10 April 2014
Article by Katy Orford, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
The European Commission (the Commission) has warned that ‘urgent efforts’ are needed to improve the marine environment to the level required under EU law by 2020.
On 20 February 2014 the Commission published its review of reports by Member States on the current condition of their marine waters. Member States are required to produce these reports in order to comply with the requirements of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (the Directive). The Directive states that all EU marine waters should achieve ‘good environmental status’ (GES) by 2020.
The Directive, put in place in 2008, is the first all-encompassing piece of EU legislation to protect the marine environment. Under the Directive, Member States must: set out descriptors of what achievement of GES will look like for their seas: develop monitoring strategies; and draw-up action plans setting out how they intend to achieve the Directive’s targets. The Commission’s review concludes that there is a poor level of implementation of the Directive, poor understanding of what GES is, and targets are often unambitious and non-measurable. The report also highlights shortcomings in coordination between countries across regional seas and in the integration with other environmental legislation.
The review shows that levels of some hazardous substances and nutrient pollution remain above acceptable limits. Oxygen depletion is particularly serious in the Baltic and Black Seas. Marine litter, especially plastic, is a growing concern with 712 litter items found per 100m stretch of beach along the Atlantic Coast.
An accompanying report from the European Environment Agency shows that fewer than 20% of marine species and habitats are in conditions that represent GES.
Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said:
The message is clear: Europe’s seas and oceans are not in good shape. But we depend on these seas, and we need to find a balance. That means finding ways to reap their economic potential without increasing the pressure on an already fragile environment, creating growth and jobs that are secure in the long term.
The UK’s report is grouped with 9 other Member States in the review of the North East Atlantic Ocean. The review highlights the achievements and shortcomings of the UK’s marine assessment some of which include:
- the UK was one of three Member States to provide a clear and conclusive judgement on the current status of the habitats;
- the UK was one of four Member States to report on water column habitat types;
- the UK was one of two Member States to provide qualitative judgement of the current status of most of the species/functional groups reported;
- the UK did not report on ecosystems;
- coherence was low between the UK and other countries of the Celtic Sea region in terms of their targets; and
- the UK excluded indicators such as nutrient ratios and water transparency from GES assessments.
The Welsh Government contributes to the UK report and is responsible for ensuring that Welsh marine waters achieve GES by 2020. Concern about progress in Wales towards the Directive’s targets was raised by several organisations during the Environment and Sustainability Committee’s
Marine Inquiry. However, stakeholders also felt that the Directive’s requirements could act as powerful tool for delivery of a better marine environment in Wales.
As a consequence of the review, the Commission will give recommendations to the Member States on how to overcome the challenges identified. The Commission will organise a series of regional meetings in order to agree on follow-up actions.
The Commission has urged Member States to improve regional co-operation through Regional Sea Conventions (RSCs) (these are four co-operation structures which aim to protect the marine environment and bring together Member States and neighbouring countries that share marine waters in Europe) before their next report in 2018.
The Commission also wants to reform the law defining GES by 2015 to make it clearer and improve comparability and coherence.