Scotland and the sustainable development goals: a national review to drive action

This review provides a statement of our pre-COVID-19 ambition on driving progress towards the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland. It brings together evidence, actions and stories of how we are making progress to meet the Goals.

14 Life Below Water

  • Environment

Scotland is a maritime nation with a sea area that is six times bigger than the land mass and a coastline that stretches over 18,000 km. Forty-one percent of Scotland’s population live within five kilometres of the coast and marine industries contribute £3.8 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) to our economy in 2016. In 2020 we are celebrating a year of Scotland’s Coast and Waters. Scotland has some of the most beautiful and diverse marine ecosystems in the world and we are committed to protecting and enhancing these amazing ecosystems to ensure they are safeguarded for future generations to enjoy. Scotland’s vision is for clean, healthy, safe, productive and diverse seas that are managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.

The marine environment in Scotland is covered by two key acts: the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010, which covers its inshore waters, and the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, which covers the offshore waters (known collectively as “the Marine Acts”). The Marine Acts introduced a new framework for marine planning to support better management of the competing demands on marine resources.

Using powers in the Marine Acts, the National Marine Plan (2015) was adopted to ensure increasing demand for the use of our marine environment is managed, economic development of marine industries is encouraged, and environmental protection is incorporated into marine decision making. The plan provides a single framework for developers and regulators of marine sectors to achieve sustainable development. Through this, Marine Scotland work with an number of national partners including SNH, SEPA and Historic Environment Scotland to manage Scotland’s seas. In addition, eleven Scottish marine regions have been created which cover sea areas extending out to 12 nautical miles. Currently two Marine Planning Partnerships (Clyde and Shetland) are developing Regional Marine Plans to enable more local ownership and decision making about specific issues within their area. A third Partnership is planned for the Orkney Islands.

Scotland’s Marine Atlas, published in 2011, provides information for the National Marine Plan and an assessment of the condition of Scotland’s seas. It is based on scientific evidence from data and analysis, supported by expert judgement. It was prepared by Marine Scotland working with SEPA, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH), Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland (MASTS). A new assessment of Scotland’s seas is due for publication in 2020.

The Marine Strategy Regulations 2010 apply in all of Scotland’s Seas and provide a framework for management, monitoring, and assessment of environmental status. This involves managing human activities to ensure the marine environment remains in a healthy state that can provide ecosystem services to current and future generations.

The Scottish Government and SEPA work together to develop a better environmental regulation programme. This aim is to protect and improve the environment in ways that, as far as possible, also help create health and wellbeing benefits and sustainable economic growth. SEPA was set up to reduce the impacts of pollution, principally through ensuring compliance with environmental regulations and supporting businesses to meet their legal obligations. Their regulatory strategy is an important part of the implementation of this work. Where necessary, SEPA takes firm action, including using enforcement powers.

Closer Look - Save Scottish Seas

The Save Scottish Seas campaign has been running for over 10 years and is a result of collective effort of Scottish Environment LINK member organisations to secure better marine conservation legislation and policy. The purpose of the campaign is to achieve a vision of healthy, well-managed seas, where wildlife and coastal communities flourish and ecosystems are protected, connected and thriving by ensuring the effective implementation of the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010. The main outcomes of the campaign so far have been to help secure the Marine (Scotland) Act 2010 and engage over 40,000 people on the measures required to implement it (e.g. marine protected areas (MPAs), and marine spatial plans.

Fishing (target 14.4)

The management of sea fisheries in Scotland is devolved, with Scottish ministers responsible for managing fishing activity in the Scottish zone, and Scottish vessels wherever they are fishing. Scotland has long advocated the principles of responsible and sustainable fish stock management informed by the best available science. This is consistent with policies set out in the National Marine Plan, and National Discussion Paper on the Future of Fisheries Management in Scotland. Fish are a public resource to be managed for long term sustainability.

