05 July 2021
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UK must slash its global footprint by 75% this decade - new WWF report
- WWF proposes new target to cut the UK’s global environmental footprint by three quarters by 2030
- Government urged to put the UK’s own house in order and strengthen Environment Bill with binding target to reduce UK footprint
- Recommendations include establishing food standards in law, for both imports and domestic production, and increasing consumption of plant-based foods
The UK must slash its global environmental footprint by 75% by the end of the decade to help put nature on the path to recovery, a new WWF report sets out today.
The report – Thriving Within Our Planetary Means – states that the UK’s disproportionately high impact on climate and nature must be met with a nationally ambitious target.
It assesses the UK’s per capita footprint across six ‘footprint areas’ critical to the functioning of the planet, such as greenhouse gas emissions, nitrogen and phosphorous use, and materials consumption. Data for the UK footprint is then compared to what is required to stay within planetary limits - the level of impact which, if crossed, could trigger abrupt or irreversible changes which could have serious consequences for humankind.
The analysis estimates that the UK’s per capita greenhouse gas footprint is over six times the planetary limit, and its per capita biomass consumption footprint is nearly double the planetary limit.
It presents ten key drivers of environmental impact where significant reform will be essential to deliver the 75% reduction. Specific targets include:
- ensuring UK supply chains of agricultural and forest commodities are responsible for zero deforestation and conversion of ecosystems by 2023;
- reducing the footprint of the UK's material consumption - the raw materials needed to satisfy demand for all goods and commodities - by 40% by 2030;
- reducing the footprint of the UK's biomass consumption - the consumption of agricultural products, animal products, and forestry products - by 50% by 2030;
- ensuring 100% of marine resources - animals and plants extracted from the marine environment - are from sustainable sources by 2030;
- ensuring all bodies of water in the UK achieve good ecological status and good chemical status by 2027.
The report also outlines key actions for the UK to put its own house in order by reducing the impact of production and consumption, both at home and overseas, highlighting that nearly half of the UK’s carbon footprint occurs beyond its borders and is embedded in imports.
Tanya Steele, chief executive at WWF, said:
“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, yet our environmental footprint extends far beyond these shores. The things we buy and the foods we eat are fueling nature loss, including the destruction of precious habitats like the Amazon rainforest and the Cerrado – and current legislation does not go far enough to prevent this.
“If the UK is to stand as a global green leader at the COP26 climate summit, we must pull our weight in addressing the planetary crisis and ensure all commitments meet the scale of the challenge. Adding a legally binding target to the Environment Bill to slash our environmental footprint at home and overseas by 2030 is an essential step, and this report provides a roadmap to deliver on that target once it’s in place.”
According to the report, a significant reduction in the UK footprint does not mean the UK’s economy must shrink, or that the wellbeing of UK citizens would be affected. Instead, the proposed targets are about doing things differently: reducing waste, increasing recycling, increasing efficiency, and shifting towards production systems that work with nature.
This transition away from business as usual towards a circular economy approach has the potential to deliver significant economic opportunities, in addition to helping address the climate and nature crisis.
Thriving Within Our Planetary Means details a raft of ways to help cut the UK’s footprint, at home and overseas, including:
- establishing a due diligence obligation on businesses and the finance sector to assess and mitigate the risks of illegal and legal deforestation and conversion;
- establishing a set of core food standards in law, that apply to both imports and domestic production – to support a shift to sustainable food production without offshoring the UK’s environmental footprint;
- putting the “polluter pays” principle into law, to ensure businesses take responsibility for a product’s impact, from production right through to end of life material recovery;
- improving municipal waste management, so less is sent to landfill or exported overseas unprocessed, and for measures to reduce loss and waste in the food system;
- increasing consumption of plant-based foods in UK diets.
The report’s publication comes as members of the House of Lords are set to debate an amendment to the Environment Bill – backed by WWF – which would require the government to set a target to significantly reduce the UK’s global footprint, as recommended by a recent report of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee.
Adopting this target would help the government to deliver its promise that the Environment Bill will be “the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth”1, while aligning with its goal to make sure consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas.
NOTES TO EDITORS
- The full report is available here.
- A ‘footprint’ refers to the drivers and pressures that harm the environment, such as extraction of metals, production of goods, consumption of food and related socioeconomic activities. In a nutshell, it explains the environmental impact of the things we produce and consume.
- The scope of the footprint encompasses both production and consumption, and both domestic and overseas impacts. The footprint of UK production occurs within the country borders, related to domestic production and processing of goods. The footprint of the UK’s consumption is spread globally and encompasses the impacts of goods produced and processed overseas for import to the UK.
- The overall target was determined by assessing the UK’s global footprints across six output areas: ecological footprint, material footprint; biomass footprint, nitrogen boundary, phosphorous boundary and greenhouse gas emissions.
- 10 key footprint pressures are identified and specific targets set for each. The ten footprint pressures are:
- Material consumption
- Biomass consumption
- Marine resource use
- Degradation and land-use change
- Chemical pollution
- Air pollution
- Water pollution
- Nutrient use
- Water availability and flows
- Greenhouse Gas footprint
- The “Global Footprint” amendment to the Environment Bill would require the Secretary of State to set a target to significantly reduce the UK’s global footprint as soon as reasonably practicable and no later than 2030. Further details of the amendment are available here.
- The amendment was tabled by Lord Randall of Uxbridge and is expected to be debated during Committee Stage of the Environment Bill in the House of Lords, which is ongoing.
- Lord Randall has also tabled related amendments requiring the Government to review the effectiveness of due diligence and global footprint provisions in the Environment Bill.
- The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee published a report available here on 30 June 2021, where it recommended (p6) that “the Government set a target to reduce the UK’s global environmental footprint”.
- (1) The Guardian on Environment Bill return - Defra in the media (blog.gov.uk)
- (2) HM Government, A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment, p.125