Aichi Biodiversity Targets

Oral Answers to Questions — Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – in the House of Commons on 28th March 2019.

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Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

What assessment he has made of the UK’s progress on meeting the Aichi biodiversity targets.

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The Government’s progress report was published this month, and of 19 targets assessed, five are on track and 14 show progress, but at an insufficient rate. The Aichi targets are multifaceted and global in scope, and they include a mixture of processes and outcomes, which are not always specific. Their assessment requires a degree of interpretation and judgment. Nevertheless, the report identifies progress, but there is more that we need to do.

Photo of Liz McInnes Liz McInnes Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I thank the Minister for that response. As she says, we are on track to miss 14 of the 20 targets. Given that they are meant to be achieved by 2020—next year—what talks has she had with the Treasury to achieve target 20, on mobilising financial resources? Will they be reflected in the forthcoming comprehensive spending review?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

As my right hon. Friend the Minister of State just pointed out, one of the changes that will be coming as a result of our leaving the European Union is that the UK—England, certainly—will have a new way of doing environmental land management, and the public services will be paid for by taxpayers. Many of the targets are quite nebulous—[Interruption.] Because they are not particularly specific and are open to interpretation and judgment. We are working carefully on that and have made excellent progress on marine conservation. We are doing global work to ensure that, when the next targets are agreed, which will happen next year for 2030, the UK will lead the way in ensuring that 30% of oceans are marine conservation areas.

Photo of Hugo Swire Hugo Swire Conservative, East Devon

I recently took Neil Garrick-Maidment, the excellent CEO of the Seahorse Trust in Topsham in my constituency, of which I have just become patron, to see the Secretary of State to discuss the illegal trade in seahorses. He will remember that 150 million seahorses are traded illegally for the curio and medical trade. Following that meeting, will he commit the UK to playing a lead role in preserving seahorses around the world? What measures does he suggest we can take to police the online trade in seahorses better?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State very much enjoyed that meeting and visit. He and I are committed to ensuring we do more to protect the wonderful species that are part of our natural habitat, including our marine habitat. We will work hard to do exactly what my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire is seeking to achieve.

Photo of Nick Thomas-Symonds Nick Thomas-Symonds Shadow Solicitor General, Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Security)

Only about 4% of the world’s oceans are protected. Although I hear what the Minister just said about the aim to increase that, what work can we do with our overseas territories to increase that far more quickly, not least to have an overall target of reducing plastic in the oceans?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The hon. Gentleman asks an important question. Once we designate the marine conservation zones, which I believe will happen in the next two months, the UK will have comfortably exceeded the 30% target that we have set ourselves for the rest of the world by 2030. One of the key things that I do at G7 Environment and in other forums is speak to other nations to see what more we can do to get more designations. The hon. Gentleman is also right about plastics. He will be aware that at the spring statement the Chancellor specifically referred to the overseas territories. Ascension Island will be moving its entire economic zone to fully protected status, and we will continue to work on the Blue Belt programme, which I think will be one of the greatest achievements of this Government.

Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We have heard that the UK is on track to meet only five of the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets. This is an environmental and climate emergency. Does the Minister—and the Secretary of State—agree with the around 50 councils and thousands of young people who have declared an environment and climate emergency? Will they today commit to join Labour in declaring a national environment and climate emergency?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

We are already ahead of the game, with a 25-year environment plan published last year, and the strategies and the work that are ongoing. We are making significant improvements in improving our natural environment, and I genuinely hope that the whole House comes together and gets behind the plan to ensure that we leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.

Photo of Sue Hayman Sue Hayman Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

The question was: will the Minister commit to join me in declaring a national environment and climate emergency? The answer, to be honest, was a bit of a fudge. Labour is going to bring this forward, with or without the Government’s support. Will the Government think again and commit to announcing an environment and climate emergency, and will they commit to meeting the youth strike action for climate representatives?

Photo of Therese Coffey Therese Coffey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

DEFRA will account for more than half the achievements under the Paris agreements, so I can assure the hon. Lady that work is very much under way on improving the climate and also the environment. This is about actions rather than words. I pay particular tribute to those who joined the Great British spring clean this weekend and who will do so for the next few weeks. I am very happy to work with young people, as we are with our Year of Green Action 2019. We are already working with the Step Up To Serve brigade, which we will be doing with the National Citizen Service.