Chris Thorne: The perfect green Brexit dividend – properly protected seas

13 Apr

Chris Thorne is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace UK. This is a sponsored post by Greenpeace UK.

Brexit is done, and the UK is now stepping out into the world on its own two feet. Brexit has divided opinions, no doubt, but the UK has left the European Union so we need to seize the opportunities presented to us to make Brexit a success.

Perhaps the biggest opportunity presented to us by Brexit is the chance to become a true world leader in protecting our seas.

For too long now, we have allowed the waters which surround our islands to be degraded by industrial fishing. This in large part was down to our membership of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which made it challenging for the UK to implement stronger restrictions on industrial fishing in our seas, whether vessels hailed from the UK or the EU.

Supertrawlers, vast floating fish factories, regularly stalk our seas, hoovering up unimaginably vast quantities of fish with nets up to a mile long. No supertrawlers are UK owned. Bottom trawlers from the UK and EU rip up protected seabed habitats, undermining the entire marine ecosystem and indiscriminately killing marine life.

Bottom trawling also releases significant quantities of carbon that had been stored in seabed sediments, with a recent study in Nature finding that annually, emissions from bottom trawling are equivalent to emissions from the entire aviation industry. The UK has the fourth highest emissions from bottom trawling globally.

This degradation of our oceans by industrial fishing has serious consequences, not only for the marine environment, but also for our climate and, perhaps most importantly, for our fishing communities.

Simply put, if we allow high intensity industrial fishing to continue throughout our seas unchecked, it will become ever more difficult for our fishers to make a living from fishing. This isn’t Greenpeace sensationalism, this is the scientific consensus.

UK fishers today have to work 17 times as hard for the same size catches as 120 years ago because of industrial overfishing. Two thirds of the UK’s key fish stocks are overfished and severely depletedNorth Sea cod has lost its MSC certification because of dangerous stock declinesBritish mackerel lost its sustainable status in 2019 after overfishing pushed stocks to the brink of collapse. The list could go on and on.

This will have serious repercussions for our already struggling coastal communities. More and more fishing jobs will be lost, our fishing communities will be gutted, and for many of these communities, there will be no coming back.

Thankfully, there is a ready-made solution to hand, and one which this Conservative government has been instrumental in setting up – the UK’s network of Marine Protected Areas.

Set up over the last decade, the network covers more than 30 per cent of waters around the UK including many of our most sensitive and important marine areas such as reefs, seagrass meadows and kelp forests.

This sounds great, but there’s a catch…

The vast majority of these so-called protected areas at sea, particularly those in offshore waters, have no protections in place against the worst forms of industrial fishing. Supertrawlers and bottom trawlers are allowed to operate in these supposedly protected places with impunity, devastating fish stocks and damaging sensitive seabed habitats which underpin the marine ecosystem, releasing vast quantities of carbon from the seabed.

For example, 97 per cent of the offshore UK protected areas set up specifically to protect the seabed are still subject to bottom trawling. This method of fishing, which involves dragging heavy fishing gear along the seabed, is no different to a bulldozer ploughing through a protected forest on land. It degrades habitats, results in large quantities of bycatch and perhaps most concerningly, disturbs vital blue carbon stores on the seabed.

Supertrawlers can also be found in our protected areas. These high intensity fishing vessels are the largest on earth. They have freezer processor facilities on board, allowing them to stay at sea for weeks or months at a time, catching and processing hundreds of tonnes of fish in a day until their holds are filled with thousands of tonnes of fish. This harms the long-term health of fish stocks and has wider impacts on the marine ecosystem.

Most people would agree that these forms of destructive fishing have no place in areas that are supposed to be protected. However, our investigations have revealed that supertrawlers have doubled their fishing time in UK protected areas year on year since 2016, when the UK voted for Brexit, and earlier in 2021 it was revealed that in 2019 bottom trawlers spent hundreds of thousands of hours fishing in UK protected areas.

