Thriving within means

The UK must slash its global footprint by 75% this decade

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 6 July 2021

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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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, according to a new WWF report released yesterday (05 July).

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 with 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.

Targets to cut UK footprint

It presents 10 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.

The footprint of the UK’s material consumption – the raw materials needed to satisfy demand for all goods and commodities – must fall by 40% by 2030.

The footprint of the UK’s biomass consumption – the consumption of agricultural products, animal products and forestry products – must be cut 50% by 2030 and 100% of marine resources –animals and plants extracted from the marine environment – must be from sustainable sources by 2030.

Finally, all bodies of water in the UK must achieve good ecological status and good chemical status by 2027.

UK’s overseas footprint

The report highlights that nearly half of the UK’s carbon footprint occurs beyond its borders and is embedded in imports.

As a result, the report outlines key ways for the UK to reduce the impact of production and consumption both at home and overseas.

‘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 fuelling 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.’

TANYA STEELE
Chief executive at WWF

Working with nature

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.

Amending the Environment Bill

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’, while aligning with its goal to make sure consumption and impact on natural capital are sustainable, at home and overseas.

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