The government must prove its claims that it is surpassing targets to protect Britain’s seas, says the House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC).
The UK government claims it has not only surpassed an internationally agreed target to protect at least 10% of its coastal and marine areas but done so ahead of its 2020 deadline.
However, the EAC has called for clarification from the government, saying that evidence it has heard suggests the UK is, in fact, failing to manage these areas effectively.
Chair of the EAC Mary Creagh 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.’
In its report, Sustainable Seas, the EAC recommended numerous actions the government should take to prevent the UK’s seas being polluted by climate change, over-fishing and pollution – especially plastic pollution.
Among its recommendations was the introduction of a ban on hard-to-recycle single-use plastics, saying it would send a ‘clear message’ to industry that plastic pollution would not be tolerated.
Recent research found that plastic pollution in the Firth of Forth in Scotland is much worse than had previously been believed, with over 70% of the pollution found consisting of marine life-threatening microplastics.
The government rejected the EAC’s suggestion, saying it believes that shifting responsibility to plastic producers through forthcoming legislation will be sufficient.
‘We expect our proposed reforms of packaging producer responsibility, alongside initiatives from industry, to eliminate from use the most problematic and difficult to recycle plastic packaging,’ the government’s response said.
It then admitted: ‘There may, however, be times when a ban is appropriate as part of a wider strategic approach.’
The EAC has expressed its concern that the government has ‘missed an opportunity’ to lead on tackling plastic waste.
Other EAC suggestions the government ruled out included the introduction of a 25p ‘latte levy’ on disposable coffee cups and a moratorium on deep sea mining.
The government will soon publish its International Ocean Strategy which will outline how it plans to drive global action to conserve the world’s oceans.
This will support its wider-ranging Environment Bill which is also set to be introduced later this year.