It seems that the Government agrees that bottom trawling is not compatible with our Marine Protected Areas, judging by its proposals to close the entire Dogger Bank Special Area of Conservation to bottom trawling, along with one other protected area. This signals that it recognises the problem, and we hope this is the Government’s first step towards turning our network of Marine Protected Areas into a genuinely world-leading conservation programme. However, there’s still a long way to go.

In many ways, the hard bit is already done. The UK has already designated over 30 per cent of our seas as protected, now all it needs to do is step up and properly look after each protected area, beginning with restricting the most destructive fishing operations inside them.

This will protect habitats, boost fish populations and revive coastal communities as fish populations become larger and more healthy, leading to bigger catches for our fishers. It will help keep carbon stored away safely in deep sea blue carbon stores, and it can provide the UK with an almost immediate Brexit win which will deliver real environmental protection.

In a year when the UK is hosting the G7 and the vital Glasgow climate summit, we should be presenting to the world a positive vision of global Britain as a world leader in environmental protection. What better way of doing this than properly protecting our seas?

Robert Courts: How our new Test to Release scheme will help to revive British tourism

27 Nov

Robert Courts is Transport Minister and MP for Witney.

2020 has been a year like no other. During this pandemic our reality shifted, slowly at first – but as borders closed, flights were grounded and millions stayed at home, our world became less connected, less open, and less familiar.

It’s time for that to change. Our decisive action to prevent the virus from spreading freely throughout the world came at the price of a hammer blow to the UK aviation industry, a booming sector that in normal years contributes around £14 billion to the economy and directly employs 130,000 people.

But aviation is a British success story, and we must get it back in the air. That’s why we’ve developed the Test to Release scheme which, just like the vaccines now around the corner, will provide a much-needed shot in the arm to the sector.

In just a few short weeks, passengers arriving into England will be able to choose to take a Covid test at home. This is to shorten the required period of self-isolation by up to a week and go about their daily lives – provided, of course, that they receive a negative result.

It’s a real game-changer. Not only will it allow for the restart of our world-leading long-haul airline industry, but crucially, as it relies on a single test, it is also affordable – opening up short-haul travel too. A UK that has visitors from across the globe is what we’ve come to know and love, so I’m glad we’ll once again see tourists from Brussels to Bermuda in our towns and cities.

In addition, as we are insisting on the use of the private testing network, it will not burden NHS Test and Trace. Doctors, nurses and teachers – these vital workers must have first call on public resources.

Our route out of this pandemic is looking more positive than ever, but we must focus on what we can do right now to bolster travel while keeping the public safe. Giving people the choice to test on day five not only encourages travel, but supports the industry when it needs it most.

From the very first days of the pandemic we’ve followed the science, and Test to Release is no different. Scientists have told us that the effectiveness of a day five test is significantly greater than the effectiveness of a single test on arrival.

Of course, I understand the frustration felt when we saw other countries such as Germany, France and Iceland rushing to eliminate the need for self-isolation through testing on arrival. However, we’ve seen time and again that countries didn’t in fact eliminate the need for self-isolation. The practice was just re-introduced when imported case numbers rose once more.

There are no easy ways to solve the problem of imported cases. That’s why we stuck with self-isolation plus Travel Corridors while looking for a longer-term solution. I believe Test to Release is that. So by taking this approach we can be absolutely certain that we can continue to prevent the spread of this virus while reigniting confidence in international travel.

My lifelong passion for aviation is rooted in its ability to connect people. Test to Release is the best example of how we can make that happen again. For those that choose to, it will provide the ability to holiday again, to visit family again, and to do business again. It signals to the world that the UK is ready to once again lead the way when it comes to travel and tourism. Test to Release will bridge the gap between the dark days of the pandemic and the bright future ahead.

But it’s only been possible thanks to the tireless work of this Government, hand in hand with the private sector. We’ve been working flat out with the health, travel and testing sectors to revive tourism and travel. No doubt there will be tough months to come but airlines, ports, and operators can look to the future with more optimism than ever before.

We know how hard it’s been for an industry that provides for so many, and that’s why we’re offering a new package of financial support in the New Year for English airports and ground handlers serving them, to shore up jobs and reinforce local economies. Travelling has always been one of the great joys of modern life, and I’m delighted to say it will be again, in 2021 and beyond.

