3rd UKOT/CD Environment Ministers Council meeting

Ministers and senior officials from UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) and Crown Dependencies (CDs) travelled to the Isle of Man in February 2018 to discuss the future of the environment in their jurisdictions. This was the third Council of Environment Ministers of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and took place in Douglas, on 6th and 7th February. Previous meetings took place in Gibraltar in 2015 and continued in Alderney in 2017.

The meeting was chaired jointly by Hon. Geoffrey Boot MHK, the Isle of Man’s Minister for Environment, Food and Agriculture, and Professor John Cortés, Gibraltar’s Minister for Education, Heritage, Environment, Energy and Climate Change, and coordinated by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF), a non-governmental organisation, in association with the Isle of Man Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture (DEFA).

At the meeting were representatives from Bermuda, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Turks and Caicos Islands, Tristan da Cunha, Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey, Isle of Man, and Sark. Representatives from Falkland Islands, Pitcairn and St Helena participated remotely.

British Virgin Islands, who had hoped to attend, were unable to do so in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, and sent apologies, as did Ascension, Anguilla and the Cayman Islands.

On the second day, the meeting was joined by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Director of the Overseas Territories, Mr Ben Merrick, and officials from the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. DEFRA minister Dr Thérèse Coffey joined the meeting via video link. 

Although very different in character, finances and their relationships with UK, the islands all boast beautiful environments that are important to economies and way of life. In terms of biodiversity, the UK Overseas Territories hold over 90% of the world biodiversity for which UK is responsible. Many of these species, such as the Montserrat oriole and St Helena wirebird, occur nowhere else in the world.  UK Overseas Territories support more penguins than does any other nation.

Delegates were impressed with a presentation on marine protected areas and fisheries conservation in the Isle of Man, and also the designation of the Isle of Man as first whole-country UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. At the request of the UKOT Joint-Chairman, Dr Mike Pienkowski, of UKOTCF gave a presentation on UK Overseas Territories, deemed as having no permanent human populations: the British Antarctic Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Indian Ocean Territories, and the Cyprus Sovereign Base Areas. Common opportunities and challenges across all territories were discussed on issues such as the role of the environment in growing the economy, energy efficiency, resilience to increasingly severe and frequent weather impacts, sympathetic development, enforcement and the impact of plastics. Participants valued the opportunity to discuss with the UK’s Environment Minister, Dr Thérèse Coffey, how jurisdictions can work together, and more closely with the UK, to ensure a coherent approach on biodiversity matters and climate change.

Minister Coffey invited the group to join the UK’s discussions on these matters. The meeting noted the importance of the Environment Charters, signed mostly in 2001, which set out a partnership approach to integrating environmental aspects into all sectors via a set of commitments by UK Overseas Territories and by UK government, and welcomed UKOTCF’s collating progress on these. Delegates discussed also the opportunities resulting from, and challenges posed by, the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union, and subsequent loss of EU funding, collaboration and potentially existing markets.

An agreed statement was issued, which highlighted the way the diverse territories can work together and more closely with the UK, to ensure a coherent approach on matters such as plastic waste, ocean acidification, reporting to international conventions, and increased frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

Delegates were given opportunities to experience Manx culture, and a superb selection of Manx local produce.

Following the formal business, Minister Boot escorted participants on an excursion through a range of island ecosystems, to the current and ancient sites of Tynwald, the oldest continuous parliament in the world. The party went on to visit Milntown House, close to Ramsey. This historic building links the Isle of Man and a UK Overseas Territory, Pitcairn. It was the residence of a powerful family on the island, the Christians. Fletcher Christian is famed as the leader of the mutineers on HMS Bounty. The visit continued to Peel, and the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture’s headquarters in St John’s, giving all the opportunity to see parts of the Island. A video summary of the meeting is available at:

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