Paul Veron, Head of Policy and Research for the States of Guernsey Policy Council, addressed the Tree Wardens’ lunch meeting on 31 May

June 2nd, 2011 by Paul Veron

Paul Veron, Head of Policy and Research for the States of Guernsey Policy Council, addressed the Tree Warden lunch meeting on 31 May 2011 (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

Sustainable Guernsey has produced an edited transcript of the presentation by Paul Veron to Guernsey Tree Wardens on Tuesday 31 May 2011.

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The States of Guernsey has three policy plans. The Environmental Policy Plan is hugely important alongside the Fiscal and Economic Policy Plan, and the Social Policy Plan.

The Social Policy Plan covers something like 80 percent of the entire expenditure of the States so it tends to make headlines.

The States Strategic Plan, which is the business plan of government, deliberately says that all three of these plans have equal weight. So the Environmental Plan has equal weight to social policy and fiscal and economic policy.

What is slightly different about the Environmental Plan is that it is longer term than the other two. If you write an Environmental Plan you are doing it on a time frame of 20 to 25 years – the natural world tends to take sometime to react to things. You would be a very brave person to write a fiscal and economic plan for a 20 to 25 year time frame and we write social policy on a much tighter time frame than that too.

The plans set out the high level objectives and commitments that the States of Guernsey government is going to follow – what it is seeking to achieve and how it will get there through a series of Action Plans.

Because it is a 20 to 25 year lifetime for the plan we wouldn’t expect it to change every year when the States of Guernsey has their debate on the strategic plan for the island. What we would expect to change would be the Action Plans that achieve the long term objectives.

What objectives does this government have and what is it committed to?

  • To manage the island’s energy demand and its carbon footprint.
  • To manage population growth and constraints on growth. That is a global issue in its own right but we can’t shy away from this issue on a finite island. Population is a very key issue.
  • Solid waste management
  • Land use competition – with 62,000 people on an island of 24 square miles, there’s bound to be competition for a very valuable resource of land.
  • Maintaining sustainable practices – do we do that now?  There is commitment there.
  • Liquid waste management – the island is committed to do something about liquid waste
  • Climate change impacts – a major concern globally – we cannot shy away from that.  Many properties and businesses are at or very slightly above sea level so this has to be a concern for us.
  • Biodiversity and particularly the threats to the island’s countryside. This includes the coastal areas and the marine environment. Critically important to the island’s biodiversity and many of our most interesting habitats from a biodiversity point-of-view are on the coast or in the sea.

What does the plan say?

  • Consideration of our environment will be core to all policy decisions and actions the Environmental policy will be equal and not subservient to economic and social policy
  • Quality of our environment will be protected and enhanced.
  • Guernsey’s environment in 2030 will be better than it is in 2008. The island will respond in an environmentally sustainable way to local issues and existing and emerging global issues. Responsibility locally but also our place in the national and international community.
  • States of Guernsey committed to leading the community by good example. It is very difficult if you don’t walk the talk and practice what we preach.
  • Living within our environmental means – quite difficult to define that but there is a commitment to it.
  • Ensuring environmental issues are considered in all policy decisions and all policy decisions take due account of environmental issues. That is quite easy to overlook and that is part of my job advising the Policy Council of all States reports and it is very easy to overlook the environmental impacts or issues. It is far less easy to overlook social impacts and certainly fiscal and economic ones – and providing timely and factual information in order for people to make informed decisions. That is critical too. Our politicians make decisions. The expectation of the community is that these decisions are based on credible facts and good data.
  • Government doesn’t do everything itself – government aspires to do less things and not more things or working with partners is really critical to achieving lots of government objectives.

What are the priorities within the Environmental Policy Plan?

These are not in order.

