Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence

Memorandum 34

Submission from WWF-UK


  1.  With increasing pressures on our seas from the effects of climate change and the use of marine resources, it is essential that adequate marine science is available to inform the management of the UK marine environment and the decision making process in general.

  2.  Currently, there are crucial gaps in UK marine science which hinder policy formation—ranging from insufficient data on ocean acidification to the identification of marine sites for protection. In addition, the pace with which marine science is presented to inform policy is too slow when compared to the rate at which man-made change is impacting on the environment.

  3.  WWF is calling for:

    —    A more concerted and structured effort by the scientific community to produce speedier scientific conclusions that are suitable for decision making;

    —    Adequate and increased funding for research which maintains its independence from economic vested interests; and

    —    Greater and urgent research into marine changes such as ocean acidification, the potential for the oceans to exacerbate climate change and for more information to identify marine areas in need of protection.


  4.  WWF is the world's largest and most experienced independent conservation organisation. We work in more than 90 countries to stop the degradation of the planet and to build a future in which humans can live in harmony with nature. WWF-UK is working to reduce our human ecological footprint so that we can start to live within the carrying capacity of one planet—we call this One Planet Living.

  5.  When it comes to policy in the marine environment, the ecosystem based approach is a tool to delivering "One Planet Living". The marine ecosystem based approach represents a more strategic way of managing our seas. It places the emphasis on a marine management regime that maintains the health of the marine ecosystem alongside appropriate human use of the marine environment for the benefit of current and future generations.

  6.  WWF specifically works on achieving the long-term sustainable recovery and management of fish stocks, the need for a new Marine Act to introduce a planning system to properly manage the UK marine environment and to protect marine wildlife and the need to reduce carbon emissions from land and marine activities to mitigate climate change.

  7.  Fundamental to our work, however, is credible and timely science with which to inform policy. WWF's submission, therefore, addresses the current gaps in and constraints on marine science in the UK.



  8.  The production of scientific conclusions needs to keep up with the changes in the marine environment. Organisational change and greater inter-disciplinary cross-over is required to achieve this. In addition, policy makers must use the best available science to act when urgency is required.

  9.  An ecosystem based management system for our seas is essential for the sustainable use of marine resources and for the protection of marine wildlife. Managing one aspect and use of the marine environment in isolation can lead to unintended and counterproductive outcomes. Fundamental to avoiding this is the need for inter-disciplinary science to assess cumulative and synergistic (combined) impacts on the environment, leading to an assessment of the full impacts on an ecosystem with which to inform policy decisions. Many scientific institutions and studies, however, sit in silos. Even those institutions which cover a range of disciplines, keep them in separate sections, chapters or studies. The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEAs) for oil and gas development in the UK, for example, needs to be improved to address the cumulative impacts on the environment. The challenge, therefore, is to encourage proper linkages across scientific research in order to take the wider picture and fullest assessment.

  10.  It is essential if science is to inform the policy making process that its findings are as up to date as possible. Modern society and technology run at a far faster pace than ever before, with a corresponding changing impact on the environment including our seas, and it is now necessary for reforms to the organisation of science to keep apace. The changes in the marine environment are happening faster than science can report them due to the procedures and standard practices set up over decades of methodical science, which relies upon lengthy processes to ensure its credibility. Climate change and its impact on the marine environment, for example, are progressing incredibly rapidly, and we do not understand the processes adequately to predict significant changes before they occur. In some cases, we are just reporting regime shifts (huge change in ecosystem dynamics) that occurred nearly 20 years ago. The risk is, with the current mechanisms in place, science will observe and record the degradation of the marine environment as decades pass.

  11.  In these circumstances where urgent mitigation and adaptation is required, a more rapid process for engaging with the available science is needed. An emerging and dynamic approach is to organise forums of scientific experts to resolve differences of opinion (through an assessment of uncertainty and probabilities) in order to produce a quicker scientific consensus. As such, real time data can be utilised also. This approach can also help with the beneficial fusion of science and policy. By including policy makers in these forums, decision makers can access and put key questions to the experts and view the state of the science. They can also advise on what further research is most relevant to developing the policy process and better understand how to set policy while some uncertainty remains.

