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Sewage: Seas and Oceans

Question for Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

UIN 141594, tabled on 21 January 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, whether he has made an assessment of the implications for his policies of the January 2021 Surfers Against Sewage, Ocean & Climate Report; and if he will make a statement.

Answered on

2 February 2021

The work carried out by Surfers Against Sewage on their Ocean & Climate Report provides a timely reminder of the urgent need to reduce emissions and the importance of nature-based solutions in our response to climate change and biodiversity loss.

The most effective thing we can do to reduce the impacts of climate change on the ocean is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The UK government has therefore set a legally binding target to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Internationally, 2021 is a critical year for the ocean, climate and nature. We are committed to working closely with our partners to drive a recognition of the linkages between the ocean, climate and biodiversity. We will use our COP26 Presidency to secure ambitious emission reductions and drive action on the Leaders' Pledge for Nature commitments, recognising the role of nature-based solutions in building resilience and adapting to the impacts of climate change, as well as supporting mitigation.

At the recent One Planet Summit, the UK accepted the position as Ocean Co-Chair of the High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People and between this and the UK-led Global Ocean Alliance we now have over 60 countries supporting a target to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 as part of our aim for an ambitious and transformational post-2020 global biodiversity framework for adoption at the 15th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP 15).

Together with Vanuatu, the UK Government is driving forward ambitious action to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean through the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (CCOA), a growing group of 34 Commonwealth member states. To support the ambitions of CCOA, the UK Government has committed up to £70 million to boost global research and support developing countries to stop plastic waste from entering the ocean in the first place. Through one of our UK Aid programmes, the Global Plastic Action Partnership, the UK is working in partnership with Indonesia, Ghana, Vietnam and Nigeria to stem the tide of plastics entering in the ocean.

The UK has also committed to launch a £500m Blue Planet Fund, financed from official development assistance (ODA), to protect the ocean and reduce poverty in developing countries.

In November 2020 the UK announced its support to start negotiations on a new global agreement at the United Nations Environment Assembly that will create the system change required to tackle increasing levels of marine plastic litter and microplastics.

The UK is also taking action domestically to avoid further irreversible impacts to the ocean from climate change and biodiversity loss.

The protection, restoration and management of the marine environment are central to objectives in the 25 Year Environment Plan and the UK Marine Strategy on clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas that are managed sustainably. We already have 38% of UK waters in Marine Protected Areas and our focus is ensuring these are effectively protected.

We have stated our intention to pilot Highly Protected Marine Areas in Secretary of State waters and we look forward to publishing the Government's response to Richard Benyon's review in due course.

The Fisheries Act 2020 protects our marine environment and develops plans to restore our fish stocks back to more sustainable levels.

As part of our commitment to ocean recovery we are supporting coastal and estuarine restoration projects, including blue carbon habitats. The £80 million Green Recovery Challenge Fund will help environmental organisations start work now on restoration projects across England, including the inshore marine environment.

Our new Storm Overflows Taskforce is bringing together government, the water industry, regulators and environmental NGOs to work urgently on options to tackle sewage pollution issues.

As announced on 22 January, and welcomed by Surfers Against Sewage, this Taskforce has agreed a long-term goal to eliminate harm from storm overflows.

Water companies have also agreed to make real-time data on sewage discharges available at bathing sites all year round. This data will be made available to help surfers, swimmers and other recreational water users to check the latest information and make informed choices on where to swim.

We recognise there is more that needs to be done beyond providing more and better information, and so we will continue to work with the industry to reduce frequency and harm of discharges from storm overflows.