Good evening and thank you Harry for inviting me to come and speak this evening!
My name is Sally-Ann Hart, and I am the Member of Parliament for beautiful Hastings and Rye – a coastal constituency which is gloriously situated along the East Sussex coast.
One of the greatest threats facing the planet, particularly for coastal communities and coastal areas, is the rate of climate change. As an MP of coastal communities, I am only too aware of the potential threat that climate change has on the protection and preservation of them.
I chair the All Party Parliamentary Group for Coastal Communities and the APPG for the Ocean – two subjects which are inextricably interlinked. The ocean plays an invaluable and vital role for biodiversity and habitat, climate and environment, energy, sustainability, and people’s wellbeing. The ocean not only mitigates and combats some of the greatest dangers of climate change, by storing and holding carbon for thousands of years, but it also has a significant part to play in advanced marine technological research and sustainable development.
The Ocean APPG was founded in 2022, so that parliamentarians can support and promote ocean research and awareness in order to develop greater understanding of the ocean and its role in tackling challenges such as climate change, and to debate wider issues.
We have had some real successes!
Our first inquiry, into blue carbon and ocean-based solutions to climate change, produced an excellent and comprehensive report ‘The Ocean: turning the tide on climate change’. Our recommendations include restoring the UK’s blue carbon habitats, such as saltmarsh and seagrass, adopting a code of conduct, prioritising funding into ocean-based Carbon Dioxide Removal approaches, and include blue carbon habitat mapping in the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Additionally, the APPG has called on the Government to create a Minister for the Ocean role, to fill the Ministerial gap as no-one is exclusively and directly responsible for all ocean issues.
We saw three out of our eight recommendations echoed in the Government’s recent Environmental Improvement Plan. These include our recommendations to remove trawl or dredge zones in UK MPAs, as these can result in destruction of marine ecosystems and the disturbance of seabed carbon stores; create Highly Protected Marine Areas; and include more aspects of marine carbon storage and sequestration into UK Greenhouse Gas Inventory – specifically seagrass and saltmarsh habitats.
Just last week, Defra announced the first three marine areas in England (Allonby Bay, North East of Farnes Deep, and Dolphin Head) to receive the highest level of protection for marine habitats and species - these areas have now been designated Highly Protected Marine Areas.
Our new, or current inquiry is on the future of ocean technology and is looking at the innovative and modern approaches to sustainable ocean technology and infrastructure. This includes aspects such as mapping and monitoring marine protected areas, dealing with disused oil and gas fields, offshore wind, and protection of submarine cables.
In all of these sectors, technology holds the key to success. This could include AI tools, underwater vehicles, sensors, research platforms, and ocean-based energy generation solutions, including tidal, wave and offshore wind. I am sure there are businesses here this evening which cannot wait to get stuck in!
The UK has committed to reversing loss of nature by 2030, and to investing £3bn in natural solutions to fight climate change over the next five years. Government investment into blue carbon has come from the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund and the UK Research Institute.
At last year’s COP 27, Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey set out the UK’s support to protect the world’s oceans and natural habitats. She called on countries to come together and agree a robust global plan for tackling nature loss. Significant progress has been made, but more action is needed from both the public and private sectors to bridge the reported $700 billion funding gap needed to stop nature loss.
The UK Government pledged £30 million for seed finance into the Big Nature Impact Fund –a new public-private fund for nature in the UK which will unlock significant private investment into nature projects. These habitat creation projects will aid small business growth and job creation as well as soak up carbon emissions and support cleaner air and water.
The Government also pledged an additional £12 million to the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance to protect and restore vulnerable coastal communities and habitats, and pledged to raise awareness of the importance of mangroves and their role in coastal resilience by endorsing the Mangrove Breakthrough, a project which aims to secure the future of vital coastal mangrove forests.
The Government also promised to highlight the climate benefits of blue carbon through continued support for the new Global Ocean Decade Programme for Blue Carbon, which has launched a new Global Graduate scheme for early career blue carbon researchers.
Internationally, the UK leads the Global Ocean Alliance, and is calling for a ‘30by30’ target to protect at least 30% of the land and of the ocean globally by 2030. At our recent APPG AGM, the former Minister, Lord Goldsmith, gave a short departmental update on UK policies as regards the ocean.
This included the Blue Belt programme – the Government’s flagship marine conservation programme – which is one of this Government’s greatest wins for nature since 2010. It protects huge areas around the UK’s Overseas Territories from overfishing. The programme now protects 1% of the world’s oceans (nearly 5 x the UK’s domestic marine estate), contributing to the recovery of important marine species. We can go further - our Overseas Territories cover 2% of the world’s ocean (9 x the UK’s domestic marine estate). If extended, the Blue Belt could give greater protection whilst helping us reach our 30by30 target and net zero.
Just this week, I had a meeting with colleagues at the Conservative Environment Network to discuss the expansion of the Blue Belt in a certain area which would support the return of whales to that area. We know how important whales are as regards blue carbon.
