Report on UK Foreign Office: Could do better

Report on UK Foreign Office: Could do better

The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee has now published its report on Trade, Development and Environment: The Role of the FCO.

E3G Chief Executive Nick Mabey gave evidence to the committee, so it is interesting to see how their recommendations reflect his suggestions – particularly in the areas of security threats, environmental expertise, fragmented strategy and leadership by example.

Here’s some details from the EAC Press Notice:

The EAC acknowledges that the FCO is doing some good work on a number of international environmental issues, and commends the Rt. Hon Margaret Beckett MP, the Foreign Secretary, for making climate change a key international priority for the FCO. The recent appointment of a Special Representative on Climate Change and the Foreign Secretary’s robust argument for the consideration of climate change at the UN Security Council is evidence of the diplomatic effort that the FCO is putting behind this issue.

Nevertheless, the EAC has major concerns that the FCO is neglecting a number of key international challenges including biodiversity loss and environmental degradation. The EAC is concerned that the structure of the FCO is not up to the task of dealing with the challenges posed by international environmental degradation. In addition, the EAC found that the UK Government’s likely failure to meet its domestic target on reducing carbon emissions, as well as certain actions relating to biodiversity protection, might undermine our ability to address these issues on the international stage.

Some further conclusions of the EAC report are set out below:

FCO Policy

  • Although the FCO is doing some good work, evidence suggests that overall the FCO is placing less of an emphasis on non-climate related environmental challenges. This could have a damaging impact on our ability to tackle some international environmental issues such as biodiversity loss.
  • The FCO appears to be failing to explore the links between natural resource protection and conflict prevention and resolution.
  • As a result of restructuring the FCO has lost much of its environmental expertise. The training of FCO staff, and secondments from other departments, can only in part address this shortfall. Therefore the FCO should expand greatly the proportion of externally-appointed environmental specialists in its employ. In addition, career diplomats with a environmental focus must be developed.

The Government must do more

  • The UK’s international environmental policy is fragmented, which has a negative impact on the Government’s ability to meet international environmental challenges. A new international environmental strategy must be developed, adopted and owned by a number of departments, incorporating issues including security, trade, foreign policy and development.
  • To enable the UK to be effective at international environmental diplomacy it is crucial that the Government demonstrates its commitment to sustainable development principles though all its actions, and in particular it must not renege on international and domestic environmental commitments. Therefore the EAC believes that, although the UK will meet its international targets under Kyoto, failure to reach its more demanding domestic target on carbon emission reduction, will result in the loss of the political leadership demonstrated by the UK through its adoption. The consequences of missing this target are all the more negative as current scientific information indicates that the Kyoto targets fall well short of the scale of effort required to meet the challenge of climate change.
  • The Government is also undermining its position on international biodiversity protection by its failure to tackle adequately the risk of continued environmental decline and species extinctions in the UK Overseas Territories.


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