global scale. (Paragraph 24)

3. We recommend that the Government urgently prioritise the development of the indicator on overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption of key commodities, since a better understanding of the environmental impacts of imported products is crucial to meeting the Government’s objectives in this regard. The indicator ought to be prepared for release not later than the date of the next Outcome Indicator Framework update. We also recommend that the Government commit to setting an environmental footprint target using this indicator once developed. (Paragraph 25)

4. Ministers should consider how best to encourage behavioural change towards more sustainable and ethical patterns of consumption. Subsidies, environmental tax measures and tax reliefs are some of the financial and fiscal tools available to government. The Public Accounts Committee has criticised the Government’s grasp of the potential for tax measures to bring about environmental change and has recommended that from the next budget, the Treasury should: assess the environmental impact of every tax change considered; and publish the expected environmental impact for each tax measure in the budget, including the extent of behavioural change, alongside forecasts for tax receipts. The Treasury have since rejected these recommendations as impractical and not cost-effective. We consider this to be a short-sighted approach; it will be more costly to the environment and the economy to not consider fully the environmental impacts of policy and tax changes. The approach calls into question the extent to which environment costings are properly considered in developing and setting tax policy. (Paragraph 26)

5. The Committee looks forward to seeing an ambitious approach from Government to embedding Net Zero in all policy decisions in its forthcoming Net Zero Strategy. (Paragraph 27)

6.In the Net Zero Strategy, the Government should commit to evaluating all taxation changes against how well they deliver on the Government’s environmental objectives. The Government’s approach to how taxation changes will be developed and assessed to achieve this should also be set out in the Strategy. (Paragraph 28)

7. The Net Zero Strategy should include an explicit commitment to Net Zero stress test all future fiscal events and a commitment to develop a nature stress test to be used for fiscal events. The Net Zero Strategy must be published before the start of COP26. (Paragraph 29)

8. For the Government to make good on its support for environmental sustainability to be at the heart of global production and trade, it needs to mainstream biodiversity considerations more consistently into its trade agreements and operations. Leaving the European Union has provided an opportunity to promote the highest environmental and social standards in trade. We welcome Ministers’ willingness to use future trade agreements as market signals for sustainably produced commodities and their support for considering the environmental impacts of agreements. We also welcome the Government’s leadership in establishing the Wildlife Financial Taskforce. (Paragraph 35)

9. We recommend that sustainability impact assessments be conducted for all future trade agreements and that as part of the Government’s Nature Strategy the Government consider how to monitor and deliver environmental net gain in trade deals. In response to this report the Government should set out how it intends to widen participation in the Wildlife Financial Taskforce, whether through proposing a statutory obligation on businesses of a certain size, or through other means. (Paragraph 36)

10. We welcome and agree with the Secretary of State’s analysis that addressing the sustainability of the UK’s global supply chains will be one of the most powerful ways in which the UK can reduce its adverse impact on levels of international biodiversity. The degradation of ecosystems brings supply chain, market and financial risks. Monitoring the impact of UK activities abroad presents obvious challenges: nevertheless, efforts must be stepped up to make overseas biodiversity monitoring a reality. (Paragraph 51)

11. Sustainable government procurement presents a pathway to increasing the sustainability of supply chains. Yet Government performance against existing sustainable procurement policies has been unimpressive. The removal of the mandatory reporting obligation by Government departments against the Greening Government Commitments has led to a dearth of data and has hampered the monitoring of compliance with the Government Buying Standards, to the extent that it appears at present impossible to know whether departments have improved their sustainable procurement performance. In the run up to COP15 and COP26, and at a time when the Government should be showing leadership on sustainability issues, its departments appear instead to be moving backwards. This increased opacity over departmental sustainability practices is unacceptable. (Paragraph 52)

12. We welcome the news that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is considering restarting the routine reporting of levels of compliance with Government buying standards. We also note with approval the effect that Government commitments on the importation of sustainable palm oil has had on the supply chains of companies importing palm oil to the UK. (Paragraph 53)

13.To increase sustainability within UK global supply chains, we recommend that:

a) in its response to this report, the Government should set out a clear and accessible definition of sustainability within the context of the Government Buying Standards;

b) the Government reinstate the Greening Government Commitments for mandatory reporting on sustainable procurement as part of the Government Buying Standards by the end of 2021;

c) the Government Buying Standards should require all acquired forest-risk commodities (in addition to palm oil and paper) to be certified as sustainably produced; and

d) the Government Buying Standards should be mandatory for all large public bodies, like the NHS and prisons. Annual reporting on compliance against public procurement policies should be mandatory for these large public bodies. (Paragraph 54)

14. A natural capital approach to valuing agricultural products provides another way to increase the sustainability of supply chains. (Paragraph 55)

15. Within the National Food Strategy the Government should consider how a natural capital approach could be adopted without placing a disproportionate financial burden on farmers or consumers. (Paragraph 56)

16. 90% of respondents to the Government’s consultation on new laws for forest-risk commodities believed proposals should be extended so that it is illegal for UK businesses to use any key commodities related to deforestation in their supply chains. We agree with stakeholders that global deforestation and the UK’s contribution to it cannot be tackled without bold and ambitious action. This should include moving to deforestation-free supply chains. The finance sector should be included in due diligence obligations if the UK is to avoid funding deforestation through lending and investments. (Paragraph 57)

17. 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, include the finance sector within the scope of the provisions on forest-risk commodities in the Environment Bill. (Paragraph 58)