The Scottish Government is committed to delivering a sustainable, evidence based approach to the management of Scottish fisheries based on high quality scientific data. This commitment forms a key part of an overall approach to managing Scotland’s marine environment. It directly contributes to delivery of the Scottish Government’s Purpose and supports the delivery of the NPF, specifically the National Outcome: ‘We value, enjoy, protect and enhance our environment’.

The previous ‘Marine Environment’ National indicator was not well suited for tracking progress on the objective to improve the marine environment. It was based on Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of commercial stocks: something which is decided at international negotiations and which the Scottish Government could not therefore determine on its own. The last published indicator (calculated as a three-year moving average), for 2017 showed that 67% of stocks were managed in line with scientific advice. This demonstrated that performance between 2016 and 2017 was maintained. The longer term trend shows an improvement since early 2000 when around 40% of stocks were managed in line with scientific advice. This indicator has been replaced for 2019. By focusing solely on fish stocks, the indicator did not consider other aspects of the marine environment. It has been replaced with a new pair of indicators measuring (a) the state of commercial fish stocks and (b) cleanliness of the marine environment. These indicators better reflect the breadth of Scottish Government objectives for the marine environment and SDG targets.

Additionally, a project is underway to investigate the feasibility of a combined terrestrial and marine biodiversity indicator.

This is the first year that the ‘sustainability of commercial fish stocks’ indicator has been produced. Based on 2017 (latest available data), it was retrospectively calculated to 2015 to provide trend data and a direction of travel. This indicator more directly considers the percentage of commercial stocks where fish mortality (the amount of fish captured: landings plus discards) compares against the maximum sustainable yield of fish stocks. The indicator shows an improving situation from 46% in 2015 to 54% in 2017.

The Data Picture: Sustainability of fish stocks

Target 14.4 (indicator 14.4.1) aims to effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics.

In Scotland, the proportion of key commercial Scottish fish stocks where fishing mortality is below sustainability thresholds was 54% in 2018, having been rising in previous years.

Line graph showing the percentage of fish stocks fished sustainably in Scotland rising consistently from 46% in 2015 to 50% in 2016. Following this, the upward trend continues with 54% of fish stocks fished sustainably in 2017.

The percentage of fish stocks fished sustainably in Scotland

Source: International Council on Exploration of the Seas

Illegal fishing (target 14.4)

Fish stocks must be managed effectively, and Marine Scotland scientists provide the highest quality science to inform decisions and negotiating priorities, taking into account wider policy objectives, public attitudes, socio-economic implications and the precautionary approach. Marine Scotland Compliance has a budget of around £18 million for deterring and detecting illegal activities through effective compliance and enforcement arrangements. 262 staff are employed, split between various functions, including Marine Surveillance and Coastal Inspection.

The European Court of Auditors found in 2017, that more effort is needed across the EU to have an effective fisheries control system in place. On a visit to Scotland, auditors considered that there was a high proportion of vessels with more than five infringements, with 169 single operators committing more than five infringements between 2013 and 2015.

The Scottish context is important in terms of compliance. Scots law requires corroboration, which places extra demands on enforcement agencies. In Scotland we record all infringements, irrespective of how serious and the extent to which they are evidenced, but only in the most serious cases do we take punitive action such as offering a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) or referring a case to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service for consideration of prosecution. This does however mean that many of the infringements recorded in Scotland are relatively minor and are often regulatory offences, such as late or non-submission of statutory returns, or involve small amounts of fish. This is from a fleet of just over 2,000 vessels as at the end of 2017.

Marine Scotland has the powers to issue FPNs in lieu of court action, up to a maximum value of £10,000. There are very few repeat offenders and if a third infringement is detected and sufficient evidence is secured, a referral to the Crown Office is the most likely outcome. Similarly, if an FPN remains unpaid, then referral of the case to the Crown Office is the next step. There are few referrals to Crown Office as the payment rate for FPNs is very high. This also means that referrals to Crown Office and therefore criminal convictions are low.

