Banner: an example Environment Charter, in this case for the Turks & Caicos Islands

A good start?

In 1999, the Forum reported the early stages of the Environmental Charter process as follows:

"The year 1998/99 saw major progress on the part of the Forum. We are particularly pleased with the progress made in joint developments with UK Government. From a situation early in 1998 when the Forum had to deplore the lack of attention to the environment in the Government’s major policy statement, we have moved to a situation in which the environment forms a major — and widely commended — chapter of the Government’s White Paper on the UK Overseas Territories Partnership for Progress and Prosperity, published on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office site in March 1999." [This was the previous excellent FCO website, which was replaced from the far less functional and badly designed UK Government website in 2010.]

The White Paper can be downloaded in the following forms:

"In mid-1998, the Forum-edited special edition of Ecos, the journal of the British Association of Nature Conservationists (BANC), was published. This included a range of articles about the UK Overseas Territories as well as a set of recommendations for UK Government to address in respect of its responsibilities to the environment in UK Overseas Territories. It is pleasing to be able to commend UK Government for so rapidly and positively responding to our suggestions.

"The consultative approach adopted by the officials in the strengthened Environment, Science and Energy Department meant that they have been able to call frequently on the Forum’s expertise. Indeed, many ideas from the Forum’s "checklist" (published also in the Forum’s Annual Report for 1997-98) have found their way into the White Paper, and more are likely to do so as the follow-up procedures continue. The Forum is working closely with UK Government on these. The purpose of these and other activities is to facilitate the work of our partners in conservation in the Overseas Territories.

"As indicated above, a major area of work throughout late 1998 and 1999 has been the contribution of ideas and discussions to the development of the White Paper and its concept of an environmental charter. Even before publication, the Forum was working with governmental colleagues on the next stages. Forum officers have taken several opportunities to outline to both NGO partners and OT Government officials and ministers the potential advantages which the environmental sections offer if all can work together to grasp these. A first public manifestation is the major conference on the environment in UK Overseas Territories: "A breath of fresh air" held at the London Zoo on 29-30 June 1999. This will need much follow up. As one example, the Forum and its partner, the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society, are working with the Gibraltar Government on a conference to be hosted by that government in 2000."

Little progress

In its 1999/2000 Annual Report, the Forum commented:

"The year started well with the successful Breath of Fresh Air conference, organised in London by FCO with Forum support. The subsequent slow development of the Environmental Charter has been disappointing to many of the participants in that meeting, both NGO and governmental. A general feeling from the OTs is that more guidance is needed. Forum Officers are exploring with FCO and OT partners ways of making real progress. In addition, many of the subjects in the Gibraltar Conference will be relevant to implementing effective conservation."

Calpe 2000: Linking the Fragments of Paradise was the international conference on environmental conservation in small territories, held 28th September to 1st October 2000, John Mackintosh Hall, Gibraltar, and sponsored by the Government of Gibraltar, organised by the Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society, with the support of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. The final session of this conference reached some conclusions, which included:

"For many of the OT delegates who were at the meeting in London A Breath of Fresh Air just over a year ago (June/July 1999), one of the major issues was how conservation action could be taken forward. At that meeting much was spoken of on what was referred to as the Environmental Charter for the Overseas Territories (and, for the benefit of those people, we will briefly outline the progress made at a Governmental level on the Charter process, shortly). However, the essence of what we are talking about can be encapsulated in the term Strategic Environmental Action Planning, and this is applicable to all small territories, and indeed has been a major theme of this conference in Gibraltar.

"As the London conference drew to a conclusion last year, we recognised how valuable it had been in drawing together so many enthusiastic, committed and normally widely dispersed people. We already knew that this conference, Calpe 2000, was in the early planning stages, and were extremely glad of that. This was because we believed that it would provide an excellent opportunity for all participants to report on progress they had made in developing those ideas for action which generated so much enthusiasm 15 months ago. We hoped also that it would encourage further exchange of ideas and networking with the additional participants from small territories who have made such a valuable contribution to the knowledge we have all gained during our time in Gibraltar.

"As mentioned, we will now turn briefly to the Environment Charter process, in response to questions from many OT delegates, in order to communicate what we understand to be the situation on its progress, before returning to summarise outcomes from the progress that has undoubtedly taken place at this Calpe conference. In October last year, the Environment Policy Department of the Foreign Office, after an extensive period of wide consultation, generated a statement of draft key principles, which were aspirational statements, related to various existing international agreements and written in deliberately accessible language. The draft key principles were sent to all OT Governments for comment, in time for the first Consultative Council meeting of Ministers. Feedback from the Territories to date has been slow, with only a few comments having been received by the FCO.

"However, government officers and NGOs in several of the OTs have flagged up the need to take forward in parallel some work to illustrate how these key principles would translate into real actions. This process would also help clarify the principles themselves. Consultations with several OTs have made clear that more facilitation is needed to assist people in the Territories to kick-start the process of developing their own action plans, up to now on hold due to the lack of time and human resources. Several OTs are discussing with the Forum the ways in which this facilitation might most usefully be provided, and FCO has indicated that it is supportive of this approach."

Agreed principles as Environment Charters

In late September 2001, Environmental Charters were signed between UK and UKOTs. The texts of the charters are:

Anguilla Montserrat  
Ascension Pitcairn Islands  
Bermuda South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands  
British Indian Ocean Territory St Helena  
British Virgin Islands Tristan da Cunha  
Cayman Islands Turks and Caicos Islands  
Falkland Islands    
Annex 1 Annex 2 Annex 3

In 2006, Gibraltar adopted an Environment Charter very similar in content to the 2001 Charters:
Gibraltar

What is still needed

The signed Environmental Charters are valuable commitments by the governments of the UK and of UKOTs. However, these are but one first element of the Charters as envisaged by the participants in the Breath of Fresh Air conference and by other stakeholders at that time. Still needed are the strategies or action plans to link these aspirational documents to real progress on the ground. This need was met earlier to some extent by the Conservation Priorities section of the Forum’s Conservation Review of 1996. For this reason, this material is reproduced in the Conservation Priorities section of the Forum’s web-database. UKOTCF partners in the UKOTs  updated this material in the early 2000s.

However, more effort is needed in this area. The signed charters call for this process. UKOTs have repeatedly made clear that the reason that the similar process under the initiative of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States is progressing much more effectively is that OECS resources facilitation. UKOTs have indicated repeatedly (e.g. at the Gibraltar conference) that similar facilitation is needed to assist people in the Territories to kick-start the UK Environmental Charter process of developing their own action plans. They  welcomed UKOTCF’s indication that it could help provided that costs could be covered. FCO asked the Forum to help in this way but, over the years from 1999 to 2002 had been unable to find a mechanism to provide such modest resources, despite its commitments under the signed charters. It was unfortunate that 3 years were lost to this process, but support was later provided to facilitate the consultative development of pilot strategies for implementation, in the Turks & Caicos Islands and St Helena.