  12.  Crucial to this approach, however, is that decision makers engage with this "early signs science" (best available science) and act on the basis of the precautionary principle. Further research should be undertaken but this should not be an excuse not to act. The use of fisheries science is a case in point. Scientific advice by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), for a zero catch for cod in the North Sea has been ignored by the EU Fisheries Council for the past five years. Indeed, for the past 15 years, political pressure has led to quotas being set an average of 30% above the recommendations made by ICES and fish stocks, notably cod, have to yet to recover. Regardless of how much science is undertaken, therefore, it will be next to useless if the best available advice is not followed by policy-makers.

  13.  WWF Recommends that:

    —    Greater interdisciplinary science is encouraged on the full array of inputs into the marine environment to inform better management.

    —    Scientific uncertainty, with regards to changes in the marine environment, is addressed more quickly through forums of experts so as better to inform the policy making process.



  14.  WWF believes that funding for marine science should not be reduced at a time when the marine environment is increasingly being affected by climate change and the pressure for resources. In addition it is vital that scientific research is able to maintain an independence from economic influences.

  15.  It is critical that the core of UK science is centrally funded by government and to an adequate level. WWF is deeply concerned about the impact that recent cuts in research budgets is having and the knock on effects of cuts elsewhere on the marine research agenda. In the 2006-07 financial year the originally agreed budgets for the Environment Agency, Natural England and the Marine Fisheries Agency were cut by £23.7 million (5%), £12.9 million (7%) and £1.7 million (7%) respectively. The Centre for Ecology and Hydrology also suffered losses. The lack of funding for marine research has meant that the Joint Nature Conservation Committee is unable to monitor the Darwin Mounds which has been proposed as a Special Area for Conservation (SAC). The JNCC have taken measures, through the CFP, to protect the rare and important cold water corals on this site, but are unable to monitor and evaluate the success of their management regime or the conservation status of this site. In addition, the loss of funding for the long standing science facility in the Isle of Man at Port Erin is a significant blow.

  16.  Additionally, the move to introduce market forces into sections of institutions, such as the Met Office and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) has the potential to detrimentally affect research and science by affecting its focus and independence. The Royal Society, for example, in September 2006 expressed its deep concern over the impact that industry based research was having on the climate change debate, in particular ExxonMobil's influence on science. The standards of science in the UK, particularly on climate change issues, and in the marine environment, have been exemplary and of high repute in the international arena. Changes to the funding base of UK science could, therefore, put this reputation and the science itself at risk.

  17.  While the core of UK science should be funded by Government there is a role for additional funding—if properly managed. As much of the science needed today is to understand and predict the impacts of industry on the environment, and to develop technologies to avoid, reduce and remedy these impacts, it seems realistic that industrial funding for science is appropriate. Ocean acidification, noise and water pollution are all areas where further research on industrial impacts on the marine environment are required.

  18.  However, due to the reasons of scientific independence described above, it would be better if this additional funding was managed through a research levy on those industries that are having a particularly detrimental impact on the marine environment. The funds from the levy would be administered through an independent organisation which would then finance research into industry related impacts and solutions. This would be in addition to the independent research agendas that each industry might like to pursue. This is one way of adopting the polluter pays principle and of increasing funds.

  19.  WWF Recommends:

    —    Reversing cuts to the budget of UK marine science;

    —    Ensuring the independence of scientific research; and

    —    A levy on industry adversely impacting on the marine ecosystem to fund research into the solutions.



  20.  Marine science around the poles must be extended in breadth and depth with the full range of plausible future scenarios investigated.

  21.  WWF is extremely concerned about the systems in the poles which will affect the rest of the world as climate change progresses. The extent of sea level rise which can be produced from the poles needs addressing and measurements and predictive techniques need to be further developed. Modelling needs to be updated with field observations and the full range of possible scenarios need to be explored and used when deciding the scale of mitigation needed.

  22.  The seas around the Arctic have already warmed by 4°C in some areas, and by 2080 the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2005) predicts that the central Arctic Ocean winter temperatures will have risen 8-9°C. The polar and marine sciences need to be developed so that politicians know what the polar areas will look like and what protection (from fishing/hunting, oil and gas exploitation and shipping) they will require as they respond to climate changes. Some changes will lead to further pressure on the region, if exploited. How potential additional oil and gas development and increased shipping in the polar regions (due to retreating ice) will affect the area directly, but also how they may further exacerbate climate change itself, must be researched.

  23.  WWF Recommends:

    —    That the full range of plausible future scenarios and uses for the poles should be investigated to determine what impact on the wider environment they may have.



