The House of Commons’ Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) has urged the government to enter a legally binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’ to protect marine areas akin to the UN climate change accord.
A report released by the EAC last week, Sustainable Seas, which focuses on how the government should react to threats to marine life, concluded that the UK’s economy should be decarbonised rapidly with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
MPs expressed concerns that the UK does not currently understand the potential risks to seas caused by plastic pollution, quoting the government’s chief scientific adviser’s admission that ‘[it hasn’t] looked hard enough’ into the long-term impact.
Environmental Audit Committee chair Mary Creagh said: ‘Our children deserve to experience the wonders of the ocean but climate change poses a triple whammy of threats from ocean warming, deoxygenation and acidification, which are decimating marine life.’
‘The government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude on the seas must change. We are calling on the government to push for the creation of a legally-binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’ to protect the world’s oceans.’
The EAC expressed particular concern about the effect of plastic pollution on the seas, finding that plastic ocean pollution is set to treble in the next 10 years.
The committee recommended that the UK’s target date for achieving zero avoidable plastic waste, currently 2042, should be brought forward to prevent plastic clogging up the seas.
Other actions the EAC has urged the government to take to tackle plastic pollution include banning plastic packaging that is difficult to recycle, ensuring that all disposable coffee cups can be recycled by 2023, and stopping the export of contaminated waste and recycling.
Creagh added: ‘We have to stop treating our seas as a sewer. Plastics, chemicals, and sewage are choking our oceans, polluting our water and harming every ocean species from plankton to polar bears.’
‘Supporting Indonesia and Malaysia to reduce plastic while simultaneously exporting our contaminated plastics to them shows the lack of a joined-up approach at the heart of the Government’s strategy.’
Elsewhere in the report, the EAC recommended the introduction of legally binding targets on water quality which match existing EU standards as well as a moratorium on deep-sea mining, which it said can have a ‘catastrophic’ impact on seafloor species and habitats.
Defra responded to the report claiming that the UK is already leading the way when it comes to meeting its ocean protection obligations.
However, the department accepted that there is still plenty of work that needs to be done.
A Defra spokesperson said: ‘The UK is already a global leader in protecting our seas and oceans. We have recently proposed 41 new Marine Conservation zones, led calls to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030, and we are going further and faster to tackle the plastic that harms marine life with our ambitious Resources and Waste Strategy.’
The government will soon publish an International Ocean Strategy to drive global action to conserve the world’s oceans.