I am contacting you at what I know is a politically challenging time, and I appreciate you will have a lot on your agenda. However, I feel it is vital that nature is not forgotten at this pivotal time.
The restoration of nature - in the UK and abroad - is an urgent issue, and one that I strongly believe can bring our country together. By restoring nature at home, we can not only enrich our own lives, but set an example to the world; showing the global leadership that is desperately needed to drive a new, global deal for nature and people.
Wildlife populations around the world are being decimated. And it starts right here at home - nature in our own back gardens is suffering the same fate. Since 1970, 56% of species in the UK have declined and we're one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world; ranking only 189th out of 218 in the global league table for nature.
But now is a critical chance to change this. As we prepare to leave the EU, the Agriculture Bill, Fisheries Bill and Environment Bill give us a once in a generation opportunity to create bespoke, world-leading legislation that makes farming and fishing more sustainable, and sets us on the path to restoring nature and improving our environment for generations to come. Nature provides our life-support system, and we cannot survive without it.
Just this week, prominent figures around the world have been highlighting the urgency of restoring nature, at Davos. There is an exciting opportunity for the UK to lead this from the front. By coming together at this divided time, we can clean up the air that our children breathe, revive the health of our seas, and restore our fertile soils. We can protect our precious parks and woodlands and increase the abundance of our wildlife - resuscitating our populations of hedgehogs, birds and bees.
The draft Environment (Principles and Governance) Bill, announced in December, is a once in a generation opportunity to set us on a path to restoring nature, and is currently undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. I urge you to seize this opportunity to engage and improve this bill and not let nature get left behind.
As set out in the 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, the decision to leave the European Union has created an historic opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit, where environmental standards are not only maintained but enhanced.
Draft clauses to be included in the Environment Bill on environmental principles and governance have now been published. These draft clauses will be central to the new Environment Bill and will place environmental ambition and accountability at the heart of government. I am encouraged that these clauses are only part of a broader Bill, which will include legislative measures to take direct action to address the biggest environmental priorities of our age: air quality, nature recovery, waste and resource efficiency, and water resource management. More detail on all policy areas will be published in due course.
The draft clauses set out how a new system of green governance will be created, establishing an Office for Environmental Protection, to ensure we succeed in leaving the environment in a better condition than we found it. The draft clauses also place our 25 Year Environment Plan on a statutory footing, and introduce a set of environmental principles that will be used to guide future government policy making.
Outside the EU Britain can develop global gold standard environmental policies, taking a more targeted approach. Having left the Common Agricultural Policy we can use public money for public goods, rewarding environmentally responsible land use. Meanwhile, by leaving the Common Fisheries Policy we will be able to grant access and allocate quotas based on sustainability, allowing us to pursue the highest standards in marine conservation.
As a Foreign Office Minister, I am responsible for economic diplomacy, which includes climate change, and you can find out about by work in this important area by clicking here. Additionally, you can find the text of a speech I gave at the Global Climate Action Summit last September that promotes the UK’s international and domestic action in climate resilience.
Climate change is not an abstract threat. This year people around the world have suffered unprecedented heatwaves, wildfires, and monsoon rains. All are examples of the sorts of extreme weather events that scientists confirm are becoming more frequent and more severe due to climate change.
The Paris Agreement brought the world together in a shared ambition to reduce the man-made causes of climate change. We need to keep pressing ahead with that. But with the impacts of climate change already being felt, we must also start to adapt and build resilience to the changes that are already taking place. According to the World Bank, 100 million people could be pushed into poverty by 2030.
The need is urgent; failure to act now will hit poor countries first and hardest; but in our interconnected world, it will affect us all in one way or another. Regional climate disasters have global impacts. That is why the UK is leading work on resilience at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in 2019.
We want the summit to mark a step-change in the global approach to climate change. Our aim is to ensure we can all better anticipate climate extremes; adapt to them; and absorb their impacts, through effective disaster response. To achieve these goals we need to work across the globe to reduce exposure to disasters and build climate resilience into our economies by factoring our changing climate into investment decisions at home and abroad.
The UK is already working internationally to make this happen. Since 2011, we have helped 47 million people cope with the effects of climate change, in many cases through enhanced adaptation. This is not pure humanitarianism: it makes economic sense. Every dollar invested in climate risk mitigation today saves at least three dollars in disaster response later.
We are supporting the Climate Leadership in Cities Programme in partnership with the cities signed up to the C40 Group, and we will fund 15 city-level climate action plans across Latin America and Asia in the coming years. Another UK programme, called Building Resilience and Adaptation to Climate Extremes and Disasters, is doing what it says - helping 7 million of the world’s poorest people cope with climate shocks.
Importantly, the programme works directly with affected communities and offers a tailored approach to the climate challenges they face - for example by using technology to achieve better harvests, greater access to finance and markets, more accurate weather information, and better disaster preparedness.
Households in target areas have seen their incomes rise by around $200 dollars a year, and early warning systems have helped evacuate more than 12,000 people ahead of rising floodwater. I was recently at the Pacific Islands Forum. Few of us are impacted as directly by climate change as the people of the Pacific Islands, whose very existence is under threat from the seas creeping up their shores. Their plight is one of the world’s most tangible examples of the security threat climate change can cause.
This is why we support the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme and why, as we expand our diplomatic presence in the region with new High Commissions in Samoa, Tonga, and Vanuatu, climate change will be an increasingly important part of our work there. All countries also need to do what they can to build resilience within their borders. For our part, the UK Environment Agency is working with local partners to address both coastal and inland flood risks and reduce the risk posed to 300,000 homes by 2021.
Our recently published National Adaptation Plan requires public bodies to report on how they are adapting to current and future climate impacts; and later this year we will be launching a revised set of climate projections, through to the end of the century, which will help us plan a more climate-resilient future. We are applying lessons learned at home and abroad to address this global challenge.
In closing. Building societies that are resilient to the changing climate is a team effort. From emergency planning to infrastructure investment, from adaptations in agriculture and land-use to risk financing, and countless other areas. It is a global challenge requiring global solutions and global cooperation. The UK is committed to building ambition and action. We invite national and subnational-governments, the private sector, and civil society, to join us in making the summit next year a success. Galvanizing action to increase resilience in the countries and communities most affected by climate change.