  • Reduce our carbon footprint, and adapt to climate change.  These issues are very clearly recognised in the plan.
  • Protect our biodiversity and the countryside
  • Maintain our unique identity and heritage
  • Improve our management of our solid and liquid waste
  • Conserve energy use and switching to cleaner fuels
  • Promote sustainable practices
  • Review the island’s land use policies
  • Address issues associated with our changing population

The Environmental Policy Plan sets out to establish our desired outcomes – there are 26 at the moment and the are delivered through the annual Action Plans.

  • Guernsey’s environment in 2030 will be better than it is in 2008. That is clearly relevant to forest cover and tree cover on the island. People value trees in their own right quite apart from the biological value in terms of biodiversity and clean air.
  • Guernsey will be more self-sufficient.

The great expansion of consumerism after World War Two – no one really worried about self-sufficient but I think there is far more interest now if you look at the number of allotments and the amount of fruit and vegetables grown by people in their own gardens. This greater interest has fed into the plan.

  • Biodiversity will be healthier – that is clearly very relevant to tree cover and the floral of Guernsey.

Specific species and habitats requiring targeted action will have been identified and reported. Where a particular species or habitat is in trouble and you develop Action Plans to try to reverse that or stabilise it first and then reverse it.

What is very encouraging if we look elsewhere is that there are some stunning examples in the UK and across Europe where Biodiversity Action Plans have paid very handsome dividends in restoring damage that has been done in the past.

  • Maintaining our heritage and distinct character.
  • A reduction in air pollution – trees have a very significant role to play in that.

There’s an annual progress report debated by the States of Guernsey every year – this year it will be in October – where they consider progress on all three Policy Plans. The 2009 Progress Report was already published. The 2010 Progress Report is in draft and will be ready for debate in October.

In the current fiscal climate of restraint we have not seen additional resources flowing in to meet the commitments of the Environmental Policy Plan and that is resources in money or people so what is being done is being done by the departments and primarily the Environment Department from within their existing resources.

We cannot shy away from the fact that fiscally the island needs to be very prudent but that doesn’t mean that nothing can be done.

Progress is probably slower than all of us would like but there is a focus going in to the area where we don’t need resources at the moment. The Environment Department is progressing coastal defence flood studies, which should appear later this year. We have had a climate change workshop. We were very fortunate to get Roger Street, Technical Director of UKCIP, to talk to us about the sort of messages and the sort of mitigation that we need to be thinking about because obviously Guernsey is not on its own going to be able to reverse climate change.

As well as doing our bit internationally to address the problem we also have to deal with the consequences and think about how we manage that. You have to think about that in terms of trees, in terms of what species your planting, and how you look after them given the forecasts of what is very likely to happen with climate in the next few decades.

Of course the Public Services Department has continued, probably the most extensive public consultation I can recall on the solid waste management strategies. That is expected to come to the States before the end of this year.

I mentioned Sustainability and the increased interest and awareness of local food production. The Commerce and Employment Department and Environment are looking at how they can help people here with that both commercially – farmers and growers – but also smallholders and the general public with allotments too.

I am very pleased that the habitat survey originally done about a decade ago has been fully updated and that should be published as well so we will see the changes over the last decade.   I mentioned earlier how important it is for policy making to have good factual data.  The habitat survey is really very important in objectively establishing that has happened to the island’s habitats and from that you can infer what is happening to species as well.

An update to the plan will contain something about marine protection purely because several things are converging on us at the same time.  We know the French are talking with the UK about some quite ambitious and very rewarding marine nature park issues, which involve large areas of French territorial waters abutting right up to British territorial waters.  If we don’t get involved in that we run the significant risk of being completely bypassed and finding out what they have discussed and agreed sometime down the road so we are very keen to be involved in that process, and find out what they are planning, and learning more about our marine environment, which is hugely important.  We can expect significant changes there just as we can on the land.

That is what the Environment Policy Plan seeks to do.  It does get debated every year by the States of Guernsey.  There is full opportunity for a review of it and a review of the Action Plans, so if the States thinks there is not enough progress in these areas they can deploy more resources into it.  If they are happy with where it is going and the stated objectives for the next year then it will be left alone.

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