  24.  While progress has been made on the impact of climate change on the marine environment, more is required. In addition, research is urgently required into the impact that changes in the marine environment could have on accelerating climate change—so called positive feedbacks mechanisms.

  25.  WWF helps fund the Marine Climate Change Impact Partnership, and also produced an Assessment of the Impacts of Climate Change on the NE Atlantic shelf seas in 2005 (Baker, 2005). Both of these studies, and others, helped start the process of understanding the impacts of climate change in the UK Seas. This work must be rapidly increased with a step change in the scientific understanding, particularly, in the cumulative impacts of the predicted changes, and in the context of other human pressures, such as over fishing. The UK should also be studying the impacts of marine climate change in overseas territories, Commonwealth Seas and the wider marine environment.

  26.  Ocean acidification is an impact from CO2 which is additional to climate change. The marine environment has absorbed roughly half the CO2 produced by industrial processes to date. This has been to the detriment of the seas, as the CO2 is forming carbonic acid and is making the seas more acidic. Within the next few decades, the seas are predicted to be more acidic than in the past 20 million years (see slide in annexe). More acidic seas are predicted to have impacts upon many marine organisms, eg some plankton and corals and other organisms which require a calcium shell to protect themselves. Cold water corals in UK waters are particularly vulnerable and predicted by the Royal Society to be likely to be lost due to acidification within decades (Royal Society, 2005). Research and monitoring science in the UK and internationally, therefore, is desperately needed into the impacts of this process on coral reefs, plankton and fish species. These species form the basis of ecosystems which are the main source of protein for a billion people (UN Atlas of the Oceans).

  27.  Of vital importance is better research into the impacts of the oceans on climate change. The ways the seas and climate interact are changing and several mechanisms exist which have the potential for the oceans to exacerbate climate change itself. One example is the huge reserves of methane hydrates in marine and coastal areas. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, being 20 times more so than CO2, and represents a huge potential feedback mechanism to climate change from our seas and coasts. Estimates vary, but there are thought to be total global methane hydrate reserves that correspond to 500-2,500 gigatonnes carbon (GtC) (Milkov 2004). By comparison, it is estimated that 5,000 GtC exist for all other fossil fuel reserves and only 230 GtC of other natural gas sources are estimated to exist (Milkov 2004, USGS 2000). The permafrost methane reservoir has been estimated at about 400 GtC in the Arctic (MacDonald, 1990), but no estimates have been made of possible Antarctic reservoirs.

  28.  To be stable, methane hydrates need high pressure or low temperatures. In the Arctic region, methane is being released as ecosystems warm and as sea levels rise. Huge lenses of methane hydrate ice crystals exist underneath the permafrost. Coastal areas are vulnerable to warmer waters rising and melting the methane ice crystals from below and it is thought that some reserves are already beginning to mobilise and release to atmosphere (pers comm., David Long, British Geological Survey, 2006). WWF has been unable to find adequate evidence of research into the level and nature of this feedback and any efforts to research into solutions. This is a vital area for research which the UK Government should develop rapidly, in partnership with other nations and industry as industry hold many of the tools and expertise for measuring and responding to methane hydrate release. The release must be measured and studied. Prevention should be studied, and where release is inevitable the best practicable environmental option should be employed to prevent methane causing rapid global warming, as it is thought to have done in the past.

  29.  Other major potential feedback mechanisms exist in the marine environment, including changes to cloud formation and changes to the transport of heat from the tropics to the poles. These need to be better understood and built into the modelling processes carried out to predict future scenarios for climate change. Many current climate models do not include some of the major feedback mechanisms and, consequently, may underestimate the climate change scenarios which are likely.

  30.  Finally, fish stocks throughout the world, are likely to be affected in differing ways by climate change impacts. Changes in the distribution of some species are already reported, with further changes anticipated. The productivity of some fish stocks is predicted to increase, and to decrease in others. The effects of environmental change brought about by climate change on stocks is amplified by the primary pressure of over-fishing. Over-fishing not only leads to declining stocks but removes the larger, older individuals that may be better able to buffer environmental variation. The combined impacts of over-fishing, climate change and acidification are considerable, and of major concern to the future of our fisheries and the people who rely upon this important food source. Therefore, fisheries management needs to account for these changes, and fishing levels potentially reduced or changed strategically in response to this added pressure on stocks to support future economic returns from the fishing industry. WWF advocates that greater research is carried out into the sustainable management of fish stocks in the changing climate where the UK and EU fish in the NE Atlantic, Arctic and through Access agreements.

