Agreement in Nagoya
The agreement reached in Nagoya, Japan by 193 countries on Earth is said to bring in a new era of living in harmony with nature. It includes commitments to reduce the rate of biodiversity loss, restore degraded ecosystems and link biodiversity conservation and climate change measures - particularly through saving forests.
Caroline Spelman, the Defra Secretary of State, played an important role in helping to reach agreement and pledges that the lessons and commitments reached on the other side of the world will be built into domestic action through the Natural Environment White Paper. She commented that the agreement would help to protect biodiversity, to secure our own future and to eradicate poverty.
The reasons to be cheerful are summed up clearly by The Independent but others are similarly upbeat. Compared with the climate talks in Copenhagen last December, these nature talks in Nagoya have delivered real agreements. For others' reactions see links (here, here, here, here, here, and here).
Forestry sell-off: Plans for the Forestry Commission in England were unveiled to MPs last week. As widely predicted, including in this blog, the plans include a large movement of forestry land out of government ownership to the private sector and to civil society. Somewhat reassuring is the upfront recognition in the announcement that government recognises the importance of FC land for biodiversity, access and landscape.
Quango bonfire: In order to carry out some of its plans for the Forestry Commission, but also for a host of other 'Arms Length Bodies', government has announced the legislative route for changing the structure and role of a large number of agencies. Legislation will start in the House of Lords where it is likely that the new measures will get a rough ride and careful scrutiny. Their Lord- (and Lady-) ships are likely to want to examine closely a piece of legislation that has such far-reaching impacts. The Public Bodies Bill is a classic enabling bill framed along the lines of 'We're going to change lots of things, some of which we know now, some of which we'll work out soon and some of which we can't tell you anything about because we haven't thought of them at all yet, but please give us the power to do all this' which may not go down too well in the Upper House.
What others are writing: An interesting piece by the Guardian's Juliette Jowit - only some of which will be news to readers of this blog. We will miss Juliette's insights while she is off on maternity leave (best wishes to you Juliette!)
Last week I was at King's Cross station early in the morning, as I often am, and needed a cup of coffee. I went to the Nero Express booth and was in the queue when one of the staff, a lady who actually makes the coffee, spotted me, smiled (first good point), said 'Your usual? Large Latte, no sugar?' (second good point), turned to her colleague and said 'The gentleman usually has two croissants and an apple juice' (third good point) and then said 'Nice tie!' (fourth good point).
Now the smile was nice, the remembering of the type of coffee was nice, the remembering of what else I always have (yes I am sadly predictable) was very nice and the remark about my tie was lovely.
I liked the coffee all the more for feeling that I had been treated like a person not a customer - and I was glad she liked my tie (or at least said she did). I tweeted about this on Twitter - partly to share my good feeling about that particular lady (I don't know her name) at that particular coffee outlet. If Cafe Nero want to give her a pay rise then I think she deserves it.
A farmer spotting my remark on Twitter remarked that I am obviously receptive to flattery and that farmers are too! I agree! That's why the RSPB highlights the good work of farmers right across the UK in the Nature of Farming Award - which attracts a huge number of deserving entrants. And it's why we produced a leaflet called Agri-environment heroes (catchy title eh?) and featured on our website the work of a dozen such farmers.
A letter in yesterday's Daily Telegraph stated that it was wrong to think that public spending cuts would affect the finances of charities. What an odd thing to think! At least it is from the RSPB's perspective even though most of our money comes from the generosity of individuals through membership subscriptions, donations, legacies etc.
Our reply published in the Daily Telegraph today, points out that some of our funding (and similar arguments will apply to other charities) comes from partnership working with government and its agencies. This is - we believe - the Big Society already in action. We don't get block grants for our work but we do get contracts, already, to deliver conservation projects on the ground (often gained through competitive tendering). We ('we' charities, but 'we' the RSPB too) can often deliver more wildlife on the ground, on our nature reserves, or through species recovery projects, or through giving advice to land managers, and for less money, than can government itself. And that has appeared to be what successive governments have wanted to happen, and have helped to fund. If there is less government money around, as there is, then charities are likely to be able to do less of this work.
And if the Westminster government is keen to see civil society taking over National Nature Reserves, bits of the Forestry Commission estate and playing an even larger role in delivering nature conservation on the ground then that will cost someone, somewhere some money! We are not rolling in cash right now!
Here is the text of the Defra Secretary of State's speech in Nagoya:
'I think that we are all clear that we are now within touching distance of a historic agreement here in Nagoya.
