90.In September 2018, Defra and the Foreign Office announced that the UK has an ambition for 30 per cent of the world’s seas to be safeguarded in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030. To achieve this will require international cooperation which the Government intends to seek at the next Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biodiversity in Beijing in 2020 (see Annex B for more information).
91.Protecting at least 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030 is supported by conservation bodies as the necessary level of preservation to support healthy marine biodiversity and avoid the worst effects of climate change. Witnesses such as Will McCallum, Head of Oceans at Greenpeace suggested that it cannot be any 30 per cent of ocean, it must be a network of ecologically representative MPAs, including the deep sea:
the crucial thing is that that is not 30% of random ocean. That is 30% that is representative of the oceans’ ecosystems … We want to find and identify those ecosystems that are refugia, that are facing the greatest threats and that is where we start to build up.
Professor Mills from the University of Southampton considered that there was not enough evidence to support a 30 per cent target and Professor Boyd suspected that it was not based on evidence. He later clarified that an MPA network with a range of protection levels (including highly protected areas) has good foundations in scientific evidence, however, the basis for a 30 per cent target consisting solely of no-take zones is more limited.
92.According to the Marine Conservation Institute only 3.7 per cent of the world’s oceans are protected in implemented and actively managed MPAs, and approximately two per cent is strongly protected in no-take marine reserves. Given what we had heard throughout the inquiry about the level of management and enforcement of UK MPAs around the world, we asked Lord Ahmad what level of support the Government will provide towards international enforcement of these new global MPAs. He responded:
I have just returned from the Our Ocean conference in Indonesia and [the 30 per cent target] was a commitment we made. If you look at the British example—and it is important on the world stage to also reflect domestically on what has been achieved—24% of our coastal areas are now designated MPAs and we are totally committed to the target of MPAs being created across 30% of the coastlines by 2030. That is a statement we have made at an international conference and will be reflective of the international strategy that we are currently working on.
93.The UK Government has been a strong driver in creating an MPA in the Southern Ocean. The Weddell Sea is a deep bay of around 2.8 million square kilometres of the Antarctic coastline that contains the Weddell Gyre, a unique circulation of ocean currents that protects unique habitats and species from human impact, climate change and solidification. There is a proposal to protect an area of around 1.8 million square kilometres of the sea which would be the world’s largest marine protected area.
94.The MPA has been proposed by the EU and developed by the German Government but must be negotiated via Members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). CCAMLR was established in response to increasing commercial interest in Antarctic krill resources, a keystone component of the Antarctic ecosystem, and a history of over-exploitation of several other marine resources in the Southern Ocean (see Annex A). Greenpeace told us that krill fleets do not currently fish in the Weddell Sea, but companies view future ice melt as a commercial opportunity, so are lobbying against marine protection in areas of potential expansion. CCAMLR negotiations on the Weddell Sea MPA in October 2018 were unsuccessful due to “delaying tactics” from Norway, Russia and China, who have interests in the krill fishery industry. We asked Lord Ahmad how the Government would proceed to ensure Norway, Russia and China commit to the expansion of MPAs in the Southern Ocean. He told us:
We need the agreement of all concerned. We have a view that I have expressed, but we cannot act unilaterally in this regard. We need countries to come on board in support of ensuring that Antarctica, as a resource, is protected for all and we will continue to lobby in that respect. Clearly, there was a disagreement by the three countries you have mentioned, but that was not our view.
Lord Ahmad also told us that he will be raising the issue directly with the Foreign Minister of Norway at his next meeting.
95.The “high seas” or areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) are areas of the ocean 200 nautical miles from individual countries’ shorelines and the boundaries of their national waters. This accounts for 58 per cent of the ocean which has little in the way of safeguards to protect the greater marine ecosystem. We heard that although there are management bodies in the ABNJ, there is still an unwillingness to designate MPAs, for example, only seven out of 440 MPAs designated by OSPAR are in the high seas.
96.In September 2018, the UN began an Intergovernmental Conference on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in the high seas also known as the High Seas Treaty (see Annex A). This is the first substantive marine inter-governmental conference, starting a process of negotiations up to 2020. The High Seas Alliance—a partnership of 37 NGOs and the IUCN—is campaigning for a legally binding instrument akin to a “Paris Agreement for the Ocean” that would have the authority to create large marine protected areas in the high seas with robust management and enforcement. We heard that the negotiations present a rare opportunity to protect the seas.
97.Will McCallum described the need for a new body to be established to help designate MPAs and oversee other competent authorities “like regional fisheries management organisations, like the International Seabed Authority, like the International Maritime Organisation”. Professor Callum Roberts, from the University of York, also describes the need for an effective management body to “oversee implementation, monitoring and effective enforcement of these protected areas”. He notes that Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, as presently constituted, “are not suited to undertake a biodiversity protection role” as they have failed to exercise their powers to properly manage the fish stocks under their jurisdiction. An example of this is the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), which manages bluefin tuna (as well as shark and swordfish) fisheries and has allowed the species to decline to just 3 per cent of the 1960 total. The lack of an oversight body was also raised during our hearings on deep sea mining. We heard that the International Seabed Authority could also be overseen by another body to manage and oversee the commercial exploitation of marine resources in ABNJ as well as the sharing of benefits arising from such activity.