Fishing capacity control (target 14.6)

The statutory limit on UK fleet capacity is established in Annex II of EU Regulation 1380/2013. The Scottish Government, in line with all UK Fishing Administrations, operates a restrictive licensing policy, which maintains the regulatory limits on fleet capacity. No grants or subsidies are available allowing increased capacity and overall the fleet segments remain in balance.

UK fishing vessels are required by law to be registered. Fishing vessels must also have a licence that specifies the conditions they must adhere to. UK fishing vessel licences authorise the sea areas in which a vessel can fish and the species of fish that can be caught. Scottish based vessels are those registered to a port in Scotland licenced and administered by a Scottish district.

In 2017, the number of active Scottish based vessels was 2,065, a 2% increase (32 vessels) since 2016 and a 6% decrease (135 vessels) since 2008. The Scottish fleet is dominated by vessels that are ten metres and under in length, with a total of 1,503 vessels falling into this category in 2017, accounting for 73% of the Scottish fleet. There were 562 registered vessels over ten metres in length. The ten metre and under fleet mostly fish using creels. In 2017, 88% (1,323 vessels) of the ten metre and under vessels were fishing using creels. Of the 562 over ten metre vessels, 64% (358 vessels) targeted shellfish, whilst one third (33%) targeted demersal species. Only 20 vessels targeted pelagic species.

Sustainable aquaculture (target 14.7)

In Scotland we are supportive of the continued growth of aquaculture but are clear that growth must be sustainable, with due regard to the marine environment and alongside other marine users. In March 2017, the Scottish Government published a joint ministerial aquaculture policy statement, reaffirming that an appropriate balance is struck between the continued growth of the aquaculture industry and regulating the potential environmental impacts.

Since 1 April 2007, all new shellfish and finfish farm developments in Scotland have required planning permission under the Town and Country Planning Act from the relevant Planning Authority. Fish farms also need up to 4 further consents to operate, issued by Marine Scotland, SEPA and the Crown Estate Scotland. In coming to a decision for a spatial planning consent for a shellfish or finfish farm, local authorities consider a wide range of issues which include, for example, considering the potential environmental consequences of the proposal prior to granting planning permission and interaction with other users of the marine environment, as well as considering the landscape with advice from Scottish Natural Heritage.

All fish farms must meet strict guidelines to ensure that the environmental effects are assessed and managed safely. Most finfish developments will require to be screened as to whether an Environmental Impact Assessment is necessary. Scotland’s 10 year Farmed Fish Health Framework provides a strategic and evidence based approach to the short and long term improvement of fish health in Scotland. A dedicated subgroup has been established under the framework to consider Climate Change and Ocean Acidification and its potential impacts.

Small scale artisanal fishers (target 14b)

The Scottish Government through its Inshore Fisheries Strategy 2015 recognises the valuable socio-economic contribution inshore fishers make to Scotland’s rural economy. This Strategy sets out a vision to support development of a more sustainable, profitable, and well-managed inshore fisheries sector in Scotland, and focuses on improving the evidence base, streamlining fisheries governance and stakeholder participation, and embedding inshore fisheries management into wider marine planning.

Over the last three years, the Scottish Government has introduced a package of conservation measures for scallop, crab and lobster fisheries, introduced catch limits for unlicensed fishermen, and established a razor fish trial. Three inshore fisheries pilot projects are also being progressed to test a more localised approach to fisheries management and whether greater use of spatial management can yield greater benefits to Scotland. This is complemented by a network of regional Inshore Fisheries Groups that are now implementing local management plans.

Provision is also made for smaller inshore and creel fishers, with national quota pools for target stocks, including langoustine and mackerel. The majority of our inshore stocks do not have limits of allowable catches and there are limited constraints to small-scale artisanal fishers accessing these. £1.5 million is being invested to modernise the management of inshore fisheries, with enhanced monitoring and tracking technology for Scotland’s commercial inshore fleet.