Biodiversity in the UK overseas territories

18. The UK Overseas Territories are home to 94 per cent of British endemic species and 90 per cent of the biodiversity for which the UK Government has responsibility. The territories are also of global importance given the large proportion of the world’s albatross and penguin species found in these territories. Given this, environmental preservation and the improvement of these territories must be a priority for the UK Government. We welcome the impressive global leadership the UK has demonstrated through the establishment of the Blue Belt Programme, and the Global Ocean Alliance. (Paragraph 74)

19. To further improve the state of biodiversity in the Overseas Territories, we recommend that gaps in their protection be rectified. Namely, we recommend that:

a) Ministers assure and set out the long-term funding plan for the Blue Belt Programme. In response to this report the Government should set out the programme’s long-term timetable, budget, and status following the Government’s 2021 Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.

b) Ministers review the environmental funding gap implications for the Overseas Territories following the UK leaving the EU. In response to this report Ministers should set out how the UK could fund landscape scale environmental projects with the potential for transformative biodiversity restoration.

c) In the Government’s response to this report, Ministers should evaluate the feasibility of an environmental research portal for Overseas Territories.

d) Ministers should consider opportunities to use increasing global aerial surveillance capabilities from high altitude or space to monitor the Blue Belt Programme. (Paragraph 75)

International development and biodiversity

20. Consideration of natural capital must be a priority in the assessment of overseas development assistance projects. Nature sustains all of us and becomes even more critical in a developing country context. We welcome the Government’s announcement of a new International Biodiversity Fund and its commitment to nature-proof all overseas development assistance expenditure. We now need to see the detail of how the Government intends to achieve this and how the Government will mainstream consideration of biodiversity across development, trade, security and foreign policy. We regret that the Government’s international climate finance commitments, including its commitment to £3 billion on nature-based solutions to climate change, is not new and additional funding, but rather a redirection of the existing and reduced aid budget. (Paragraph 88)

21. We recommend that in response to this report the Government detail how it intends to nature-proof overseas development assistance, and how compliance with this commitment will be monitored. (Paragraph 89)


22. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 summit presents an opportunity to create a transformative Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that will ‘bend the curve’ of biodiversity loss. The UK has a crucial role to play in promoting a transformative, ambitious agenda that pairs with its ambitions for the UNFCCC COP26 summit and provides a clear way forward from both events. Parties to the CBD failed to achieve the Aichi Biodiversity Targets set in 2010. The same mistake must not be repeated. (Paragraph 127)

23.We reiterate our welcome for the UK Government’s leadership in establishing the Global Ocean Alliance and signing the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature. We also welcome the establishment of nature as a key theme for COP26. (Paragraph 128)

24.The publication of the first draft of the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework provides a promising starting point, but elements of the draft lack ambition.

We have already recommended that the Government start the process of setting an environmental footprint target by launching a consultation ahead of COP15 on how to model the overseas environmental impact of UK consumption. (Paragraph 129)

25.The Post-2020 Framework’s goals and targets will be meaningless if not properly implemented. The CBD ought to adopt a regular review mechanism, such as that adopted under the Paris Agreement of the UNFCCC, which encourages Parties to ‘ratchet’ the level of ambition of their National Targets so that, over time, their collective commitments are matched with global targets. We agree with environmental stakeholders that the implementation mechanism should start immediately after the adoption of the framework, instead of being agreed separately after COP15. We are encouraged that Ministers are seeking to establish a nature version of the Paris Agreement at COP15. (Paragraph 130)

26.Mainstreaming biodiversity considerations across government departments will be crucial to meeting the Post-2020 Biodiversity Targets. The UK’s past performance on cross-departmental co-ordination on nature has been disappointing. We have nevertheless been encouraged to observe the willingness of Ministers to work across Government to address biodiversity loss and climate change. We will continue to monitor the effectiveness of cross-departmental working on the environment in the run up to COP15 and COP26 and beyond. (Paragraph 131)

27.The policy statement on environmental principles, to be prepared under the Environment Bill, ought to be a powerful tool for mainstreaming environmental concerns, including biodiversity, across Government. So the Government’s response to the recommendation of our previous report—arguing that general taxation and spending should be exempt from the statement of environmental principles—was disappointing. We are concerned that the Government’s approach to this issue shows a lack of commitment to the genuine mainstreaming of environmental considerations across all Government departments. (Paragraph 132)

28.The global biodiversity funding gap is huge. It cannot be tackled with contributions from the Global Environment Facility alone. A dedicated financial mechanism for biodiversity action, as has already been set out and agreed by Parties under the CBD, is essential. We welcome the UK’s commitment to spend £3 billion of its International Climate Finance allocation to support nature-based solutions to climate change. (Paragraph 133)

29.As host of COP26, the UK has an instrumental role to play in pairing the UNCBD COP16 and UNFCCC COP26. We are encouraged by Ministers’ assurances that there is a close working relationship with their Chinese counterparts regarding efforts to join the two COPs together. Agreeing a working definition and principles for nature-based solutions can provide a tangible way to link the two conferences and their outcomes. The UK can also support China by sharing its experience in conducting international environmental negotiations. (Paragraph 134)

30.In promoting a transformative Post-2020 Biodiversity Framework, we recommend that the UK Government advocate:

31.To help pair the UNCBD and UNFCCC COPs, we recommend the UK explore opportunities to support 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; and we recommend that the UK encourage China to sign the Leaders’ Pledge for Nature as a demonstration of its environmental leadership ahead of COP15. (Paragraph 136)

Published: 30 September 2021 Site information    Accessibility statement