Ocean - sea - unsplash

Between the announcements, outcry and protests, what else has been going on in Westminster?

4 minute read

Brendon Queiroz

Brendon Queiroz, Public Affairs Officer

29 Sep 2023

Parliament is in recess and party conference season has begun, but there’s been no rest for those in the hallowed halls of Westminster.

Sewage success

After learning about the ways in which raw sewage was being dumped in waters around the UK, we took the UK Government to court over its failure to address this. Whilst the result of the court case was not as we had hoped, we have still been able to make great progress.

On the 25th September 2023, the UK Government announced that it would be expanding its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan after a public consultation.

Sewage free seas court

Credit: Good Law Project

Net-zero announcement: Short-sighted decisions for a darker future

In a surprise statement last week (20th September 2023), UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced a U-turn on net-zero policies. These would have helped progress the UK towards crucial 2050 targets.

Net-zero means reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero. This can be done by re-absorbing as much greenhouse gas as is produced. Countries can also go further, and re-absorb more than what is produced, making them net positive.

This is where our natural environment – our ocean species and habitats – come in handy. Habitats such as seagrass beds and saltmarshes absorb carbon from their surroundings, helping to mitigate the climate emergency. This is known as Blue Carbon.

Our CEO, Sandy Luk, wrote a letter to the Prime Minister reminding him of the importance of net-zero targets and the implication of inaction for future generations, the environment and our economy.

Without firm and purposeful action now, we risk sacrificing future generations, the environment, and our economy in favour of misguided and short-sighted decisions.

Sandy Luk, CEO

This letter was co-signed and supported by a number of organisations sharing in our concerns. Read the letter in full.

Rosebank, among the Fields of Black

The Rosebank oil and gas field is located off the west coast of Shetland, Scotland. Until now, it has been an unused oil reservoir. This week (27th September 2023) the UK Government gave the green light to energy giants Equinor and Ithaca Energy to begin production.

The decision has been cited as a ‘catastrophic act of environmental vandalism’ and will reportedly produce carbon emissions equal to the 28 lowest income countries. This comes only seven days after Rishi Sunak’s rollback on net-zero targets, which resulted in huge public outcry as well as opposition from members of his own party and predecessor.

Ocean - sea - unsplash

Credit: Ant Rozetsky

Rosebank’s proposed development site would dissect the vital Faroe-Shetland Sponge Belt MPA, home to deep-sea sponge communities. Deep-sea sponges can provide protection to commercially important fish species and provide habitat for a range of biodiversity.

Research has shown that sponges are slow growing and would take decades to reach large sizes and therefore any surrounding species or habitats would many years to recover if the site were to be negatively affected.

We stood with fellow environmental organisations against the Rosebank decision, urging the UK Government to side with nature. Renewable energy projects should be prioritised over fossil fuels, but these need to be carried out with nature and not to it.

We know the dangers of extracting oil and gas from marine environments. Images of oiled birds and marine animals drowning in polluted waters come to mind far too easily when oil spills are mentioned.

Despite this, the UK Government states that ‘this is the right long-term decision for the UK’s energy security’, yet it is argued that the products from Rosebank will be shipped abroad and sold, doing little to benefit UK energy security and household bills.

Restore Nature Now Protest

The 2023 State of Nature report, released yesterday (28th September 2023), reflects a deeply concerning decline in nature in the UK. The report has shown that almost 1,500 species are at risk of being lost. Though we know less about fish species numbers in UK seas, the ones are that are well-monitored are still showing a decline.

We joined Chris Packham and many other organisations to bring the noise to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) HQ and call on the UK Government to restore nature now.

Gareth Cunningham at Restore Nature Now

Gareth Cunningham, our Director of Conservation and Policy, attended the demonstration to highlight the importance of our ocean and made it clear that:

We are an island nation and should be surrounded by seas teaming with wildlife… but they’re in decline. So, we need polices that underpin and make sure that our seas are protected, not just now, but for future generations.

Gareth Cunningham, Director of Conservation and Policy

Party Conference

Next week, our Public Affairs team will be heading off to Manchester and Liverpool to attend the Conservative and Labour Party Conferences. We're holding joint events with CHEM Trust, focussing on chemical pollution in UK waters, and another event as part of the Great Blue Ocean collation to celebrate the success of the Blue Belt Programme and the progress made in the UK Overseas Territories.

We hope to have meaningful discussions with parliamentarians and support governmental action to improve the health of the environment and our ocean.

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