The European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) programme in Scotland supports fisheries, inland waters, aquaculture, the supply chain (including processing and fishing communities), maritime sectors, and supports communities to deliver economic benefits during the transition phase of the Common Fisheries Policy reform programme. Since 2016, the EMFF has funded 560 projects with over £100 million grant, this has enabled £160 million investment in safety, research, harbours, selective gear, marine planning, aquaculture production, community projects and more.

Specific examples of EMFF funded projects in Scotland include:

  • £950,000 to the Gear Innovation and Technology Advisory Group to develop & trial innovative fishing gear technology to improve selectivity
  • £1.5 million to support the Scottish Inshore Fisheries Integrated Data System (SIFIDS), this will aid collection, collation and analyse data from the Scottish inshore fishing fleet to inform fisheries management
  • £1.6 million to the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre for a collaborative project with industry to pilot non-medicinal sea lice treatments

Marine pollution (target 14.1)

The revised NPF includes a Clean Seas indicator. It measures the extent to which levels of contaminants are sufficiently low that they are unlikely to cause harm to marine organisms in Scottish waters. The indicator looks at five contaminant groups, in biota and sediments, for four regions around Scotland.

The Data Picture: Clean seas

Target 14.1 aims to prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution.

In Scotland, the concentrations of metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in biota (fish and shellfish) and sediment are at acceptable levels in 82.5% of contaminant assessments.

Line graph shows percentage of biogeographic regions with acceptably low levels of contaminants remains stable at 80% from the year 2015 to the year 2016. Following this there is a rise to 82.5% of biogeographic regions with acceptably low levels in 2017.

The percentage of biogeographic regions with acceptably low levels of contaminants

Source: UK Clean Seas Environment Monitoring Programme

The majority of ocean pollution originates from land. Types of pollution include fluid chemicals and solid macro- and micro-plastics, which threaten marine ecosystems, and our economy. Reducing the amount of pollution and debris entering our seas is important and working internationally is key to solving this global problem. The UK has achieved Good Environmental Status for Contaminants and Eutrophication, but not for marine litter. Marine litter is a global issue which requires partnership working, which is mainly undertaken through the OSPAR convention and its Marine Litter Regional Action Plan. Scotland’s Marine Litter Strategy has a clear purpose to develop measures to ensure that the amount of litter entering the marine and coastal environment is minimised to bring ecological, economic and social benefits.

The National Litter Strategy, which works in parallel with the marine litter strategy, has five clear directions; public and business behaviour change, reducing litter sources, contributing to a low carbon economy, improve monitoring and increase co-operative working in both the UK and internationally. Additional actions have been taken to develop and introduce legislation such as the ban on microbeads in toiletries and plastic-stemmed cotton buds. We are also first in the UK to commit to introducing a deposit return scheme, and we have established an expert panel to consider how best to reduce demand for single use materials. We are supporting coastal communities adversely affected by the litter of others at litter sink locations, and fishing communities to better manage disposal of their end of life fishing gear. Please see chapter Goal 12 for Scotland’s action to encourage a circular economy.

Behaviour change projects come in many forms, from school education programmes to social media. Scotland is also tackling a more sensitive source of marine litter; sanitary products, which are high in plastic content and are making their way into our seas and onto our beaches. We have recently committed to supporting a project to encouraging the use of reusable sanitary products, which will also build on the success of our free provisions.

Currently, marine plastics are regularly monitored in Scottish marine waters in four separate programmes:

1) Seabed litter (monitored throughout the year using data collected by the demersal fish stock assessment trawl survey programme. Data reported to ICES);

2) Floating microplastics (Data collected annually in a round-Scotland offshore survey);

3) Beach litter (data collected by the Marine Conservation Society using citizen scientists);

4) Plastic particles in fulmar stomachs (coordinated by OSPAR)

In addition, research and development is under way to develop monitoring in offshore sediments and biota (including fish stomachs), to enhance laboratory analytical methods for microplastics in beach sediment, and to understand dynamics of marine plastics using modelling. Our data is being used internationally but also demonstrates that Scotland is also affected by the global litter problem.

