UK consumption is 'unsustainable', say MPs

Consumption patterns in the UK are “unsustainable”, says a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), which also laments the government’s response to its previous biodiversity policy recommendations.

Consumption patterns in the UK are “unsustainable”, says a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee. Photograph: Tahreer Photography/Getty Images Consumption patterns in the UK are “unsustainable”, says a new report by the Environmental Audit Committee. Photograph: Tahreer Photography/Getty Images

In the UK footprint on global biodiversity report out today, the committee turns its scrutiny to the UK’s “unsustainable” consumption pattern, describing the government’s response to the issue as “limited”. 

The report says that the government must set an environmental footprint target, which would assess the UK’s biodiversity impacts related to consumption, and expresses concern that government ambition is lacking ahead of the UN biodiversity summit, COP15.

The committee says that the UK must support a review mechanism at COP15 “like that adopted under the Paris Climate Agreement”, to ensure biodiversity targets are met.

It also calls out the “little to no progress” on development of an indicator promised by the government on the overseas environmental impacts of UK consumption of key commodities.

Alongside today’s report, the committee has also published the government response to a previous biodiversity report out earlier this year, which declared the government’s domestic green policies to be “toothless” and failing to halt catastrophic loss of wildlife. The committee said that a number of the EAC’s recommendations focusing on improving the 25 Year Environment Plan, “were unfortunately rejected”. 

Today’s report says that if the UK is to demonstrate global leadership to protect nature, the government must strengthen its sustainable procurement policies.

EAC chairman, Philip Dunne, said: “Our committee’s findings are clear: we must bring consumption to a sustainable level or the wildlife, animals and nature we hold dear are threatened.”

He continued to say that the UK has a “unique opportunity” with new trade agreements “to incorporate iron-clad standards for the environment, among other issues, which should be urgently addressed”.

Illegal deforestation in particular is highlighted in the report as an area requiring effective management. The Environment Bill would currently remove illegal deforestation from UK supply chains, but only so long as it is illegal in the country where it is taking place. The EAC report recommends for this to be extended to cover deforestation in countries where it is done so legally under local law. 

However, earlier this month, a Lords amendment seeking to do just this was voted down by peers.  

Katie White, executive director of advocacy and campaigns at WWF, welcomed the EAC report, saying that “given the UK’s disproportionate impact on the planet, we have a real responsibility to lead the way”. The NGO published its own report earlier this year which said the UK must reduce the footprint of its production and consumption by 75% by 2030 to bring it within environmental limits. 

“We won’t forget this government’s climate promises,” she said, “and future generations won’t forgive those who fail to act while there’s still time.” 

DEFRA said it will respond to the EAC report in due course, but added that “the Environment Bill will deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth, supported by a legally binding target to halt species decline in England by 2030”.

The EAC report says it “regrets” that the government’s international climate finance commitment, including its funding for nature-based solutions, “is not new and additional funding, but rather a redirection of the existing and diminished aid budget”.

However, a DEFRA spokesperson added that the government is “investing more funding than ever in nature” and that it will not sign trade deals that compromise the UK’s “high environmental protections”. 

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