The Minister for Environment and Climate Change Dr John Cortes co-chaired a meeting of the Council of Environment Ministers of the U.K. Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies recently held in Douglas on the Isle of Man.
The Isle of Man Government hosted the meeting and its Minister for Environment Geoffrey Boot co-chaired the two-day meeting.
“The way our diverse territories work together in mutual support and for the protection and improvement of the environment and quality of life is our main strength and an example to others,” said Dr Cortes.
Plastic pollution of oceans featured highly on the agenda as many of the 13 territories represented are islands or near-islands.
“The Council agreed to support efforts to reduce plastic pollution, and to promote environmental protection in those British territories that do not have permanent human habitation,” said a statement from the Government.
“These include the British Indian Ocean Territories around Chagos, and in the Atlantic they include South Georgia, the South Sandwich Islands, and the British Antarctic Territory. Taken together, this gives the UK responsibility for hundreds of square kilometres of ocean, including some of the world’s major coral reefs and a large section of southern ocean,” the statement added.
Other topics discussed included climate change, severe weather events, sustainable development, biodiversity, renewable energy, funding and Brexit.
BREXIT AND GIBRALTAR
During the meeting the impact of the UK’s exit from the European Union will noted and stated that it would have a significant impact on many of the UKOTs and CDs.
Gibraltar was singled out due to its unique position of presently being in the EU and when the UK leaves it will not only be affected in the same was as Great Britain but by other challenges too.
“These are related particularly to the way in which the environmentally and other damaging acts by a neighbouring country have hitherto been moderated most effectively through common membership of the EU,” said the notes of the meeting.
“Ending this will necessitate increased diplomatic support from UK, with associated costs. The territory environment leaders urge UK Government to support, as a matter of urgency, the facilitation of Gibraltar’s inclusion in other international agreements, which will help to offset this loss.”
It was also noted that Gibraltar receives funding from the EU and as a result of Brexit the UK Government needs to increase the resources it provides to Gibraltar.
On the second day of the meeting, the Council was joined by officials from three UK Government departments, including Ben Merrick, Director Overseas Territories at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Dr Gemma Harper, Deputy Director for Marine from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); and Huw Davis, Deputy Head of UNFCCC Negotiations representing the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.
In addition, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, Dr Therese Coffey, joined the meeting by Skype. This was the first time that a UK Minister has directly participated in a meeting of the Council, which was originally set up in Gibraltar in 2015.
The aim of the Council is to bring together ministers or equivalents and senior officials from all the UK overseas jurisdictions to work together to improve environmental governance and sustainable development and to engage the UK Government as appropriate.
“Increasingly also, and particularly at this meeting, the role of this collective, with representation from across the globe, in making a difference at a global level, was emphasised,” said a statement from the Government.
According to the attendees, considerable progress towards the aims was made at the meeting, including an invitation extended to the Ministers from the territories represented to contribute towards the UK’s position on the environment at the forthcoming Commonwealth Summit in London.
While at the Meeting, the Minister from Turks and Caicos, Ralph Higgs, on behalf of the people back home, personally thanked the people of Gibraltar, through Dr Cortes, for the help sent to the island when it was hit by a hurricane last year.
The event also included a visit to the Isle of Man’s Parliament, the Tynwald, and to the Island’s Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture.
While on the Isle of Man, Dr Cortes took the opportunity to meet with the Island’s Minister for Education, Graham Cregeen. The Isle of Man has embarked on a school building programme, having recently built a primary school with a comprehensive school to follow, and has recently reviewed its examination system. Matters of mutual interest were discussed, with the possibility of future exchanges to be explored.
The Overseas Territories that participated were Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, Montserrat, Gibraltar, Tristan da Cunha, Falkland Islands, Ascension and Pitcairn. The Crown Dependencies were Isle of Man, Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.