It is fantastic to see the Government taking these necessary steps and efforts to prioritise blue carbon and ocean-based solutions. By protecting our ocean and blue carbon habitats, the UK can begin to ensure that net zero targets are met, that coastal communities can benefit, and that we unleash the power of our ocean in climate change mitigation.
But, I believe that there is more that can be done, to ensure that the UK is a world-leader in ocean protection, preservation and management. The ocean is one of our greatest environmental assets, and if we do not preserve and protect it, we run the risk of increasingly devastating climate change consequences.
As an MP for a coastal community, and as chair of the APPG for Coastal Communities, I recognise first-hand the solutions which the ocean can offer in mitigating and combating climate change and the also the ‘added value’ – the huge benefits and potential that ocean-based solutions can have on coastal communities in creating new skills and jobs in tourism – eco- tourism – seabed mapping activity, the renewable energy industry, environment and ecology, aquaculture, fishing and so on.
Our APPG Report highlighted that investing in coastal and ocean-based solutions can considerably boost industry and the economy in coastal areas.
The Report also highlighted that blue carbon and ocean-based solutions are often neglected in conversations about climate change, despite the fact that the destruction of marine habitats, such as seagrass - the wonder grass - may be of greater consequence than land-based destructions, such as deforestation.
Why are these overlooked? Part of the reason is the lack of understanding, research, and data. Certain types of ocean-based solutions, such as those which could occur in the open ocean or seabed, are even less understood and require greater mapping in order to understand the clear benefits.
This has meant that private sector investments in carbon sequestration projects largely occur through voluntary carbon markets, where businesses fund carbon sequestration projects to offset their own emissions.
To scale up ocean-based projects, we must invest in scientific research and monitoring. By deepening our understanding of these ecosystems and their potential for carbon sequestration, we can develop effective strategies to protect and restore them.
The APPG is calling on the UK Government to prioritise and invest - and facilitate private sector investment - in blue carbon and ocean-based solutions. Better and long-term research, data and mapping, government focus and funding, leadership, and sustainable policies, must be supported in order for blue carbon and ocean-based solutions to realise their full potential.
I am pleased to see productive conversations and policy developments from Governments across the world focused around restoring and protecting land-based habitats, and an awareness of the importance of natural carbon stores.
We need to see, however, more focus on ocean-based solutions as the ocean occupies over 70% of the planet’s surface area and produces around 50% of the oxygen we breathe. It has a hugely significant role to play in slowing down the rate of climate change.
Since 1978, over 90% of the Earth’s increased heat and 40% of carbon emitted from burning fossil fuels have been absorbed by the ocean. Furthermore, it’s estimated that the ocean has absorbed between 25-30% of all carbon dioxide emissions caused by human activity, making it the largest carbon sink in the world.
Nature recovery is being increasingly acknowledged to be fundamental in fighting against climate change, but we need to unleash the full potential of nature as she can do much more and ramp up action in relation to nature-based solutions.
G20 finance ministers, for example, have recognised that nature-based solutions are the most cost-effective, more effective and sustainable investment to protect and restore the planet – to store and capture carbon, but it is also recognised that nature-based solutions receive a very small percentage, around 2.5%, of public climate mitigating funding.
There are huge opportunities for the United Kingdom in the blue economy and blue carbon as our oceans and coastal areas hold great potential for sustainable growth and conservation.
The blue economy encompasses a wide range of economic activities - renewable energy, sustainable fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, and marine biotechnology. With the UK's vast coastline and maritime heritage, we have a unique advantage in harnessing these resources sustainably. Investing in the blue economy not only stimulates economic growth but also supports job creation, innovation, and the preservation of marine ecosystems.
The role of investment and private sector finance is vital in unlocking the capital necessary to realise these opportunities.
By engaging private investors, we can tap into their expertise, resources, and innovation to support sustainable projects. Furthermore, private sector involvement fosters collaboration between businesses, research institutions, and government agencies, creating a powerful synergy for progress.
To unlock capital for these initiatives, we need to create an enabling environment that attracts investment. This includes establishing clear regulations, providing financial incentives, and promoting public-private partnerships. By implementing supportive policies and frameworks, we can encourage private investors to fund projects in the blue economy and blue carbon sectors, helping to drive sustainable economic growth while protecting our marine ecosystems.
By working together, we can develop comprehensive management plans and policies that protect and restore blue carbon habitats.
Engaging local communities in these efforts is vital, as they possess invaluable knowledge and can provide long-term stewardship. Education and raising awareness about the importance of blue carbon ecosystems and their restoration therefore plays a pivotal role in mobilising public support and advocacy.
In conclusion, the opportunities for the United Kingdom in the blue economy and blue carbon are immense. From renewable energy to sustainable fisheries, we have the chance to lead in innovation, conservation, and economic development. By leveraging investment and private sector finance, we can unlock the capital needed to turn these opportunities into reality.
By protecting, researching and investing into ocean-based solutions and blue carbon habitats, the UK can ensure that net zero targets are met, that coastal communities can benefit from significant opportunities, and that the ocean becomes an active player in climate change mitigation.