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UK net zero carbon emissions by 2050?

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Logo: Marine Conservation Society

Yes - if we buy into blue carbon

www.mcsuk.org

Kelp (Keith Hiscock)
Kelp (Keith Hiscock)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for quite a while, you’ll know that we’re in a bit of a pickle. Interlinked climate, health and ecological emergencies means we have to make huge changes to the way we live. We must reduce the impacts we have on the planet’s natural ecosystems - because carrying on as we are just isn’t an option. The UK’s target is to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Is that even possible? Yes, if we invest in protecting our marine ecosystems like seabed sediments, saltmarsh, seagrass, shellfish and kelp habitats. These habitats are the key to the carbon question – here's why.

When healthy, these habitats and species generate oxygen, protect coastal communities from rising sea levels and remove pollutants from the water. They act as nursery grounds for commercial fish and shellfish species and as wildlife havens. But even more importantly, they store carbon in huge quantities – known as ‘blue carbon’.

In 2020, as part of the UK’s commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, and to keeping global temperature rises to below 1.5˚ C, the UK Government laid out its plans to cut our carbon emissions. A reduction of 68% compared with 1990 levels over the next decade, and to meet net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 in Scotland and 2050 in England and Wales.

The best way to do this is to increase the quantity of carbon dioxide – the main greenhouse gas – that’s taken out of the atmosphere and stored in long-term natural solutions like marine ecosystems. So, protecting and rewilding these areas is vital.

With COP26 rescheduled for this November in Glasgow, we can really push the Governments to address the climate crisis. As host, we must lead by example. Internationally, the UK is actually leading the way by committing to significantly increasing its spending on nature-based solutions, including those offered by the ocean. But, it must match that commitment with equally ambitious actions at home. Ocean-based remedies must be adopted quickly and at scale by 2030.

Seagrass Bed (Charlotte Bolton, Seasearch)
Seagrass Bed (Charlotte Bolton, Seasearch)

Globally, the important carbon-sink habitats are mangroves, salt or tidal marshes and seagrass. Mangroves are only found in tropical parts of the world, with some of our UK Overseas Territories hosting extensive mangrove forests. In the UK there are huge areas of saltmarshes and seagrass beds - but both have massively declined over recent decades.

The UK’s woodlands and peatbogs are regarded as being critical to the UK’s carbon strategy, so we’re calling on the Governments to treat ‘blue carbon’ in the same way. Their Blue Carbon Strategy must focus on three key nature-based action areas -

Scale up the rewilding of our seas for biodiversity and blue carbon -

By 2030, 30% of UK seas must become Highly Protected Marine Areas, whilst 10% of those must be Fully Protected Marine Protected Areas.

Support ambitious projects to restore key Blue Carbon habitats such as seagrass, saltmarsh, oyster reefs and kelp forests around the UK coast.

Implement bottom-towed fishing gear free-zones around the entirety of the UK’s nearshore waters taking into account local and regional considerations.

Include blue carbon protection and recovery in climate mitigation and environmental management policies

Commit the UK governments to ambitious blue carbon habitat recovery, restoration and protection targets in the UK’s next Nationally Determined Contribution to the Paris Climate Agreement in 2025.

Develop a comprehensive ‘Ocean Charter’ that integrates ocean focused nature and climate policies to deliver a sustainable Blue Economy by 2030. In line with the UN’s call on all countries to develop a national ‘Sustainable Ocean Plan’ to deliver a sustainable Blue Economy, by 2030.

Work with the private sector to develop and support sustainable and innovative low-carbon commercial fisheries and aquaculture

Commit to fully sustainable management of UK commercial fish and shellfish stocks, and halving of fisheries related carbon emissions by 2030.

Fully invest in the development of innovative low-carbon aquaculture technologies and best practice, including, processing and feed production, and development of UK markets for sustainable, low-carbon wild-caught fish - with a roadmap for delivery produced by 2022/23.

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