Opening Speech at the UKOT Biodiversity Strategy Workshop Wednesday 14 June, 2023
OVERSEAS TERRITORIES BIODIVERSITY STRATEGY
The Joint Ministerial Council Meeting in London in May addressed a number of issues of key importance for both the Overseas Territories and the United Kingdom Government.
One of these was the Foreign Secretary’s announcement of a new UK Government Strategy on the Overseas Territories, which will be developed on a collaborative basis and will set the direction for a relationship firmly based on principles of collaboration and mutual interest.
A second set of key issues of course related to environment and climate change, and indeed Trudy Harrison MP, Minister for Natural Environment and Land Use in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, took part in the discussions with Overseas Territories Leaders on this subject.
The Joint Communique that was adopted at the end of the Conference recognised the unique environments of the Overseas Territories and their vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. The UK Government’s support for biodiversity and conservation projects in the Overseas Territories was also noted, and it was made clear that for each year until 2025 UK Government will continue to make available £10M for applicants to the Darwin Plus Programme.
And it was also noted that the UK Government and the Overseas Territories are developing a new Joint Biodiversity Strategy expected to be published in 2024.
My strong hope is that this Biodiversity Strategy Workshop here in Tortola over the next two days will play an important role in the development of that strategy. I know that our colleagues from the Joint Nature Conservancy Council and Defra who are with us will want to use this workshop to learn more about the vision of the Virgin Islands for protecting the Territory’s biodiversity.
The need for that protection is beyond doubt. We already know that climate change and nature loss are existential challenges. The decade ahead is critical for action in face of the rapidly closing window to limit global temperatures increases to 1.5C and to halt and reverse biodiversity loss. The development of a new Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy can serve to define the priorities for our respective Governments in tackling the challenges ahead, including by helping to guide funding in line with agreed objectives and ensure maximum impact.
As Governor I know that the strategy needs to be led by people here in the BVI if it is to be effective. But as Governor I would also confirm my commitment to UK support for that strategy.
And I am pleased to note that the UK Government is currently funding no less than 16 environmental projects here in the BVI with $3M funding through the Darwin Plus Initiative. These projects include:
- Habitat restoration of Great and Little Tobago National Parks;
- Sustainable sargassum management in the BVI and in Anguilla and Montserrat;
- Development of Coastal Resource Atlas;
- A multipurpose soil survey to inform environmental management and climate mitigation;
- And of course our collaborative work in tackling disease and damage to our coral reefs.
I have the privilege of having lived and worked here in the BVI for the past two and a half years and I have seen and learned for myself the importance of our coral reefs, our mangroves and the wider biodiversity across our islands. I also know that the risks we face to this biodiversity are immediate. But I also know that tackling those risks is an investment not just for today or tomorrow but also for the long term, and that preservation of our biodiversity makes not only environmental sense but also economic sense. It makes economic sense in terms BVI’s tourism market and its future growth, and also in terms of ensuring stability and sustainability of our seas and land for all those who live and work here.
So I hope very much that this workshop will be a success, helping all those present to understand the BVI’s vision and strategic priorities for supporting the Territory’s biodiversity and how the new UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy can best support this vision.
Together we need to tackle the barriers and support the opportunities ahead and I look forward to I and my Office supporting all of your efforts in future work.