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Chris Leakey: Ocean science and policy coherence for progress towards the SDGs

By Chris Leakey, MASTS Research Forums Officer

By Chris Leakey, MASTS Research Forums Officer, June 2021

Our lives, communities and economy are inextricably connected to the ocean. The twin emergencies of climate change and biodiversity loss are major environmental challenges for the ocean, but also carry many social and economic costs.

At the scale of Scotland, we measure progress towards positive outcomes for people and planet through Scotland’s National Performance Framework. Zooming out to a global scale, this is Scotland’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals.

For the ocean, marine businesses and coastal communities there are significant challenges from the global to local scale. Climate change, energy and seafood form a critical nexus of issues.

But, if managed well, the ocean can not only help lift us out of these problems… but can even help us deliver solutions that can benefit the environment and quality of life for people.

Obvious ocean connections include our energy sources, nutritious seafood and our beach holidays. Other connections are becoming better known, like nature-based solutions for productive fisheries and the capture of carbon in seabed habitats (known as Blue Carbon). But some important connections can be hidden – for example, what is the interaction between the ocean and employment… or trade, transport, health and well-being, education and technology?

Recognising all these connections at the level of government policy is important. This can help optimise synergies between diverse policy areas, such as climate targets, education and trade policy, so that they work well towards the same outcomes. And it can help minimise compromises, such as the shared use of the sea by fishing and energy industries. Getting this right is called Policy Coherence.

Our recent report – Driving the transition to a resilient and inclusive future: the role of the ocean – from SUII-funded workshops explores these synergies and trade-offs and how to take policy coherence forward with science integration.

Science can help support coherent policies, which is why MASTS – the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology for Scotland – is connecting marine scientists to decision makers in different parts of Scottish Government. By working together we can continue to improve the integration of science with policy-making and implementation.

Among its many roles, marine science helps us to understand if we are making progress towards achieving sustainable marine industries, climate change mitigation, adaptation and healthy marine ecosystems, helping policy colleagues direct extra effort to where it is needed.

Scotland, its marine scientists and its government want the best for Scotland, but we also want to share our insights and methods for the global conversation. There has never been a better time: it is the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, and a pivotal moment for joint efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

This work is part of a 6-month programme bringing a diverse collection of policy professionals and marine scientists together. Next we will delve deeper to mobilise the science and policy communities in co-developing knowledge for policy impact, including understanding data and evidence needs for innovation and measuring progress. Further outputs will be posted at

If you would like to comment on or respond to the report linked above, please visit Scotland’s SDG Network Basecamp Message Board and look for a thread with the same title as this blog.

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