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WWF - Government warned against an 'environmental race to the bottom' during Brexit negotiations

Campaigners warn government that nature is not up for negotiation after photographed documents suggest that the UK could “scale down” environmental measures in order to smooth post-Brexit trade deals

On 16th of April 2017 a joint letter to the Prime Minister signed by 11 organisations including WWF, Greenpeace, RSPB, CAFOD and Friends of the Earth, as well as well-known advocates for the environment Andy Murray, Deborah Meaden, Alistair McGowan and Will Young, has warned the UK Government against watering down climate change and environmental commitments during Brexit negotiations.

This warning comes after recently photographed documents appeared to show that the UK Government could scale back some of its international work on climate change and the illegal wildlife trade to clear the way for post-Brexit trade deals.

This is despite the UK and global environment facing an unprecedented level of danger. The State of Nature Report, produced in 2016 by a number of the NGO signatories to today’s letter, found that more than half of the UK’s wildlife is in decline [1] including much loved species such as the hedgehog and water vole. There are an estimated 40,000 UK deaths per year attributable to exposure to outdoor air pollution [2], and flooding events during the winter of 2013/14 caused £1.3 billion of economic damage [3]. There are also concerns that the Government has stalled on pushing forward a range of environmental and climate change policies, including its 25 year environment plan, its plan to cut carbon emissions and consultation on trade in ivory.

On a global scale, an African Elephant is poached every 25 minutes for the illegal wildlife trade, the Living Planet Report 2016 found that on current trends we face a 67% decline in wildlife by 2020 from 1970 levels [4],  and 2016 was the hottest year on record – the third hottest year in a row. Our environment is being pushed to the brink.

Tanya Steele, CEO of WWF commented: “The UK Government has demonstrated significant leadership in ratifying the Paris Climate Change Agreement and committing to host another high-level international summit on ending the illegal wildlife trade in London next year, so now is not the time to row back on its commitments.

 “An African Elephant is killed every 25 minutes by ivory poachers, and we are already seeing the serious impacts of climate change, with more severe weather events in the UK.

“Our environment must not be sacrificed during the Brexit negotiations. The UK Government must deliver on its promises and leave the environment in a better state for future generations rather than trading away protections for our nature and climate”

The UK Government has been dragging its feet over several important environmental consultations and pieces of legislation. The Clean Growth Plan for cutting climate change emissions was meant to be published by the end of March, but it is rumoured that it could be delayed until June [5], the 25 Year Environment Plan was supposed to appear last summer but, despite being leaked, [6] has no publication date. The planned Water Bill is reportedly being postponed and there is a delay to the public consultation on trade in ivory. [7] WWF and many other organisations are encouraging supporters to write to their MPs and ask for assurances on the UK Government’s plans for protecting the environment for future generations. [8]

In March, millions of people came together across the UK and worldwide during Earth Hour to demand action on climate change, showing the strength of support from the British people.  On top of this, a recent survey by the Bright Blue [9] think tank found that over 90% of Conservative voters are in favour of maintaining or strengthening regulations connected to water quality and beach cleanliness [10], habitat protections, and targets for curbing air pollution and combating increasing household waste. Also a clear majority of Conservatives, 71%, were proud of the UK passing the world-leading Climate Change Act in 2008 to limit greenhouse gas emissions. 

Lord Adair Turner, former Chairman of the CBI and WWF Ambassador said: “China’s increasingly strong commitment to limit and then reduce its emissions and Germany’s ability to combine stunning export success with rapid growth of renewables demonstrate the absurdity of the claim that building a low-carbon economy threatens competitiveness. In fact the UK has managed to cut its emissions by a third since 1990 and grown its economy by over two thirds in the same period. 

“UK businesses could save £23billion a year by turning to more resource efficient measures, and renewables technology could create half a million jobs by 2030. Following the Paris Agreement, and with the impact of climate change on homes and businesses becoming impossible to ignore, the UK Government must embrace a low carbon future both in domestic policy and through international trade deals.”

Notes to the editor

The full text of the letter can be found below:

Dear Prime Minister,

We are alarmed by recent media reports suggesting that the UK's commitments to tackling climate change and ending the illegal wildlife trade could be watered down to secure post-Brexit trade deals.

The UK Government has repeatedly promised to leave the environment in a better state for future generations, and the majority of Conservative voters support maintaining environmental protections.  

We are already seeing the effects of climate change in the UK and globally, especially on the world’s poorest people.  Many countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia are wildlife-rich and among those on the front line of climate change, and want to develop their economies sustainably.  In the UK, the State of Nature report showed that more than half of our wildlife is in decline.  

To be a great, global trading nation, the UK must deliver on its promises for the environment and the climate and honour our international commitments.  In doing so we will help build a greener, better and more prosperous future for everyone, rather than driving an environmental race to the bottom.

         Yours sincerely

Bishop Richard Chartres
Sir Ian Cheshire
John Elkington
Anna Friel
Stanley Johnson
Graeme Le Saux
Alistair McGowan
Deborah Meaden
Andy Murray
Stephen Poliakoff CBE
Simon Reeve
Lord Stuart Rose
Sir Crispin Tickell GCMG KCVO
Andrew Triggs Hodge OBE
Lord Adair Turner
Will Young
Tanya Steele, Chief Executive, WWF
Will Travers OBE, President, Born Free Foundation
Chris Bain, Director, CAFOD
Paul Valentin, International Director, Christian Aid
Oliver Smith, Chief Executive, David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation
Craig Bennett, Chief Executive, Friends of the Earth
John Sauven, Executive Director, Greenpeace
Tamsin Cooper, Acting Director, Green Alliance
Penny Lawrence, Deputy Chief Executive, Oxfam GB
Dr Mike Clarke, Chief Executive, RSPB
Stephanie Hilborne OBE, Chief Executive, The Wildlife Trusts

To write to your MP asking for their assurances on the UK Government’s plans for protecting the environment for future generations please visit www.wwf.org.uk/planfornature

WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organisations, with over 5 million supporters and a global network active in over 100 countries. WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the Earth's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world's biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. Visit https://wwwf.org.uk for latest news and media resources and follow us on Twitter @wwf_uk.

For further information, please contact:

T: +44 (0)1483 412241   |   M: +44 (0)7824 416735   |   jjones@wwf.org.uk

[1]  http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/state_of_nature_uk_report_pages_1_sept.pdf

[2]  https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelong-impact-air-pollution

[3]  https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/501784/The_costs_and_impacts_of_the_winter_2013_to_2014_floods_-_report.pdf

[4]  https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/landmark-report-shows-global-wildlife-populations-course-decline-67-cent-2020

[5]  The Government has said it will publish its plan to reduce carbon emissions by March 31st, but recent rumours suggest that it will not be published until June: http://utilityweek.co.uk/news/industrial-strategy-colours-emissions-reduction/1296482#.WMpszlXyipo

[6]  https://www.channel4.com/news/british-nature-after-brexit

[7]  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/02/06/britain-could-become-first-country-world-ban-sale-ivory-antiques/

[8]  www.wwf.org.uk/planfornature

[9]  http://www.brightblue.org.uk/index.php/medias/press-releases/item/713-conservative-voters-want-a-green-brexit-polling-reveals

[10]  https://static1.squarespace.com/static/56d9b584f8baf31e9937bd55/t/58e0120629687f5bed11e5ae/1491079692193/Green+cons

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