Closer Look - Nurdles

Scotland is showing further leadership with new approaches to reduce marine litter. Nurdles are pre-production plastics which come in the form of pellets, powders and flakes and are an essential part of plastic product manufacture. Unfortunately, during handling across the supply chain, some of these plastics are being lost to our water courses and make their way into our seas. The wide distribution of these microplastics have been recognised through a citizen science project hosted by Fidra, The Great Nurdle Hunt. The plastics industry developed guidelines to reduce pellet loss in Operation Clean Sweep and they are now working with Scottish Government to further develop an auditable supply chain approach to further reduce loss.

Closer Look - SCRAPbook – Scottish Coastal Rubbish Aerial Photography

SCRAPbook is an initiative, led by the Moray Firth Partnership and UK Civil Air Patrol (Sky Watch), using aerial photographs taken from light aircraft, to create a map showing all the coastal litter and pollution hotspots around the coast of Scotland. Throughout 2018, images were captured covering the mainland coast and these images were then classified by a team of volunteers according to how much litter was visible. For the first time, these data provide a spatially comprehensive overview of where litter is accumulating on the mainland coast, the initial step towards understanding the distribution of marine litter sinks around the country. The map is now informing targeted cleaning operations to clean up Scotland’s coastline.

The UK implements the OSPAR Hazardous Substances and Eutrophication Strategies. Contaminants and effects monitoring is undertaken in Scottish coastal and offshore areas as part of the UK Clean Seas Environment Monitoring Programme (CSEMP). The main focus of the CSEMP to date has been to meet the temporal trend monitoring requirements of the OSPAR Convention and in respect of compliance with EC Directives such as Water Framework Directive and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) (Directive 2008/56/EC). Only one coastal region around Scotland, the Ythan estuary, is regarded as problematic in respect of eutrophication, that is, over-enrichment by nutrients.

Clean water is vital in areas where shellfish are produced to ensure a good quality product which is safe for human consumption. The Scottish Government has produced regulations for setting the environmental objectives for shellfish water protected areas, of which there are 84 in the Scotland River Basin District.

Management, protection and conservation of marine and coastal ecosystems (targets 14.2 and 14.5)

Scotland’s National Marine Plan and Marine Licensing ensures sustainable development in the marine environment. Specific action is taken to develop and manage the Marine Protected Area Network and put in place specific measures and strategies to protect specific species. Protected areas are used to ensure protection of some of the most vulnerable species and habitats. The Scottish Marine Protected Area (MPA) network includes sites for nature conservation, protection of biodiversity, demonstrating sustainable management, and protecting our heritage. In total, the network covers approximately 22% of our seas and comprises of:

  • 217 sites for nature conservation protecting a broad range of habitats and species that are found in our seas. Habitats range from rocky shores and sea caves at the coastline to deep sea habitats such as coral gardens and Lophelia pertusa. Species range from harbour porpoise to common skate to puffins
  • 5 other area based measures which protect species such as sandeels and blue ling, as well as vulnerable marine ecosystems
  • 1 Demonstration and Research MPA around Fair Isle to investigate the factors affecting seabird populations demonstrate the socio-economic benefits of the marine environment
  • 8 Historic MPAs to preserve sites of historical importance around the Scottish coast

The network as a whole is representative of the range of biodiversity and geodiversity found in Scotland’s seas.

Closer Look - Community-led marine conservation

Fauna and Flora International (FFI) – a wildlife conservation organisation - coordinate a project on community-led marine conservation in Scotland. The project aims to help the voices of local community groups be heard in the decision making and management of their seas. With support and advice from FFI, a number of local communities in Scotland are actively involved in promoting the values of Marine Protected Areas. These include the community of Arran, which through a local NGO (COAST), established the first and only community-managed No-Take Zone in UK waters, and the community of Fair Isle, which set up the first ever Demonstration and Research MPA in 2016. The project has now helped to establish the Coastal Communities Network, Scotland – an active (and growing) group of currently sixteen different community associations across Scotland’s coast, who have come together to strengthen their voice on issues of shared concern.