I have been greatly encouraged by the positive spirit of cooperation as I have talked to colleagues since I arrived on Monday, and I would like to pay tribute to our hosts, who have done so much to provide a splendid environment for our discussions.
I have been very impressed by how much progress has been made on such a wide range of sometimes difficult issues, and I am confident that we can now see home an ambitious package of measures, which can really make a difference to our natural world.
Finance is essential if we are going to address these challenges. We already know that the Global Environment Facility will spend $1.2 billion on biodiversity over the 2010-14 period, following its successful replenishment with $4.3 billion – the UK increased its contribution by 50%. And the GEF has also established a new $250 million programme for sustainable forest management which will deliver climate change and biodiversity benefits.
These are difficult times, and last week the UK government announced deep cuts in public expenditure. But we are still providing new money for climate finance and a substantial portion of it will be for forestry. This will deliver biodiversity co-benefits. And I am delighted to announce that the UK will provide a new special fund of £100m over the next four years specifically designed to deliver biodiversity benefits through international forestry.
The UK is very proud of its highly successful Darwin Initiative, which has delivered over 700 projects in 156 countries around the world. They have contributed to biodiversity objectives, poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihoods.
I am also delighted to say that the UK will not only sustain the existing level of funding of £7m per year, but now plans to increase it over the next four years.
In addition, we will provide the following new funding commitments supporting international biodiversity:
•£2 million over the next four years to help establish the Intergovernmental science-policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem services, known as “IPP-BESS”;•£200,000 funding for an initiative to save the endangered Henderson petrel in the Pacific; and•£400,000 towards TEEB follow-up for case studies and capacity building in developing countries;The UK is committed to bringing about real change in the way in which natural capital and ecosystem services are valued and mainstream into decision making processes. To help achieve this, I am delighted to announce that the UK is supporting the preparation of the Global Partnership on Ecosystem Services Valuation and Wealth Accounting.
So, I hope that these announcements will reassure everybody here that we are serious about our commitment to dealing with the challenges we all face. The UK Government is making deep reductions in public expenditure. Even so, we are increasing our funding for international biodiversity and we will meet our commitment to provide 0.7% of our GNI in overseas development assistance from 2013.
But of course it is not just a question of providing resources. We know that we must all agree on a Strategic plan which sets clear ambitious and achievable targets to address the key challenges facing biodiversity and tackle biodiversity loss.
We must also reach agreement on a protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing, ensuring fair and transparent access to genetic resources and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits from their use.
That is the challenge we face, and I firmly believe that we are now well-placed to finalise this crucial package.
It is essential that biodiversity, climate change, food security and poverty reduction are tackled together. We will not succeed if we try to deal with them individually. The Summit last month in New York, our meeting in Nagoya this week and Cancun next month provide us with a tremendous opportunity to address these interlinked challenges. Together, we must seize it. We simply cannot afford not to.'
The European Commission’s is taking the Maltese government to court over its legislation permitting spring hunting seasons of turtle dove and quail.
Despite being found guilty by the European Court of Justice in September 2009 of breaching the EU Birds Directive by permitting spring hunting between 2004 and 2007, the government of Malta again opened a spring hunting season this year. It also adopted framework legislation making it possible to open future spring hunting seasons of up to three weeks in duration with a limit of 25,000 birds.
The Commission is taking legal action as the Maltese legislation does not consider the conservation status of the species being hunted. The Letter of Formal Notice, issued by the Commission today, instructs Malta to take into consideration the European Conservation Status of both species.
Tim Stowe, the RSPB’s International Director, commented: “The RSPB has been campaigning against the illegal hunting of birds in Malta for more than three decades and we are pleased that the Commission is applying legal pressure on the Maltese government.
“Malta needs to come into line with the Birds Directive and the opinion of the majority of the Maltese population and ban spring hunting. This legal action is good news for those European birds, including turtle dove and quail, that cross Malta every spring on their hazardous migration from Africa.”
If the latest legal action is ignored, the Commission will take the Maltese government to the European Court of Justice under article 260 of the Lisbon Treaty. If the court then finds Malta guilty, fines will be applied.
Just before this year’s spring hunting season, 60,000 RSPB supporters voiced their outrage at the illegal slaughter of birds in a petition to the Maltese Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi.
We moan about the EU sometimes - but it would be difficult to influence Malta if it weren't for the fact that we are all in the same club and the club has rules.