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The North Sea is under pressure - political leadership urgently required


The House of Lords EU Committee has today called for a Ministerial Conference of North Sea countries to ensure a holistic approach is developed to managing the environmental challenges and economic opportunities in the North Sea. The Conference must deliver the urgently needed strategic and political vision to sustain the North Sea and secure it for future generations.

The Committee found that the North Sea is under increasing pressure from human activity, and the conflicting demands of preserving the sea and its biodiversity on the one hand and pressure for ‘blue growth' which seeks to harness the economic potential of the North Sea on the other. 

The recommendations come in the Committee's report on EU regional marine co-operation. The Committee have been looking at the challenges to effective management of the North Sea and identify a number of key issues and opportunities that must be addressed. These include:

  • The UK government should produce a long term strategic plan for the North Sea along the lines of the Dutch North Sea 2050 Agenda.
  • Cross-border energy co-operation in the North Sea has enormous potential. However, regulatory barriers remain and the Committee conclude that should the UK Government and other coastal states wish to achieve the objective of a meshed energy grid, they should work together on a pilot project.
  • There is no single map or database plotting the myriad users of the North Sea. There is no shortage of data but it is collected by a range of different agencies which can waste resources and mean the data is not used effectively. The Committee call for a single cross-border data collection initiative and say the new European Marine Observation and Data Network should take on this role.
  • English Local Authorities should play a bigger role in stewardship of the North Sea by joining the North Sea Commission. 34 regions from eight countries around the North Sea participate in the work of the Commission but only one English local Authority is a member compared to seven Scottish authorities and 13 from Norway. The Government and Local Government Association should look into ways to support authorities who wish to join the Commission but are deterred by the financial contribution required.
  • Funding of the extremely valuable, but under-resourced, North Sea fisheries Advisory Council should be reviewed by the Commission. The Committee also recommends that the UK Government consider how it may be able to contribute additional resources to enable the North Sea Advisory Council to fulfil its obligations.

Commenting, Baroness Scott, Chair of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy, said:

“The North Sea is one of the most industrialised seas in the world. We already have ships queuing to pass through sections of the sea basin and it is predicted that the space allocated to wind farms could increase fifty-fold in the next few years. That level of use places significant pressure on eco-systems in the North Sea.

“If the North Sea is left uncoordinated, the conflict between environmental sustainability and economic growth will intensify. To avoid that, and to strike the right balance, we will need a coordinated and strategic approach. Despite some excellent ad hoc initiatives, we do not feel that such an approach is in place at the moment.

“We want the UK Government to take the lead in convening a Ministerial Conference of North Sea states to deliver the urgently needed strategic and political vision for the North Sea. We also think the Government should think harder about developing our own long term plan for the North Sea along the lines of the Dutch 2050 agenda.

“There is also a role for local authorities to play in stewardship of the North Sea and ensuring opportunities for economic growth in their region are not missed. We were surprised to learn that only one English local authority takes part in the North Sea Commission compared to seven in Scotland. There are clearly financial implications attached to membership, and we understand that times are hard for local authorities so we think the Government and the Local Government Association should look at how local authorities can be supported to play an active role in the North Sea Commission.”

You can watch a YouTube video of Baroness Scott talking the Committee's key recommendations.

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