Closer Look - Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project

Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project (Deep) is a groundbreaking initiative to restore Native European oysters to the Dornoch Firth. It has been pioneered by Glenmorangie in partnership with Heriot-Watt University and the Marine Conservation Society. The project’s vision is to restore long-lost oyster reefs to the Firth, to enhance biodiversity and also act in tandem with Glenmorangie’s new Anaerobic Digestion (AD) plant, which is purifying the by-products created through the distillation process – an environmental first for a Distillery. The AD plant is expected to purify up to 95% of the waste water that the Distillery releases into the Firth, with the remaining 5% of the organic waste naturally cleaned by the oysters – nature’s ecosystem champions. DEEP aims to shift the ambition of marine conservation. This is not just about protecting the resources we have today, but restoring ecosystems to their full potential. To achieve this, DEEP has brought together the best brains from the business, scientific and academic communities.

Ocean acidification (target 14.3)

Ocean acidification is seen as a key pressure on ecosystems for the future as higher acidity has been associated with stifled shell growth in marine animals as well as being suspected to cause reproductive disorders in some fish. It may also lead to diminished capacity of oceans to store carbon meaning more of the CO2 produced by us will remain in the atmosphere, exacerbating climate change. Understanding the role and impact ocean acidification has and the amount of related data now available has dramatically increased since 2010. Through OSPAR, Scotland is building the evidence base by monitoring, collecting samples to measure carbonate chemistry parameters and look at changes in shells.

Closer Look - Blue carbon research

The Scottish Government established a Blue Carbon research forum in 2018, in partnership with St Andrew’s University, Glasgow University, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh Napier University, and the Scottish Association for Marine Science. The programme will measure the ability of Scotland’s marine environment to store carbon dioxide and mitigate against the effects of climate change. The programme aims to begin to identify and map blue carbon resource in Scottish waters over 2018-19. Through the establishment of the Scottish Blue Carbon Forum, Scotland is taking a lead in the development of an integrated programme of research into different aspects of blue carbon sequestration and storage. This will provide essential information to help inform what is required to be done to enhance and protect these key habitats into the future, which is essential for the mitigation of future climate change. This project has a direct link to Goal 13 on Climate Action.

Challenges and next steps

Scotland’s performance is good across Goal 14 – there is, overall, provision to “sustainably manage and protect marine ecosystems” around Scotland. Scotland shares seas with neighbouring countries and achievement of Goal 14 is only possible through strong national action coupled with international cooperation. Some activities that impact on the marine environment are managed at a European or international level, for example fisheries and shipping, and other impacts can cross national boundaries such as litter, eutrophication, noise. Therefore, national action to protect the marine environment needs to be supported by a framework to ensure action is taken across Europe.

Scotland collaborates with other EU member states and NGOs through a number of EU frameworks to implement the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Water Framework Directive, Wild Birds Directive and the Habitats Directive. We also work internationally in the North East Atlantic with the other contracting parties of the OSPAR Convention to protect the marine environment. The private sector and NGO observers actively participate in OSPAR, for example bringing forward proposals for MPAs in areas beyond national jurisdiction or helping develop best environmental practice for specific industry sectors.

Clearly, there is an important European context for delivery in light of the EU common fisheries policy. The EU has provided Scotland with an array of legislative drivers for environmental regulations, including requirements to develop marine plans and sustainably use our seas and oceans. The outcome of EU exit has potential implications on all of these policy areas. The Scottish Government has taken the necessary steps to ensure that EU law in these areas is retained upon exit.

Within the context of Brexit, Scotland has a chance to look afresh at how fisheries are managed to ensure they remain productive and sustainable for future generations. The Scottish Government’s Future Fisheries Management Strategy contains a range of ideas and proposals to help deliver a future management structure, which will firmly establish Scotland’s place as a world leader in responsible and sustainable fisheries management. The overarching objective will be to maintain the long term structure of small family owned businesses to support target 14b and increase inclusive long term economic growth of the Scottish fishing industry. Future of Fisheries management in Scotland: national discussion paper was launched in March 2019. This will inform and develop our future fisheries strategy.