  31.  WWF Recommends:

    —    Much greater research into the impact of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions on the marine environment, including ocean acidification.

    —    Urgent scientific study of potential marine changes that could accelerate climate change.

    —    Further research into sustainable fish management in light of climate change and the development of policies to respond to this.



  32.  At present there are no marine sites of special scientific interest below the low water mark and no mechanism for establishing them. Protected marine sites have the potential to act as scientific baselines from which to measure changes in the wider marine environment. Scientific knowledge for establishing protected marine areas that are representative of the UK's marine biodiversity and habitats, however, is lacking for offshore sites.

  33.  The UK is a contracting party to the Oslo-Paris (OSPAR) Convention which requires signatories to designate an "ecologically coherent" network of nationally important marine protected areas by 2010. The UK Government is also committed to introducing a Marine Act, which would enable the designation of marine protected areas (MPAs).

  34.  The criteria to establish sites of special scientific interest provide a sound basis for selection of areas to protect terrestrial and inter-tidal biodiversity. At present there is no mechanism to designate marine sites of special scientific interest below the low water mark. WWF believes a mechanism to designate and manage nationally important marine sites of scientific interest are required under the Marine Act. This must also include a mechanism to designate areas which are highly protected and closed to human activities.

  35.  Highly protected marine reserves have been used in areas of the world as a scientific baseline on which to monitor and measure impacts of human activities and climate change. At present in the UK, all sites can be affected by human activities such as chemical, radioactive and noise pollution. A suite of highly protected areas are, therefore, urgently needed to inform science of changes in the marine environment, and to ensure greater resilience of the marine ecosystem to impacts such as water quality, fishing and habitat damage which are exacerbated by climate change.

  36.  With the approach of the Marine Bill and the prospect of marine protected areas, there is a clear need for better research into what areas should be protected, including how to achieve an ecologically coherent network of protected areas by 2010 as required by the OSPAR agreement. To inform this process WWF commissioned a report from the Marine Biological Association to best identify marine biodiversity hotspots, launched in January 2007. The report trialled the analysis of extensive benthic data sets using different "hotspot" measurements and gathering expert knowledge to identify potential areas of marine national importance. The unevenness in the data sets and unavailability of other data, due to commercial confidentiality, prevented an objective comparative analysis.

  37.  To address the gaps in our knowledge of what marine wildlife is where:

    —    Many more datasets need to be accessed, including data collected during a development consent process.

    —    A minimum standard applied to marine biological survey methods and results to enable comparison between marine sites.

    —    Government must invest in new surveys, where experts highlight our marine wildlife is at greatest risk.

  38.  In any sites of scientific interest or within the expected marine protected areas (MPAs), marine features are likely to need to move due to climate change—inshore as sea levels rise and north or to cooler water as temperatures rise. Some species may be lost altogether and features will move out of the protected areas. The protected sites will, therefore, require flexibility to be able to respond to changes in the marine environment. Further marine research will be needed to enable this flexibility (to inform where changes to boundaries should be made) and to inform the original designation of the network of MPAs. Finally, more research is needed to determine what is meant by an "ecological coherent" network of protected sites and what should be monitored in order to ensure a healthy, fully functioning ecosystem.

  39.  WWF recommends that:

    —    Further research is needed for the identification of marine sites for protection, as required by the OSPAR convention, particularly for offshore areas.

January 2007

REFERENCES  Arctic Climate Impact Assessment: Synthesis Report, (2005). Ed G Weller. Cambridge University Press. pp 1-140.

Hiscock, K and Breckels, M 2007. Marine Biodiversity Hotspots in the UK. A report identifying and protecting areas for marine biodiversity. WWF UK.

Kvenvolden, K (1995). A review of the geochemistry of methane in natural gas hydrate. Organic Geochemistry, 23 (11-12) pp 997-1008.

Long, David (2006). Methane Hydrates (British Geological Survey)

Milkov AV (2004). Global estimates of hydrate-bound gas in marine sediments: how much is really out there? EARTH-SCI REV 66 (3-4) pp 183-197.

New Scientist, 2006.

Royal Society, 2005. Ocean Acidification due to Rising Atmospheric CO2.

Seattle Luxury :

UN Atlas of the Oceans. bmZvX3ZpZXdfc2l6ZT1jdG5faW5mb192aWV3X2Z1bGwmNj1lbiYzMz0qJjM3PWtvcw

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