Committee demands evidence on Government’s claim of UK marine protection

09 May 2019

The Environmental Audit Committee published its sustainable seas report in January calling for action by Government to end the use of seas as a sewer, and criticising its ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach. Recommendations focused on tackling threats to marine life from climate change, overfishing and pollution – especially the risk of long-term harm from plastic pollution.

Today the Committee publishes the Government Response, alongside a letter to Environment Minister Therese Coffey asking for clarification on marine protection.

Chair's comments

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Mary Creagh MP said:

“Our inquiry heard that the Government is failing on UK marine protection, allowing harmful activities to take place through a lack of management and monitoring. We’re surprised the Government believes that not only has it surpassed an internationally agreed target to protect at least 10% of its coastal and marine areas, but that it’s done it ahead of schedule. What we’re asking is, where’s the evidence? It appears that the Government is doing little more than putting lines on a map, creating marine reserves that are ‘paper parks’, where fishing and dredging can still occur.

“We gave the Government a clear list of actions to prevent our seas being choked by plastics, chemicals and sewage. This week’s landmark report from the UN on the loss of species points to human activity in seas as one of the major culprits, and that 66% of the marine environment has been significantly altered by human actions.

“On climate change, our report called for Government to set out plans on how it would meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement. The Government said it would wait for advice from the Committee on Climate Change – who now say emissions can be cut to nearly zero by 2050. We want to see clear action from Government to deliver that.

“On plastic waste, the Government has missed an opportunity to lead on tackling it. A ban on single use plastic that can’t easily be recycled would send a clear message to industry. Instead the Government is allowing the industry to move at its own pace and hoping that reforms to packaging producer responsibility will sort out the problem.

“We’re disappointed that our call for a latte levy is ruled out. Instead of taking the lead, the Government has again passed the buck to business and industry to come up with their own plans.

“Deep sea mining is a new industry that risks causing catastrophic damage to marine habitats and sea life. We’re surprised and disappointed that the Government won’t commit to using its international influence to call for a moratorium on exploitation licences that threaten these fragile, unexplored ecosystems.”

Marine Conservation: call for clarification on Government Response

The EAC has called for clarification from Environment Minister Therese Coffey over a claim in the Government Response that it had surpassed an internationally agreed Aichi target to protect at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.
In a letter published today from EAC Chair Mary Creagh MP, she notes that evidence given to the inquiry disputes this.

t heard that areas the Government said were protected were not being “effectively managed” with very few having restrictions on harmful activities such as bottom trawling. The Government is asked to provide evidence to demonstrate that measures are in place to manage over 10% of the UK’s marine protected areas, and for information on monitoring that shows that conservation objectives have been met in these areas.

Sustainable Seas: Committee Recommendations and Government Response:

Climate Change – call for Government to set out plans to meet ambitions of Paris Agreement:

  • Government would await the Committee on Climate Change’s advice before setting a net zero target.
    Recommendations that Government has rejected or cited other actions being taken on:

Latte Levy – call for 25p levy on disposable coffee cups with all to be recycled by 2023

  • Government concluded a levy on all disposable cups would not deliver a ‘decisive shift’ from disposable to reusable cups.

Single use plastic – call for ban on single-use plastic packaging that is difficult or impossible to recycle

  • Government cites other steps being taken however accepts there could be cases where a ban would be appropriate as part of a wider approach.

Plastic waste – call to bring forward the 2042 target date to achieving zero avoidable plastic waste

  • Government is consulting on reforms to the packaging producer responsibility system. Businesses would need time to adapt operations however it recognised that in some areas it could and would move faster.

Deep sea mining – call for Government to rule-out deep sea mining for polymetallic sulfides/ seafloor massive sulfides found at active hydrothermal vents:

  • Government would push for transparent, science-based and environmentally sound regulation of seabed mining, while allowing UK businesses to realise commercial opportunities in this new industry.

Threat to oceans – call for legally-binding targets on water quality:

  • Government already has extensive targets in statute for the environment, including water quality, air quality and waste management.

Further information

Image: Chris Morgan/geograph/Creative Commons Licensed

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