Working towards a sustainable environment

A coalition of MPs hailing from across the political spectrum have launched a new strategy detailing key policy actions they will take to champion ocean conservation, shortly after the Government’s Marine Strategy was branded a “spectacular failure” by green groups.

The strategy was launched by MPs Steve Double (centre) and Geraint Davies (left)

The strategy was launched by MPs Steve Double (centre) and Geraint Davies (left)

Launched to coincide with World Environment Day on Wednesday (5 June), the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ocean Conservation’s three-year strategy touts plastic pollution, water quality, climate change and marine protected areas as the four most pressing sustainability challenges facing Britain’s seas.

It commits members of the APPG to tackle these issues using a two-pronged approach; firstly by raising awareness across the House of Lords, House of Commons, the business community and general public and, secondly, by championing “positive and viable” solutions through progressive legislation.

Published to mark the renaming of the group from the Protect Our Waves APPG, the strategy also states that members of the coalition will hold central Government to account as it develops, implements and enforces green legislation surrounding beaches and oceans.

This facet of the strategy comes after conservation and environmental lobby groups heavily criticised the government’s revised UK Marine Strategy, published in May, claiming that it failed to meet the requirements of the UN’s biodiversity report on immediate action to prevent mass extinction of species and habitats.

The strategy additionally lays out a series of recommendations which central Government should take to back up the APPG’s own work, including the inclusion of legally binding and time-bound commitments around marine environments in the upcoming Environment Bill; the introduction of a national deposit-return scheme for plastic bottles and the creation of more, and larger, marine reserves. The Government last week created 41 new marine conservation zones covering an area of around twice England’s size, but the APPG claims that this ambition will need to be scaled up.

A further key recommendation of the strategy is for the Office of Environmental Protection (OEP), the UK’s independent post-Brexit watchdog, to have the power to hold Government and business to account over progress on ocean-related legislation. Under current proposals, the OEP will have the power to take businesses, public bodies and the Government to court over any breaches of environmental law, but not to issue fines, call senior representatives to attend Government hearings or place non-compliant organisations into ‘special measures’.

Speaking at the launch of the strategy in Westminster, the Ocean Conservation APPG’s chair Steve Double MP said the publication of the framework comes at a time of “unstoppable momentum” for strengthening environmental action, amid strings of ‘Climate Emergency’ declarations and green protests.

“We’re at a point now where no political party would dare now support addressing climate change, reducing plastic and protecting our oceans – but the next few years are going to be critical,” Double said.

“We need to establish, irreversibly, in our society and in our legislation, measures which make sure we deliver positive change at scale. We’ll collaborate with civil society, academics, businesses, communities and anyone else who wants to work with us, to explore the challenges we face and find the solutions we need to better protect our marine environment.”

The launch of the strategy, co-developed by marine conservation charity Surfers Against Sewage, comes shortly after the Government’s own research found that the UK has only met four out of 15 indicators required for healthy oceans. Outside of the Government, it has garnered support from the likes of former Arsenal star Mathieu Flamini, biologist and BBC presenter Professor Alice Roberts and groups such as Greenpeace and A Plastic Planet. 

Sarah George