"Pitcairns and Pitfalls" as the Budget announces the world’s largest marine protection area.

Trigger FishLurking in the shadow of the North Sea tax breaks (see below) was a significant announcement on conservation - plans to create the world’s largest marine protected area (MPA) in the Pitcairn Islands, the last British Ocean Territory in the Pacific.
Although not mentioned in the Chancellor’s speech, paragraph 2.259 of the Budget confirms that the government intends to proceed with the designation of this important marine environment.

Protection in the Pitcairns

Once the new MPA is designated, the UK will be responsible for the world’s two largest marine reserves. The Chagos Archipelago, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, was designated in April 2010, following significant lobbying by the Chagos Conservation Trust and others. It is currently the world’s largest contiguous no-take marine reserve, covering a total surface area of more than 640,000 square kilometres (greater than twice the size of the UK).

Work will now commence to create the 834,000 square kilometre MPA in the Pitcairns, which is subject to the government reaching agreement with NGOs on satellite monitoring and co-operation from authorities in the nearest ports to enforce illegal fishing within the MPA. The legal impetus for creating MPAs lies in a myriad of international agreements (eg the OSPAR Convention, and the Convention on Biological Diversity); European directives (eg the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and European marine sites designated under the Wild Birds and Habitats Directives); and domestic legislation (such as marine conservation zones under the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009).

The pitfalls - not so green announcements

north-sea-oil Oil and gas

The package of measures aimed at continued investment in North Sea oil and gas reserves is the most significant announcement for most environmental and energy lawyers. Key announcements include reducing the supplementary charge from 30% to 20%, reducing petroleum revenue tax from 50% to 35%, introducing a new investment allowance to stimulate investment, and providing £20 million of funding for seismic surveys in under-explored areas of the UK Continental Shelf. But much has already been said about that.

Renewables

The Budget said little to comfort long-term investment in the renewable energy sector following a long period of uncertainty in the availability of renewable incentives. However, the Budget announced that the government will enter the first phase of negotiations on a Contract for Difference for a tidal lagoon project at Swansea and that it will consult in the next Parliament on planning notification arrangements on deep geothermal energy.

Environmental taxes

The aggregates levy rate will remain at £2 per tonne in 2015-16, and the carbon price support rates will remain at £18/tCO2 in 2017-18. The Budget also confirmed the Autumn Statement announcement to exclude from the carbon price support rates, fossil fuels used by combined heat and power plants to generate good quality electricity that is self-supplied or supplied under exemption from the requirement to hold a supplier licence. However, the Budget confirms the government’s commitment to increase the proportion of revenue from environmental taxes. The standard and lower rates of landfill tax, and climate change levy main rates will increase in line with RPI from April 2016, and the loss on ignition testing regime will be introduced from 1 April 2015.

A happy ending?

Waste

A one-off £4.2 million increase in funds available to the Environment Agency to tackle waste crime will be made available from savings made by reducing the Landfill Communities Fund (LCF) from £71 million in 2014 to £59.4 million in 2015. This is welcome news for the waste industry, as the cost of operating legally remains significant. The reduction in the value of the LCF is said to reflect the devolution of landfill tax to Scotland from 1 April 2015 and high levels of unspent funds.

Flood defences

Finally, on 18 March the government announced that it will bring forward £140 million of funding to repair flood defences that have suffered damage in the recent severe flooding. Although this is also good news, it will be seen as a little too late by those severely affected by the floods. For more information on the budget, see News Analysis: The Budget 2015 for Environmental Lawyers 

Filed Under: Environment

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