Andrew Selous: How ministers can put Britain at the forefront of the net-zero flight revolution

12 Nov

Andrew Selous is MP for South West Bedfordshire

In mid-October, I had the pleasure of calling a Westminster Hall debate on the work of the Jet Zero Council, an industry-government partnership comprising the great and the good of the aviation and aerospace sectors.

Tasked with delivering net-zero emission commercial flight, the Council’s formation in June could not have been more timely.

As we all long for a holiday-filled return to normality, bringing a much-needed boost to our aviation sector, it is vital that we keep our sights set on achieving net-zero aviation by 2050. The Government can take pride in its launch of the Jet Zero Council, but there is still much more to be done.

The UK’s aviation network is the third largest in the world, and has a proud history of designing and manufacturing cutting edge aircraft and engines. Today the sector contributes £52 billion a year to GDP and provides 230,000 high-value jobs, including hundreds in my South West Bedfordshire constituency who work at Luton Airport.

However, when we return to the skies, it’s important that we reconcile heightened demand in air travel with our binding net zero target.

This is another area where we can confidently say we lead the world. We were the first country to set a legally binding climate change mitigation target in 2008, and last year we were the first major economy to introduce a legally binding 2050 net zero target. As we look beyond Brexit and Covid-19, we need to play to our strengths, particularly in areas where we already have a reputation as global pace setters – areas like aviation and climate mitigation.

Thankfully air travel and cutting emissions are not mutually exclusive. We can balance our custodial commitment to the environment with our need for a foreign holiday and reliance on trade through air freight. Commercial flight with a clear environmental conscience is not just possible but within our grasp this decade, thanks to the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

Sustainable aviation fuels are a here-and-now solution that can be used in existing engines and transport pipelines, requiring no modifications to aircraft or refuelling infrastructure. These fuels are also the only option long-term for decarbonising long-haul flights, which account for 80 per cent of global aviation emissions. Battery and hydrogen technology will play a part in decarbonising short and medium-haul flight, but simply will not propel a commercial flight over the Atlantic anytime soon.

Developed from sustainable feedstocks like waste oils, fats, and even solid waste like everyday black bag rubbish, the market is taxiing for take-off – provided there is sufficient Government backing. The first facility planned for the UK, Altalto Immingham, is a partnership between Velocys, British Airways, and Shell and could be fuelling flights by 2025, cutting lifecycle emissions by 70 per cent.

In February the British aviation sector came together through the coalition Sustainable Aviation to become the first national aviation body in the world to publicly commit to reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The target is ambitious but achievable, and research from the group shows that the UK can become a world leader in sustainable aviation fuel production.

According to this new data, investing now in these new fuels can deliver over 20,000 jobs and almost £3 billion in GVA from 14 production facilities across the country by the mid-2030s. The ideal locations for these facilities are in seven industrial clusters in Humberside, Teesside, South Wales, Hampshire, the North West, Grangemouth and St Fergus, areas where we have a competitive advantage over other European countries in refining and chemicals infrastructure and skills.

These former industrial heartlands also desperately need to find ways of transitioning away from fossil fuels, so this is a perfect opportunity to not only create new green jobs but save jobs and redeploy skills. Additionally, the majority of these areas are earmarked to become carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) and/or hydrogen hubs. Sustainable aviation fuel production can benefit from sharing the infrastructure and skills required to develop these new green industrial clusters, so can play a key role in re-focusing and future-proofing these areas.

However, to get the first few production facilities off the ground and seize the first-mover advantage, the Government needs to unlock private investment. Government-backed loan guarantees – a tool already used for other infrastructure projects – could cover capital costs and make these investments more attractive for private investors. The revenue support mechanism, the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation, could also be reformed to give greater price certainty for these sorts of projects. Importantly, these are policy levers rather than capital grants.

Speaking to the International Gas Turbine Institute last September, the Prince of Wales said that “the need to decarbonise flight must remain at the top of the agenda”. His Royal Highness’ words have found added sentiment a year later in light of the ongoing pandemic. We cannot let Covid-19 blow our decarbonisation agenda off course. Nor do we need to let it destroy our aviation sector.

