Rishi Sunak's Ocean Pledge: One-Year On and the Course Ahead
As we celebrate the one-year anniversary of Conservative Friends of the Ocean successfully signing up the Prime Minister to our "Ocean Pledge," it is important to reflect on the progress made and the challenges that lie ahead. This pledge, which aimed to protect our oceans and support coastal communities, has seen significant advancements, but there is still much work to be done.
1) Recommitting to achieving 30by30 protection of UK waters:
Central to our Ocean Pledge was the unwavering commitment to achieving 30% protection of UK waters by 2030. This ambitious target is paramount in safeguarding marine biodiversity and securing the long-term health of our oceans. Since the pledge, the government has made commendable strides toward this goal, exemplified by the establishment of the first Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMAs) in three locations. It is now imperative that we maintain our ambition and designate additional HPMAs, which serve as vital sanctuaries, allowing key habitats and fish populations to recover and thrive.
2) Tackling pollution discharges into UK rivers and seas:
The Ocean Pledge also emphasised the importance of holding water companies accountable for pollution discharges into UK rivers and seas, recognising the significant threat it poses to marine ecosystems and coastal communities. The government has taken credible actions in this regard, demonstrating their commitment to addressing this issue. Examples include speeding up water company investment worth £1.6 billion, creating a new “Water Restoration Fund” backed by water company fines, and scrapping the cap on civil penalties meaning that those that pollute the environment will face unlimited penalties. These steps forward are undoubtedly positive, however, it is crucial to go further and take action to eliminate storm overflows in high-priority wildlife sites. By doing so, we can make a significant contribution towards meeting the Environment Act's target of halting the decline in species abundance by 2030, safeguarding our precious ecosystems for future generations.
3) Supporting British coastal communities through levelling up and investment:
Supporting the growth and development of coastal communities is crucial, given their significant role in our economy and culture. Our Ocean Pledge highlighted the importance of investing in these communities, and the government has made notable progress in this regard, particularly through the establishment of Freeports. This represents a significant milestone in the government's mission to “level up” across the country. These Freeports offer a range of benefits that drive economic growth and prosperity. By providing tax reliefs, simplified customs procedures, and streamlined regulations, Freeports create an environment where businesses and residents can thrive, attracting investment, generating jobs, and fostering innovation. This, in turn, revitalises local economies, promotes sustainable development, and creates high-quality employment opportunities in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Going forward, it is crucial to maintain sustained investment and targeted support to ensure the long-term prosperity of these communities.
4) Having the sea at the heart of UK climate policy:
Recognising the importance of marine energy sources and blue carbon stores, the Ocean Pledge urged the government to prioritise the sea in UK climate and policy. The government has taken impressive steps in this direction, notably by embracing marine energy sources such as offshore wind. The government's target to increase offshore capacity from 13.7GW to 50GW by 2030, would see the share of offshore wind in the UK’s energy mix jump from 18% to a staggering 62%. This commitment is a welcome stride towards reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and achieving our net-zero targets. However, to realise this ambitious goal, we must collectively address several challenges. According to experts, the delivery of an additional 24 wind farms, each with an average capacity of 1.5GW, within the next seven years is essential. To make this possible, we need to explore innovative ways to reduce the cost of developing new wind farms, expedite the planning and permitting processes, secure a robust supply chain, and upgrade network infrastructure to accommodate the substantial growth in power flows and grid connections.
5) Leading internationally on taking action against illegal and unregulated fishing:
Illegal and unregulated fishing pose significant threats to marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of coastal communities worldwide. The Ocean Pledge urged the UK to take a leading role in combating these practices. The government has made positive steps in this area, such as signing up to the “Fishing Action Alliance Pledge”. The pledge commits members to:
Joining and implementing international agreements effectively to combat IUU fishing.
Strengthening Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) systems, including capacity
Enhancing transparency, data sharing, and traceability in the seafood supply chain to
It’s encouraging to witness the UK aligning with fellow pledge members, including the US, EU, and Canada, to spearhead these efforts against illegal and unregulated fishing. We eagerly look forward to further action to combat this destructive industry that has also been linked to serious organised crime such as drug and people smuggling, labour abuses, and modern-day slavery.
As we mark the one-year anniversary of Rishi Sunak's commitment to our Ocean Pledge, it is evident that substantial strides have been made which should be celebrated. Yet, there remains a pressing need for the government to further safeguard our oceans and support coastal communities.
Therefore, as we reflect on the progress over the last year, we call on the Prime Minister to renew his commitment to our oceans. By continuing to champion these vital issues and implement resolute measures, we can chart a course to a sustainable future, where our oceans and coastal communities thrive together.