In the wake of the newly declared climate emergency, a major new publication by the Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) highlights the current and future impacts of climate change on UK seas and dependent industries and society.

More than 150 scientists from over 50 leading research organisations have contributed to this comprehensive, updated review on the range and scale of physical, ecological and societal impacts of climate change on UK coasts and seas.

The report shows that climate impacts for UK coasts and seas are varied and far-reaching, from effects on sea temperatures, oxygen levels, and ocean pH, through to shifting species distributions and impacts on habitats, as well as social and economic impacts including risks to cultural heritage sites, potential implications for human health, and likely increases in future coastal flooding. This confirms findings reported at a global level by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in their Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate report last year, who reported climate change as having significant consequences on marine environments globally.

Some key headlines from the MCCIP Report Card 2020 include:

  • There is clear evidence that warming seas, reduced oxygen, ocean acidification, and sea-level rise are already affecting UK coasts and seas. Increasingly, these changes are having an impact on food webs, with effects seen in seabed-dwelling species, as well as plankton, fish, birds, and mammals.
  • The upper range for the latest UK sea-level rise projections is higher than previous estimates, implying increased coastal-flood risk. The likelihood of combined effects from tidal flooding and extreme rainfall is increasing, which can greatly worsen flood impacts.    
  • Oxygen concentrations in UK seas are projected to decline more than the global average, especially in the North Sea, with likely negative implications for marine species and habitats.
  • Fisheries productivity in some UK waters has been negatively impacted by ocean warming and historical overexploitation. This emphasises the need for sustainable management of stocks that accounts for climate change impacts.
  • Impacts of climate change have already been observed at a range of heritage sites. Coastal assets will be subjected to enhanced rates of erosion, inundation and weathering or decay.

This report collates important new evidence which highlights how climate change has already affected UK coasts and sea, and the ways it will continue to do so in the coming decades. This information is crucial to not only help develop adaptation measures and management actions to support vulnerable marine life and habitats but also to help UK industries and wider society prepare for and adapt to these far-reaching marine climate impacts.

The MBA's Dan Smale said, “Although there is still lots of uncertainty around responses to climate-driven changes in shallow subtidal and shelf ecosystems in UK waters due to a relative lack of data and observations, it is clear that many key species have been affected, particularly by increasing sea temperatures. For example, the structure of some kelp forests has changed as warm-adapted species have increased in abundance and several cold-adapted species have declined in abundance and ecological performance. Similarly, invertebrates in North Sea sediments have shifted their distributions in response to ocean warming. We expect these changes to continue and intensify through the coming decades”.

Martin Edwards, a senior scientist at the MBA and leader on the section on plankton added: “Extensive changes in plankton ecosystems around the British Isles over the last 60 years, including production, biodiversity and species distributions, have had effects on fisheries production and other marine life. This has been mainly driven by climate variability and ocean warming. For example, during the last 50 years, there has been a northerly movement of some warmer water plankton by 10° latitude in the North-east Atlantic and a similar retreat of colder water plankton northwards (a mean poleward movement of between 200–250 km per decade). The decline of the European cod stocks due to overfishing may have been exacerbated by climate warming and these climate-induced changes in plankton production. Future warming is likely to alter the geographical distribution of plankton abundance and these changes may place additional stress on already depleted fish stocks, as well as have consequences for mammal and seabird populations​”.

Matt Frost, MCCIP Chair, states:Both climate change and the marine environment are topics that have never been so high on the national and international agenda. It is, therefore, a privilege for MCCIP to be able to work with our world-class marine science community in providing evidence to inform decisions on the future of our seas”.

Full detailed findings from the report card are available from Jan 15th at This Report Card summarises information from 26 individual, peer-reviewed scientific reports commissioned by MCCIP and written by scientists from across the UK, providing detailed evidence of observed and projected climate-change impacts that highlight emerging issues and knowledge gaps.

Alternatively, contact the MCCIP Secretariat at or call Paul Buckley on 07585138667 for more details.

The Marine Climate Change Impacts Partnership (MCCIP) is a partnership between scientists, government, its agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and industry. The principal aim is to provide a coordinating framework for the UK, to be able to transfer high-quality evidence on marine climate change impacts, and guidance on adaptation and related advice, to policy advisers and decision-makers.

Read the MCCIP 2020 Report Card

Follow Dan Smale @DanSmale1 or contact him on 01752 426274

Professor Martin Edwards can be contacted on 01752 426480

Dr Matt Frost can be contacted on 01752 426343

Jan 13, 2020 By guba