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The new Government needs to act to protect our ocean

3 minute read

Fiona Thomas, Public Affairs Manager

Fiona Thomas, Public Affairs Manager

8 Jul 2024

As the dust settles on the General Election ’24, Parliamentary Affairs Manager Fiona Thomas reflects on the Marine Conservation Society’s next steps for ocean advocacy.

After 14 years of Conservative government, the Labour Party have won 411 seats, giving the Government a simple majority of 172 seats. We also saw huge gains for the Liberal Democrats, winning a total of 72 seats, and the election of four Green MPs.

Since the election results were announced on Thursday 4th July, the Government has not wasted any time on starting to implement their plans, lifting the de facto ban on onshore windfarms. The new Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has also released his five priority policies, which include cleaning up Britain’s seas of sewage, creating a roadmap towards a zero-waste economy, and ensuring nature’s recovery.

These are welcome commitments, and the Marine Conservation Society looks forward to working with the Government on establishing the details of these policies.

What did the Labour manifesto say about the marine environment?

Over the course of the election campaign, the Labour Party have outlined several policies that would help to tackle ocean pollution and help coastal communities.

In terms of ocean pollution, Labour’s manifesto includes plans to strengthen the powers of Ofwat and the Environment Agency to tackle sewage by blocking bonuses to executives whose companies pollute waterways and bring criminal charges against persistent lawbreakers. Labour is also ‘committed to reducing waste by moving to a circular economy’ and have previously indicated they would support a Deposit Return Scheme and some form of extended producer responsibility scheme.

Sewage in the sea

Labour’s manifesto includes plans to strengthen the powers of Ofwat and the Environment Agency to tackle sewage

Credit: Shutterstock: Andrei Metelev

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Steve Reed MP, has pledged that Labour would deliver on the 30x30 target, which seeks to protect 30% of land and sea by 2030. Labour has also pledged to ratify the Global Ocean Treaty by June 2025.

While these policies are a good start, the Marine Conservation Society will be pushing the Government to ramp up efforts to preserve the marine environment.

Labour have stated that one of their policy priorities over the next few months is to launch GB Energy, which will seek to quadruple offshore wind power by 2030.

The Marine Conservation Society is clear that these developments need to be done without harming our seas and should improve the marine environment where they are located.

We will be advocating for a commitment to boost levels of funding for the Blue Belt and Darwin Plus marine conservation schemes in the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), which protect over 4.3 million square kilometres of marine environment, safeguarding ocean life and the livelihoods of people throughout these areas.

Our blue planet has the potential to be a huge ally in the fight against climate change, but we need scaled-up investment into ocean restoration projects, which can be win-wins for both the marine environment and coastal communities across the UK, providing jobs and regenerating depleted ocean environments. The Marine Conservation Society will also be urging the Labour Government to develop a vision for sustainable fisheries, and outline further their plans for the delivery of more Marine Protected Areas

The new parliamentary intake

We need the 2024-2029 parliamentary intake to be advocates for the ocean. We are keen for all representatives from all political parties to work together to ensure the UK delivers on its legally binding commitment to protect 30% of our sea by 2030. We will need advocates for a cleaner, healthier and better-protected marine environment across all political parties.

During the 2019-2024 parliamentary term, the Marine Conservation Society worked closely with Labour MPs like Kerry McCarthy, Alex Sobel and Barry Gardiner to advocate for a cleaner, healthier, better-protected marine environment.

These Labour voices have also been joined by new Labour MPs with great environment credentials, including Anna Gelderd, Labour MP for South East Cornwall, (formerly of the Marine Conservation Society!), Polly Billington, Labour MP for East Thanet, and Katie White, Labour MP for Leeds North West.

We are also keen to support the work of the new intake of Liberal Democrat MPs - who campaigned on a platform of robust measures to tackle sewage and water pollution - and support the work of the new intake of Green MPs.

The Marine Conservation Society’s Parliamentary Affairs unit has worked with parliamentarians from all parties to advocate for better marine protections, including Sally-Ann Hart, the former Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye, and Selaine Saxby, the former Conservative MP for North Devon.

Sandy Luk - SOP Westminster event

Credit: Ella Daish - Marine Conseravtion Society

We’d like to pay tribute to the work of all former MPs who have worked with us to prioritise the health, cleanliness and protection of our blue planet.

We’re looking forward to continuing our work with cross-party MPs throughout this Parliament to advocate for the marine environment. 

What will the Marine Conservation Society be doing over the next few weeks?

In the short term, the Marine Conservation Society will be writing to the new Prime Minister and relevant Cabinet members setting out our policy position on a range of marine matters.

In the longer term, we will also be seeking meetings with cross-party MPs and key Ministers, attending political party conferences to keep up the pressure on all parties to prioritise the ocean in their policymaking.

If you are someone with a passion for the ocean, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to get involved in the Marine Conservation Society’s campaigning work.

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