98.We put the suggestion of a new oversight body for the oceans to Claire Perry, who said, “I am not sure I have a view yet as to what the right international model would be”. Defra explained that the Government’s negotiating position is to deliver an outcome that sets up a clear means of designating MPAs in ABNJ, does not hinder the development of emerging marine industries, and complements the existing arrangements and work of competent bodies such the International Maritime Organization, Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and Regional Seas Conventions.
99.Lord Ahmad said that he had been “quite shocked” by the threats to the ocean and these need to be reflected in discussions, “whether through multilateral discussions or bilaterally”. Currently UK input to the UN negotiations is coordinated by the EU. It remains unclear whether the UK will remain within the EU negotiating bloc under duty of cooperation after March 2019. Will McCallum stressed the need for high level diplomacy across all international marine negotiations:
What we are seeing across the board, whether this is in the UN High Seas Treaty, whether it is in CCAMLR, whether it is in any of these regional governance issues, is the need for high-level ministerial diplomacy. We are not seeing the civil service, junior-level diplomacy, having the same impact. What we saw with the Ross Sea was John Kerry travelling around the world essentially making the case for it to everyone… If I am honest, I don’t think it is possible unless you have the Foreign Secretary or leader of state-level intervention. That is what is required with other countries sitting at the table.
100.The Government’s ambition to protect 30 per cent of the world’s oceans by 2030 will only be meaningful if it commits to an ecologically coherent network of Marine Protected Areas and commits to government-backed monitoring and enforcement. Given what we have heard about the monitoring and enforcement of existing marine protected areas we are yet to be convinced that the Government’s plans will result in more than just lines on a map. While we welcome the Government’s clarification that the 30 per cent target will be included in its International Oceans Strategy, it must also set out how it will identify priority areas for protection and what levels of funding it will commit to international enforcement. In advance of the next conference of parties of the Convention on Biodiversity in Beijing 2020, the UK should use the highest levels of Government, including the Foreign Secretary, to mobilise its diplomatic network and use its position as Chair of the Commonwealth to advocate for its targets for marine protection.
101.The failure of the negotiations to protect the Weddell Sea highlight the importance of protecting and managing the seas within the UK’s jurisdiction, particularly the opportunity to create MPAs in the Southern Ocean without multi-lateral negotiations. The difficulty of protecting the Weddell Sea also shows the scale of the challenge to negotiate the Government’s target to achieve 30 per cent of the ocean in marine protected areas by 2030. To tackle the threats to the ocean and overcome conflicts of interest between different nations and their commercial interests will require high level ministerial diplomacy. We welcome the Minister’s commitment to pursue bi-lateral diplomacy with Norway. Ministers must also commit to diplomacy with Russia and China to reinvigorate the negotiations to establish the world’s largest marine reserve in the Weddell Sea, Antarctica.
102.The UN High Seas treaty presents a huge opportunity for global ocean protection. The Government should work to increase ambition within the EU for the High Seas treaty and clarify the UK’s negotiating position should the UK begin to negotiate outside of the EU. The Government should call for the creation of a legally-binding ‘Paris Agreement for the Sea’, including a conference of parties, that meets annually with a review conference every five years, to designate marine protected areas. The Government should also support the establishment of a new body to oversee Environmental Impact Assessments by other competent authorities including species specific management organisations, regional fisheries management organisations, the International Seabed Authority and the International Maritime Organisation. The Government should use its International Oceans Strategy to set out this position.
285 Defra. 2018. , 24 Sept 2018
286 Professor Callum Roberts (); Greenpeace (); Great British Oceans (); see also Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (); O’Leary, B et al. 2016. . Conservation Letters.
287 see also EU ATLAS Project ()
289 Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ()
290 Marine Conservation Institute. 2018. Atlas of Marine Protection: How Much of our Ocean is Protected? [Accessed 30 October 2018]
293 The Weddell Sea is one of nine planning regions in the convention area which covers the entire Southern Ocean (see Annex A for more information).
294 CCAMLR. 2018. [Accessed 26/11/2018]; see also ;
295 Greenpeace ()
296 Greenpeace () and . The Guardian, 2 Nov 2018
299 ; Pew Trusts (); , The Guardian, 5 Aug 2018
300 There are around 20 organisations regulated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. , The Guardian, 5 Aug 2018
301 ; As of 1 October 2016. OSPAR Commission.
302 UN. 2018. [Accessed 26/11/2018]
303 Greenpeace UK ()
304 see also RSPB (); Pew Trusts (); Greenpeace UK (); National Geographic. 2018. and High Seas Alliance. [Accessed 26/11/2018] see also Marine Biological Association ()
305 ; Marinet Limited ();
307 Professor Callum Roberts ()
308 Professor Callum Roberts (); see also [Charles Clover]
309 Professor Callum Roberts () and , The Guardian, 5 Aug 2018
310 [Professor Mills]; The National Oceanography Centre ();
311 Centre for Marine Ecological Resilience and Geological Resources (MERGeR), Nottingham Law School, Nottingham Trent University (), para 3.3
313 Building on the work undertaken by Regional Seas Conventions such as OSPAR (see Annex A)
314 Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs ()
316 EU ATLAS Project ()
Published: 17 January 2019