Oceans are currently facing unprecedented challenges, including over-fishing, plastic pollution and climate change. It's more important than ever to take action to ensure our seas are healthy, abundant and resilient.
I'm pleased that 41 new Marine Conservation Zones have recently been created. The UK now has 355 Marine Protected Areas of different types, spanning 220,000 square km. No new activities deemed damaging will be allowed to take place in these areas and existing harmful activities will be minimised or stopped to allow important habitats to recover. A review has now been launched into whether and how Highly Protected Marine Areas, the strongest form of marine protection, could be introduced in our English seas.
The Government is working hard to reduce plastic pollution in the ocean and is leading global efforts to tackle the problem through support of the G7 Oceans Plastics Charter, the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy and the Commonwealth Blue Charter.
Following an open consultation, a ban on the supply of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds will come into force in April 2020. The ban includes exemptions to ensure that those with medical needs or a disability are able to continue to access plastic straws. A further consultation on a plan for a deposit return scheme for drinks containers has also recently closed. These measures should lessen the potential for material to become microplastic in the long term.
Regarding climate change, we can be proud of the UK’s world-leading role in tackling climate change and the transition to Clean Growth, with the UK being the first country to legislate to eliminate our contribution to climate change by 2050, and the fastest in the G20 to cut emissions. Since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40 per cent while growing the economy by more than two thirds, and we are a world-leader in offshore wind.
To continue this momentum, the Government has announced around £2 billion for new policies since setting the Net Zero targets and a new Prime Minister-chaired Cabinet Committee on Climate Change has been set up to ensure all arms of Government are focussed on tackling this challenge.
Protecting and preserving our oceans is a priority for this Government, and I can assure you that I recognise the importance and urgency of public debate on this issue.