UK must support ‘Paris agreement for the sea’ to protect global oceans, say MPs

British waters are being treated ‘like a sewer’, Environmental Audit Committee says

Josh Gabbatiss
Science Correspondent
Thursday 17 January 2019 01:00 GMT
Wave of floating plastic in Dominican Republic shows extent of ocean pollution

British seas are being treated “like a sewer”, polluted by an endless stream of plastics, untreated waste and farming effluent, MPs have warned.

In a damning new report, the Environmental Audit Committee has laid out the dangers facing the nation’s oceans and what needs to be done to address them.

Besides pollution, climate change, overfishing and deep sea mining are all threatening marine ecosystems and the trillions of pounds they deliver to the economy, the report states.

The UK is responsible for an area of ocean roughly 30 times the size of the country itself, but the committe accused ministers of “sea blindness” when it comes to tackling marine environmental problems.

Besides taking action to protect its national waters, it said Britain should leverage its international clout to push for a legally-binding “Paris agreement for the sea”.

Urgent domestic action will also be necessary, with more ambitious targets both to achieve zero avoidable plastic waste and to completely decarbonise the economy in a bid to avert devastating climate change.

“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,” said committee chair and Labour MP Mary Creagh. “The government’s ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude on the seas must change.”

More than 80 per cent of the pollution that ends up in the sea comes from the land, and the MPs called for more stringent measures to cut off this flow.

These included bans on unrecyclable plastic packaging and legally binding targets for water quality to cut chemical pollution draining into the seas.

“Our government has repeatedly stated its desire to lead the world in ocean protection, and this report outlines exactly how to do that,” said Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK.

As well as cutting plastic, Mr McCallum said “strong international leadership” on marine issues like Antarctic Ocean sanctuaries would be vital.

Previous efforts to protect areas of the ocean such as the Weddell Sea have proved unsuccessful, suggesting a more concerted global effort is required.

Project to clean up the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch" unable to collect plastic

A network of non governmental organisations known as the High Seas Alliance has been campaigning for a Paris agreement-style deal that would have the power to create and protect huge marine protected zones.

The committee said the government should mobilise the highest levels of government, including the foreign secretary, and the UK’s position as chair of the Commonwealth to push for these measures.

Responding to the report, a government 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.”

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