Target 11 of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity as part of the Aichi targets is more ambitious than the SDG indicator 14.5.1 of protected area spatial coverage. Aichi target 11 states: ‘By 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscapes and seascapes.’

The Marine Protected Area (MPA) Network covers 22% of Scotland’s seas. Over the next six years work on the MPA network will focus on completing the network and implementing management measures. Alongside this, monitoring and assessment of what the network is achieving for biodiversity will continue. By the next report the network should be complete, well managed, with results showing what the objectives of the network have achieved.

The challenges around marine litter will take significant amount of effort and time to address. It will require significant changes to a lot of the resources that we use every day and our practices for disposing of them. This is about changing behaviours of both businesses and households, across a wide range of supply chains. Scotland is working towards developing actions to reduce input of litter into the marine environment – e.g. ban on plastic stemmed cotton buds expected in 2019, and actions to follow the guidelines in the European Strategy for Plastics in the Circular Economy.

Ocean acidification is recognised in the OSPAR Intermediate Assessment 2017 common indicators as a driver of ecosystem change, but strong causal links and mechanisms have not been identified. This means it is difficult to understand why an indicator has changed or not changed as a consequence of climate change and climate variability in the ocean, atmosphere and cryosphere.

The issues and challenges outlined above can be considered holistically in the context of the National Marine Plan. Scotland completed its first review of the National Marine Plan in 2018 with the next review due in 2021. This offers the chance to review and consider the effectiveness of the marine planning system in managing Scotland’s marine environment.

When the Scottish Government embraced the recommendations made by the Committee on Climate Change in May, it acted immediately, setting out increased ambition for net zero emissions by 2045. It is looking across responsibilities to make sure Scotland continues with the policies that are working and increases action where necessary. Scotland’s Energy Strategy recognises the important role of the oil and gas industry in the energy transition and the achievement of our climate change targets, both in terms of the transferable skills and infrastructure, but also the use of natural gas as a bridging fuel, and the potential for the production of hydrogen from natural gas using Steam Methane Reforming coupled with Carbon Capture and Storage. The role of the oil and gas sector in the successful development of hydrogen products and Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) is particularly crucial. A significant deployment of CCS, particularly if it builds up a required skills base and industry which was internationally deployable, would also go some way to reconciling the continued level of supply of fossil fuels in Scotland relative to consumption. The Climate Change Committee’s report into the feasibility of a net zero emissions UK stated that “CCS is a necessity not an option”.

The Scottish Government’s continued support for oil and gas exploration and production in the North Sea will now be conditional upon a sustainable, secure and inclusive energy transition. This will include an increased net zero investment by industry and government. Reducing emissions from the extraction of offshore oil and gas will make a significant contribution to tackling global climate change, particularly if technologies applied in the North Sea can be exported and deployed in other countries.

To drive this change, the Scottish Government will support in principle the Oil and Gas Technology Centre’s plans to establish a new Net Zero Solution Centre, enabling the North Sea to become the first net zero hydrocarbon basin in the world. This centre will support the development and deployment of carbon capture, utilisation and storage, hydrogen and renewables technologies that can be integrated with existing offshore oil and gas infrastructure.

The Scottish Government established the Just Transition Commission to advise Ministers on how to move to a carbon-neutral economy in a way that is fair for all. Oil and gas will be the subject of a Just Transition meeting this autumn. The Commission is engaging with a trade unions, business and industry leaders, across all sectors, in delivering its remit. The oil and gas sector can play a positive role in this transition, helping to design the diverse energy system that will be required for the future.

Commitments in the Scottish Government’s 2019-20 Programme for Government that relate to this Goal

  • The Scottish Government will update its Marine Litter Strategy in 2020, increasing the focus on litter removal alongside litter prevention
  • A new virtual centre to coordinate marine climate change science and research will be established



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