First parliamentary inquiry launched on ocean acidification

The Science and Technology Committee is today launching a new inquiry on Ocean Acidification – the first full parliamentary inquiry on the often ignored environmental issue. Launching the inquiry the Chair of the Committee Stephen Metcalfe MP said:

“Climate change often overshadows other environmental issues, but it is not the only problem being caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide. CO2 is also being absorbed by the oceans, making our oceans gradually more acidic.

“More research is needed to understand the implications of this ocean acidification and the trends in ocean pH levels. But a reduction in the sea’s alkalinity could have damaging impacts on coral reefs and shell-forming sea creatures. That is because the calcium carbonate in shells and coral can dissolve in acid.

“About seventy per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by oceans but our scientific understanding of the marine environment is patchy at best. Now that the UK’s five year Ocean Acidification Research Programme has ended, we are launching the first parliamentary inquiry on this concerning topic to examine what has been learned and make recommendations to Government.

“Should we be worried about the consequences of ocean acidification for the food chain and the marine economy? How bad is the problem? And what policy interventions should the Government be bringing forward to tackle it? These are all questions that we will address in this inquiry.”


The acidification of the world’s oceans received some attention in the academic and policy-making community after the Royal Society’s 2005 review of the issue. UK academics have led research into the matter, second only to the USA, in terms of lead-author research paper citations.

In 2007 the S&T Committee published the report, Investigating the Oceans, recommending that the Government develop a strategy for marine science. The Government subsequently created the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee (MSCC) that prepared the 2012 Marine Science Strategy.

A 5-year joint NERC-Defra-DECC UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme (UKOA) finished in 2015. It addressed a specific issue identified in the UK Marine Science Strategy: “The effects of acidification on marine organisms”, within a broader resaerch priority of “Responding to climate change and its interaction with the marine environment”.

In 2012, the previous S&T Committee published a follow-up report on Marine Science, in response to the 2012 Marine Science Strategy, in which it noted that “Maintaining observations of the marine environment is essential to record changes to the environment, particularly those arising from climate change or ocean acidification. Such data collection, particularly from long-term monitoring programmes, should be an essential component of the Government’s strategy for marine science.”

In its submission to the Committee’s 2012 Marine Science inquiry, the UKOA stated that “The challenge will be to maintain the necessary level of scientific attention to ocean acidification and its impacts when project awards within the UKOA research programme come to an end, mostly in 2014 [pp Ev119-122 (pp161-4)].” As a five-year research programme, the UKOA had only a limited impact in recording long-term observations and monitoring of ocean acidification and its impact. No further programme has been announced.

Terms of reference and proposed text

The Committee published reports on Marine Science in 2007 and 2012, noting the importance of combating increasing ocean acidification. The 5-year NERC UK Ocean Acidification Research Programme ended in 2015.

The Committee has decided to undertake follow-up scrutiny on the issue of ocean acidification. It would welcome written submissions by 25 January 2017, which might address the following issues:

·         The role of increased CO2 emissions, and any other drivers or feedback mechanisms, on ocean acidification.

·         Whether ocean acidification and its impact varies regionally.

·         The main socio-economic, industry, ecosystem and environmental impacts of ocean acidification.

·         The level of understanding of the processes and impacts of ocean acidification. The gaps in terms of monitoring, prevention, mitigation, and adaptation.

·         The impact of previous UK research work, and the sufficiency of research currently underway.

·         What areas of Government policy-making are currently held back by insufficient knowledge/evidence on ocean acidification, and the risks this poses.

·         What policy interventions are needed to tackle ocean acidification —in terms of both the known science and the uncertainties — and what the barriers are to implementation.


Nicholas Davies | Senior Select Committee Media & Communications Officer, House of Commons, 020 7219 3297 | 07917488141 @NckDavies

UK Parliament News, 10 December 2016. Article.

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