Indeed, aviation – a sector we rely so heavily on as an island – can come out of the current crisis stronger, greener and more resilient. But to do that I urge the Government to build on their Jet Zero commitments this summer, and take swift and pragmatic action now by supporting the development of a sustainable aviation fuels industry in the UK.

Sam Hall: Extinction Rebellion is completely wrong in its approach to climate change

15 Sep

Sam Hall is the Director of the Conservative Environment Network

As a Conservative environmentalist, I believe passionately in the need for stronger action on climate change. I initially regarded Extinction Rebellion as wrong, but well-meaning. I’ve now come to the conclusion they are not only wrong, but actively harmful to the cause they claim to champion.

During their first action in 2019, I was sympathetic to the urgency with which XR demanded action on climate change, and the importance they attached to the issue. I shared, to some extent, their frustration that it wasn’t given the prominence in political debates that its seriousness merits. And I admired their skill in triggering a national conversation on climate change.

However I now believe Extinction Rebellion have gone badly off course with their use of polarising tactics, and that their approach to fighting climate change is completely wrong.

It has become apparent, for example, that they predominantly direct their protests against people and organisations on the right of British politics. Boris Johnson, the Centre for Policy Studies, and the Telegraph are some of their recent targets. But to address climate change effectively over multiple political cycles, we need the support of all political traditions – particularly Conservatives.

We need messages and messengers that will appeal to those groups among whom support for climate policies is lowest, not attacks on the political leaders and institutions they trust. We need to celebrate when once-sceptical Conservatives put forward good climate policies, not criticise their lack of purity.

Another problem is their uninspiring message of despair. Remember XR founder Roger Hallam’s claim that climate change will see billions of deaths, or children at school today will not survive to adulthood?

Of course, unmitigated climate change is incredibly dangerous, but fighting it requires us to be hopeful. We must believe that, if we act, we can succeed in stopping the most severe impacts. We shouldn’t dwell on apocalypse, but rather focus on solutions that create jobs and bring new industries to Britain, while making our towns and cities more prosperous, greener, and healthier places to live.

We also have to bring people with us. Yet by letting an all-powerful assembly, made up of a tiny unelected minority, decide our pathway to net zero, XR is attempting to short-circuit the democratic process.

We do need comprehensive public engagement on climate change, and there is certainly a useful role for assemblies in developing policy. But decisions should be taken by elected politicians that the voters can hold accountable and kick out of office if they choose.

Vital public consent for climate action would quickly be shredded by the pace of change they are demanding. Net zero by 2025 would be eye-wateringly expensive, and cause huge economic dislocation. Instead, we need a transition that is as quick as possible, but which gives people time to adjust, and companies the opportunity to invest for net zero as part of the normal business cycle.

Disagreeing with this 2025 target doesn’t mean you aren’t worried about climate change. Far from it. Environmental ambition should not – although frequently is – measured by the earliness of a target date or the scale of government spending. Truly ambitious policies must also be feasible, costed, and command the support of the public.

Nor is it about being ‘anti-science’. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that the world must reach net zero emissions by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The UK’s independent Committee on Climate Change agrees that a 2050 net zero target meets our obligations under the Paris Agreement.

While I would be delighted if technological innovation meant we could reach net zero before 2050, it is the case that our 2050 net zero target has a much sounder basis in science than XR’s 2025 deadline.

Nor should we excuse their extreme actions as creating political space for moderate proposals on tackling climate change. For one thing, that is not what most XR campaigners are aiming to achieve. They do not accept compromise.

More broadly, the media and parliamentary debate around Extinction Rebellion is increasingly focused on policing and human rights issues. Note that the statement on XR in Parliament last week was given by the policing minister, not the climate change minister.

Even the climate discussion they provoke is unhelpful. In the media, sceptics of climate science who opportunistically elide XR with mainstream environmentalism, are pitched against left-wing climate activists. XR’s demands and tactics are inimical to a reasoned, evidence-based debate on climate.

