Seas and Oceans: Climate Change

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs written question – answered on 29th July 2020.

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Photo of The Marquess of Lothian The Marquess of Lothian Conservative

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to work with international partners to protect oceans and seas from the impact (1) of rising temperatures, (2) of melting sea ice, and (3) of the depletion of fish stocks.

Photo of Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park The Minister of State, Department for International Development, The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Minister of State

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate provides the definitive assessment of climate change impacts on the ocean and cryosphere (icecaps). It shows that many of the changes that have taken place, such as ocean warming and the melting of sea ice, will continue if greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions continue. Accelerated and ambitious global GHG reductions are critical to reduce the impact of climate change on the ocean, alongside protecting our marine environment to build greater resilience.

As incoming president of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26, the UK is committed to engaging with international partners, encouraging every country to develop ambitious new Nationally Determined Contributions to limit emissions. The UK is also engaging with Parties through the UNFCCC Ocean Dialogue on how to strengthen mitigation and adaptation action for the ocean under the Convention.

The UK is encouraging countries to join the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance, in support of a new Convention on Biological Diversity target to protect at least 30% of the global ocean within marine protected areas and other effective conservation measures by 2030. Scientific evidence indicates effective protection of at least 30% of the global ocean will help to reverse adverse impacts, preserve fish populations, increase resilience to climate change and sustain ocean health. There are currently 25 members of the Global Ocean Alliance from across the globe.

Through our Blue Belt programme, we are on track to protect 4 million square kilometres of ocean around the UK mainland and Overseas Territories within MPAs by 2020.

On the depletion of fish stocks, the UK has always been a strong advocate for setting harvest rates at or below a stock's maximum sustainable yield (MSY), to progress over-exploited stocks towards MSY and restore them to healthy conditions as quickly as possible, both through international agreements and in negotiations over catch limits for stocks of interest to UK fishers.

The Fisheries Bill provides the legal framework for making progress towards MSY in its precautionary objective (clause 1) and further details about how the fisheries administrations will achieve sustainable fishing will be outlined in the legally binding Joint Fisheries Statement and Fisheries Management Plans.

As we leave the EU, the UK will take its seat in regional fisheries management organisations and engage proactively with international counterparts, driving forward a sustainability agenda and helping to ensure sustainable management of high seas fisheries as an independent coastal state. The UK also plays a leading role in the global fight to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

The UK is also engaging internationally on science. For example, we are collaborating on research on the changes in the arctic ocean through a £16 million National Environmental Research Council funded programme and we will be participating in the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-30), which through international collaboration will target a number of societal and research outcomes, including how climate change affects the ocean and coastal communities.

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