UK governments urged for ‘climate resilient’ fishing industry
UK fisheries are currently contributing more emissions than they should on a net zero trajectory and are highly exposed to future climate risks due to weak support for nature restoration and adaptation, some warn. one of the UK’s largest nature charities.
The warning is issued through a new report, co-authored by the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), RSPB and WWF.
While charities hailed the introduction of the UK’s post-Brexit Fisheries Act last year, the report raises concerns that, without specific, time-bound and binding targets, the fishing industry will contribute more than its fair share of emissions and will not be protected from the physical impacts of already encrusted warming.
On climate, the law contains an objective of “minimizing” the negative impacts of climate change on the sector by increasing adaptation. It also states that the sector has a duty to create a sector that is “environmentally sustainable in the long term”.
Starting with the industry’s contribution to climate change, the report states that the sector produces 914,000 tonnes of CO2 each year. The main source of emissions today is from the vessels of the fishing fleet. Almost all UK-based ships, according to the report, are powered by fossil fuels. Over 50% are 30 years old, which means they are probably ineffective.
The report also expresses concern that the sector is currently operating in a way that depletes the capacity of marine habitats to sequester carbon. Carbon stored in ocean habitats is nicknamed “blue”. The report describes how trawling has depleted carbon sequestering habitats such as sea grasslands and salt marshes, reducing – and sometimes even completely – their ability to act as carbon sinks. It also warns that blue carbon stored in fish and shellfish themselves is not properly reintroduced into the ecosystem with industrial fishing; carcasses which would normally sink are treated on land as waste from the sector.
“Governments have generally been slow to recognize the impact of the fishing industry on GHG emissions and blue carbon stores,” the report says. “Fisheries are often ignored in GHG assessments, they are not taken into account in climate change mitigation strategies and are largely ignored in climate negotiations.”
Climate adaptation through nature-based solutions
The report goes on to highlight how fishing, like all marine areas, is exposed to the risks of poor adaptation to the climate.
The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) confirmed that the increase in global temperature has already exceeded 1.1 ° C and is heading towards 1.5 ° C by 2040; some development is to be expected regardless of decarbonization in the years to come. Nationally, the UK’s Climate Change Committee (CCC) recently warned that 60% of climate risks facing the UK are classified as requiring the highest level or urgency, up from 36% in the last assessment in 2016. No risk has diminished in an emergency. Many are linked to marine environments and coastal communities.
The report poses the need to restore and conserve ecosystems, as this helps build resilience and increase blue carbon sequestration.
On this last point, the report indicates that 55% of all the carbon captured by plants in the world is captured in marine habitats. He also argues that, globally, coastal ecosystems capture comparable amounts of carbon each year to all terrestrial ecosystems.
Despite this huge potential, charities warn that nature-based solutions focused on blue carbon sequestration and marine habitats receive only a small fraction of available funding. Currently, they say, most government and private sector funding is funneled into land-based projects.
The report ultimately defines a set of policy principles for creating “climate-smart” fisheries that are climate-resilient and low-carbon in operation. Policy makers are urged to set specific, time-bound and mandatory targets to protect blue carbon and decarbonization fleets, with business-specific financial support coupled with the removal of current support for high carbon fuels . Another warrant could require vessels fishing in UK waters to install cameras and track their emissions and bycatch.
Policymakers are also called upon to increase the scope of blue carbon field studies in the UK, potentially introducing a national survey and monitoring program. The results of these activities could help the UK assess whether it can add blue carbon as a climate change mitigation tool as part of its commitment to the Paris Agreement.
Between 2010 and 2019, the UK government only achieved four of the 15 indicators required for healthy oceans. Its UK Marine Strategy, released in May 2019, was designed to help accelerate positive progress against these indicators, but has been widely criticized by nature charities and green groups. Building on the UK Government’s Fisheries Act, a joint declaration on fisheries from the four UK governments is now expected ahead of COP26.
“The ocean is the blue heart of our planet and, when it comes to dealing with climatic and natural crises, we ignore it at our peril,” said Helen McLachlan, Head of the Fisheries Program of the WWF.
“As an independent coastal state, the UK has the opportunity to set a gold standard for fisheries management by meeting the leading climate commitments set out in the UK Fisheries Act 2020 – ministers must follow through this promise.
“Adopting a climate smart strategy is the way to achieve this, to make the sector sustainable while demonstrating the UK’s commitment to reducing its global environmental footprint ahead of COP26. We will not forget the climate promises of UK governments and, together with our supporters, we will hold governments accountable for keeping them. “