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

WWF report sets out ways for Britain to take responsibility for damage to environment around world and at home

The UK must cut its global environmental footprint by 75 per cent by the end of the decade to help put nature on the path to recovery, a new WWF report has said.

Thriving within our Planetary Means says that the UK’s disproportionately high impact on climate and nature must be met with a nationally ambitious target.

The analysis estimates that the UK’s per capita greenhouse gas footprint is more than six times the planetary limit, and its per capita biomass consumption is nearly double the planetary limit.

It presents 10 key drivers of environmental impact where significant reform will be essential to deliver the 75 per cent reduction.

Specific targets include ensuring UK supply chains of agricultural and forest commodities are responsible for no deforestation and conversion of ecosystems by 2023.

The UK must also reduce the footprint of its material consumption by 40 per cent by 2030 and reduce that of its biomass consumption – of agricultural, animal and forestry products – by 50 per cent by 2030.

The report also calls for the UK to ensure 100 per cent of marine resources are from sustainable sources by 2030, and that all bodies of water in the UK achieve good ecological and chemical status by 2027.

The WWF outlines key action for the UK to take by reducing the impact of production and consumption, at home and overseas, saying nearly half of the UK’s carbon footprint occurs beyond its borders and is embedded in imports.

Britain is hosting the major UN climate change summit, Cop26, in Glasgow in November, and has put tackling global warming high on its agenda during its G7 presidency.

The report assesses the UK’s per capita footprint across six 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 to what is required to stay within planetary limits, which is the level of impact that if crossed could start abrupt or irreversible changes that could have serious consequences for humanity.

“The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world, yet our environmental footprint extends far beyond these shores," said Tanya Steele, chief executive of the WWF.

"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.”

The WWF says a significant reduction in the UK footprint does not mean the UK’s economy must shrink, or that the well-being 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 towards a circular economy approach could deliver significant economic opportunities, in addition to helping address the climate and nature crisis.

Thriving within our Planetary Means details a host of ways to help cut the UK’s footprint, including a due-diligence obligation on businesses and the finance sector to assess and mitigate the risks of illegal and legal deforestation and conversion.

The report also suggests a set of core food standards in law that apply to imports and domestic production to support a shift to sustainable food production without leaving the UK’s environmental footprint offshore.

The charity says that putting the “polluter pays” principle into law will ensure businesses take responsibility for a product’s impact, from production right through to end of life material recovery.

It calls for improved municipal waste management, so less is sent to landfill or exported overseas unprocessed, and for measures to reduce loss and waste in the food system.

The charity suggests an increase in the consumption of plant-based foods in UK diets will also help to reduce the country's environmental footprint.

Updated: July 5th 2021, 8:41 AM