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Legal bid to help Welsh waters tackle climate change

Senedd Member Joyce Watson hopes to introduce a ‘Blue Carbon’ Bill to help Wales become a net-zero carbon emission country by 2050. The Labour Mid and West Wales representative’s bid is backed by the Marine Conservation Society.

· Welsh seas more than a third larger than Welsh land mass, around 32,000km²

· Welsh Government committed to decreasing emissions by 95% by 2050

· At least 113 million tonnes of carbon already stored in Welsh marine habitats

The proposed new law has been entered in the Welsh Parliament’s Member Bill ballot, which will take place on Monday (22 September). If selected, MS’s will debate, scrutinise and vote on the plan.

Joyce Watson MS said:

“The Welsh Government is committed to decreasing Wales’ carbon emissions by 95% by 2050, with an ambition to reach net zero. Nature-based solutions can help us achieve that goal.

“Welsh seas are more than a third larger than our land mass – and at least 113 million tonnes of carbon are already stored in our marine habitats, almost 10 years’ worth of Welsh carbon emissions.

“A Blue Carbon Bill would ensure the protection and recovery of key marine habitats and help Wales become a net-zero carbon emission country by 2050.”

The Marine Conservation Society’s recent report, Blue carbon: ocean-based solutions to the climate crisis, outlines the ocean’s capacity to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere – but only if properly protected and recovered.

Marine ecosystems like seagrass meadows, saltmarshes and mangroves are blue carbon habitats, meaning they capture and store carbon from the atmosphere just like plants and trees on land. Blue carbon is also stored in seafloor sediment, where plants are rooted, and in the animals who live in the water, including seabirds, fish and larger mammals, like whales.

Angie Contestabile, Marine Conservation Society’s Public Affairs Manager for Wales said:

“Welsh waters are home to incredibly powerful blue carbon habitats, all of them vital in fighting the climate crisis. However, we must ensure that the ocean has the resilience to help us. That’s why we’re supporting Joyce’s bid for new legislation to address the gap in protection and additional management of these vital marine and coastal assets.”

Under the Environment (Wales) Act 2016, the Welsh Government must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Wales by at least 80% by the year 2050 – it has since committed to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Mrs Watson is a long-standing member of the Senedd’s environment committee and marine environment champion. Last year she led a backbench Senedd debate calling for a ‘Teal New Deal’ for Wales, encompassing: sustainable fisheries; investment in renewables and marine energy zones; fully protected management of marine areas; and safeguarding blue carbon.

Her Blue Carbon Bill could lead to the funding, development and implementation of a national Blue Carbon Recovery Plan which would:

1. Establish a Wales Blue Carbon Forum

2. Undertake a blue carbon audit for Wales to address current gaps in evidence base of Welsh blue carbon stores

3. Establish ‘blue carbon protection zones’ to provide additional protection for key blue carbon stores and habitats

4. Invest in ‘climate smart’ fisheries to reduce pressure on blue carbon stores from active fishing gear by incentivising the use of low-impact and passive fishing gears

5. Protect blue carbon already within Marine Protected Areas by prohibiting some activities that have the potential to cause significant damage to blue carbon habitats

6. Adopt actions to decarbonise the Welsh fishing fleet by setting out a programme to replace older vessels with new energy efficient vessels and alternative fuel use, and remove any existing harmful fuel subsidies

7. Invest in fish carbon restoration strategies with the purpose of supporting: incentivisation and promotion of low-carbon, sustainable fish and aquaculture products in Wales; reduction of waste in the seafood supply chain; and promotion of climate smart aquaculture production

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