But enough negativity. Here is my alternative approach. We need a credible, deliverable and affordable plan to reach net zero by 2050. One that creates millions of well-paid green jobs across the country, that revitalises our towns and cities with the clean industries of the future, and that harnesses the genius of our scientists and the creativity of our entrepreneurs. One that gives consumers freedom to choose between attractive and compelling solutions, and where private-sector competition and government support make them affordable for all.

We need to create the frameworks for businesses to invest in clean technologies, including an appropriate balance of fiscal incentives, regulation, and market signals. And the government needs to make it easier for people to make greener choices in their daily lives, to gain skills to work in clean industries, and to participate in community efforts to improve their local environment.

We have so much more to do to get on track to, and reach, net zero. We need major programmes to upgrade homes, restore nature, and build out renewable energy. We need to deploy new technologies such as green hydrogen, carbon capture storage, and heat pumps, and bring down their costs. In sectors like aviation and shipping, we need to develop and commercialise technologies that are still in their research phase. And we need to do all of this while bringing the public with us and keeping the UK economy competitive.

We have a great prize within our grasp – a clean, reindustrialised Britain, and nature restored to our beautiful landscapes – but we should be clear that achieving it will be hard work.

XR is making that vision even harder to achieve by alienating the public. I fear they are coarsening and toxifying our public discourse on climate change, and fuelling the extremes. For the sake of the climate, I hope they change course.

Andrew Griffith: Suspending Air Passenger Duty could give the aviation industry the lifeline it needs

10 Aug

Never has there been a more important time for Britain to show that it remains open for business.

The UK has been an open, connected economy since before Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations in the eighteenth century. The prosperity to pay for the high-quality public services that we have come to expect depends fundamentally upon trade, exports and the world actively choosing to “do business” here. Among leading countries, only Switzerland, Singapore and the UAE – three nations incidentally that are all now offering airside testing for Covid – are more reliant upon international trade in order to maintain their own standard of living.

Aviation is therefore doubly important to the UK economy. It is a large sector, accounting for many high skilled and well-paid jobs. But even more vital is its role at the centre of British trade, carrying exports in the holds of the same planes that bring investors, tourists and students to the UK. Indeed, as the UK seizes the opportunities of becoming an independent trading nation again at the end of this year, this strategic importance will become even more pronounced, given the export ‘infrastructure’ that our aviation industry provides in supporting connectivity and routes with the rest of the world.

That is why a recent report from Airlines UK and York Aviation projecting a decline in the UK’s connectivity from the impact of Covid is so dispiriting. While a short-term decline is unsurprising given the reality of the impact of the pandemic on the sector – one major London airport closed and air passengers at some points down by 97 per cent – the persistence in decline is.

Forecasts show that from this December the UK is expected to see a decline in long-haul connectivity of over 40 per cent. For domestic connectivity, this is forecast at 35 per cent, and for short-haul, just under 20 per cent. Such a rapid clogging up of the arteries of Britain’s trade with the world should concern us all.

What the report also shows however, is that not all of this decline is inevitable.

The UK has a diverse and competitive aviation sector and the Government is rightly reluctant to try to pick winners or to second guess the motives of commercial businesses. Some airlines were facing challenges long before Covid.

However, one sector-wide lever available to the Government to help kickstart a recovery in aviation is to suspend the additional burden of Air Passenger Duty (APD). By waiving APD for a year, it is estimated around half the routes that would otherwise be lost could be saved, providing a very real boost to the prospects of the sector.

Under this scenario passenger demand would increase by around 12 per cent, equating to 21 million passengers against a baseline number of around 170 million. Such an increase would safeguard thousands of aviation jobs across the country including those of my constituents in Arundel & South Downs near Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

Given the reduction in passenger volumes anyway, the cost to the Exchequer would be relatively modest and compensated for in the longer term by retaining a larger industry tax base that would otherwise be lost.

If suspending the headwind of Air Passenger Duty can do anything to help to get UK aviation – our key linkage and lifeline to the rest of the world – back on its feet sooner, then we would be remiss not to seriously consider it.