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Ten years of the Climate Change Act

The 10th Anniversary of the Climate Change Act is upon us, and while it has been instrumental in formalising how the UK tackles and builds resistance to climate change, and in driving action towards a reduction in emissions, there is still more to be done. 

PML has been involved in research relating to climate change for much longer than the last decade, and has been at the fore-front of pioneering marine science that studies the ocean and its responses to a warming climate and an increase in ocean acidification. To mark the 10th anniversary of the Climate Change Act, the 10 highlights below show how PML’s research over the course of the last decade has furthered our knowledge of climate change and its wider consequences.

The Western Channel Observatory (WCO) was established long before the Climate Change Act was even a twinkle in its creators’ eyes. It has been providing a long-term, unique data-set for years, helping us to better understand the ocean. The WCO allows the tracking of key information about the health of The Channel, from water chemistry to temperature, and how marine life in the coastal waters has been responding to a changing climate.

Another vast body of knowledge has been gleaned from a second time-series: the Atlantic Meridional Transect (AMT), a cruise that travels the length of the Atlantic Ocean every year, from the UK to South Georgia. This year it celebrated its 28th annual voyage, packed with ocean observations, biogeochemistry, and a wealth of data to help inform further climate predictions.

How fisheries are affected by climate breakdown is another area of huge interest and importance. Around the world, millions still rely on fisheries as a primary source of nutrition. PML has been involved in many studies over the years investigating the role of marine life, fisheries, and what the future may look like. One highlight from 2012 evaluated fisheries sustainability against demand under predicted climate conditions, finding that fisheries should be able to cope, though good management would be critical.

More recently, however, it has been noted that a warming world will affect both fish size and their respective fisheries. PML scientists warned that some fishery targets may become unachievable under future climate change scenarios, as the proportion of large fish in the North Sea were predicted to decrease by as much as 60% in some areas.

Fish aren’t the only organisms in the sea directly affected by climate change. There are ripples felt throughout the food web. In 2013, a study led by PML’s Angus Atkinson was the first to show a potential negative impact on Antarctic krill. With reproduction slowed and growth stunted by rising temperatures, the effects will be felt by the many animals that depend upon healthy krill populations, throughout the Southern Ocean food web.

It isn’t all doom and gloom, however. How about putting fish back on the menu? As one PML-led Nature paper asks. In 2014, a study investigated how climate change is expected to affect the biological and physical processes of coastal and shelf regions of 67 countries, and how these in turn might affect the prosperity of their communities. One of the key findings was that, despite human population increases and potential climate change impacts, the ocean could still be able to meet the global demand for fish.

Warming waters aren’t the only problem. Ocean acidification (OA) is the change in ocean pH caused by elevated CO2 levels entering the water, and the chemical processes this triggers. This change in chemistry has already been shown to be harmful, having detrimental impacts on behaviours and biology. One such example is the severe tissue damage observed in Atlantic cod larvae under increasing ocean acidification.

PML scientists have made a signification contribution to advancing the knowledge and awareness of OA. In 2017, Dr Carol Turley co-authored the Ocean Acidification chapter of the UK Government’s comprehensive Future of the Sea report. And in 2018, Prof. Steve Widdicombe contributed to the Defra Science Advisory Council’s framework for a national OA monitoring strategy.

And last, but not least, is the influence over the past decade that PML has had at the annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (informally known as COP). PML has been an active participator in these meetings since 2009, and has been at the forefront of raising awareness and inclusion of the ocean in the UN discussions. In 2015, experts including PML’s Dr Carol Turley OBE gave a stark warning to governments to give the ocean and its sustainability the attention they need and, in recent years, a dedicated 'Oceans Action Day' has has featured on the COP agenda. UNFCCC COP24 is just around the corner, in Poland in early December, and PML scientists will once again be participating to help highlight the ocean and the threats it faces. 

Read more about the Climate Change Act here.

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