The North Sea is one of the most industrialised seas in the world, with drilling rigs and offshore wind turbines alongside the more traditional shipping and fishing activities.

“That level of use places significant pressure on eco-systems in the North Sea,” said Baroness Scott, chair of the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Environment and Energy.

The environmental side effects include diminishing fish stocks, warming sea-temperatures and a threat to seabirds from wind turbines and oil spills.

“If the North Sea is left uncoordinated, the conflict between environmental sustainability and economic growth will intensify,” said Baroness Scott. “To avoid that, and to strike the right balance, we will need a coordinated and strategic approach”.

The Committee’s suggested actions for UK Government:

1) Convene a North Sea ministerial conference

– No existing body or mechanism has a broad enough remit to facilitate the political co-operation required to make the necessary step-change in the management of the North Sea basin. The conference should seek to deliver the urgently required political and strategic vision which will sustain this precious resource and secure it for future generations.

2) Establish a single database for North Sea information

– There is no shortage of data but it is collected by a range of different agencies which can waste resources and mean the data is not used effectively. The Committee call for a single cross-border data collection initiative and say the new European Marine Observation and Data Network should take on this role.

3) Review funding of the North Sea fisheries Advisory Council

– The Committee also recommends that the UK Government consider how it may be able to contribute additional resources to enable the North Sea Advisory Council to fulfil its obligations.

 Baroness Scott sets out the Committee’s key reccommendations

Fossil fuel future

This week’s Budget could play a major role in the future of the North Sea, as George Osborne is expected to announce tax breaks for the struggling oil and gas industry – which employs more than 400,000 people across the UK and is estimated to be worth £35bn to the economy.

Exploratory drilling in the UK’s North Sea has fallen to just 12 wells last year, down from 44 in 2008. 

The UK renewable energy sector has spoken out about the need to end perverse subsidies, with REA head of external affairs James Court recently telling edie: “The constant oil price fluctuations, swinging from bad for consumers to bad for industry, whilst always being bad for the environment, highlights the need for us to move away from fossil fuels.

“Renewable technologies offer long term stability, more UK jobs and less dependence on imports whilst helping the UK meet the carbon targets all three major UK parties support.”

Brad Allen

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