Global solutions to save the world's oceans
When the Global Ocean Commission was created, with the goal of finding workable solutions and feasible ideas on those issues, I was hopeful and relieved. Here in Europe, I was already trying to make a difference on ocean governance and painfully aware of the magnitude of problems.
Now, a year later, their Report comes with perfect timing. It will help to take the momentum further and energise the discussions that we have only just started.
When the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea was signed thirty-two years ago, it was a turning point in ocean governance.
And as Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, I am proud to say that the Convention has guided the EU ever since.
But three decades later, just like the internet calls for rules against cybercrime, new bio-technologies or underwater systems call on us to regulate new activities especially in deep sea waters, in areas beyond national jurisdiction.
The current system is fragmented and uncoordinated. So far we have tried to palliate with ad-hoc arrangements between different bodies and countries, but in essence the system is ineffective. For instance it prevents us from having cumulative impact assessments or from having the marine protected areas recognized globally.
The kind of coordination we need can only be obtained through a systematic process; and this is why the European Union is so committed to an update of the rules through UNCLOS.
Clearly only a mix of elements would work, as the UN Working Group already agreed to in 2011: marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, capacity building and rules on the transfer of marine technology, genetic resources and benefit sharing.
So let us agree to make progress; let us do away with any outstanding issues. The EU will work with all countries to ensure that we have a satisfactory result by August 2015.
Within the EU we have introduced transformational change with regard to fisheries. Since 1/1/2014 we have a new common fisheries policy, sustainable and science based, phasing out discarding and implementing the same principles for European vessels worldwide. Through this new policy we have banned all types of subsidies at European level, that lead to overcapacity and overfishing. Our European fund has no granting for fuel subsidies at all.
Allow me now to come to a global problem also mentioned in GOC report: illegal fisheries
Illegal fishing has to be eradicated from the high seas, and this is why the EU uses its diplomatic weight to push for rules like the UNCLOS or the United Nations Fish Stock Agreement to be enforced worldwide.
We also use our considerable market weight and I'm grateful to the Global Oceans Commission for highlighting this important aspect in its paper. In practice the EU requires that any fish import be accompanied by a catch certificate. In other words the fish has to be caught legally; otherwise it won't get into our market. And we go further.
We work with other world nations to promote compliance with international law. When a country clearly does not respect its international obligations, we give them a fair warning and time to set things straight. We have done so with 13 countries in the last two years. Ten of them then complied, but three didn’t. So earlier this year the EU adopted our first ever trade ban with Cambodia, Belize and Guinea Conakry.
In just over four years the EU has become the frontrunner in the fight against IUU and we are making a difference. Many third countries are now taking their international duties much seriously.
The EU is also stepping up its efforts to address the marine litter problem. It has agreed to set a reduction target for marine litter by 2020, to move towards Rio + 20 commitments. We In European Commission are going to propose this target soon.
On offshore oil and gas the EU has put in place the highest risk based standards for operation within its territory. We well come of course binding efforts for reducing risk, as well as ensuring effective emerging response, regardless of where operations take place, in line with the polluter pays principle.
The other soft spot identified by the Global Oceans Commission is the performance of RFMOs. We cannot ignore their presence. I think the focus at least for right now should be on improving what we have.
How? – you may ask.
We start from the basics – at least that is what the EU has done. Our new reformed policy now tells us what to do: we are to improve the compliance committees of RFMOs, develop scientific knowledge and advice, manage stocks on a sustainable basis, apply effective and deterring penalties, carry out performance reviews and fix what needs to be fixed.
All this renews the thrust for our work in RFMOs, so I very much welcome the urgency you bring into this discussion. The GOC has made a recommendation for turning the high seas into a regeneration zone in case of no results. The vision is clear and high ambitious. The European Union clearly supports the establishment of marine Protected areas. Referring to the closing of all high seas fisheries we have a number of questions and concerns on the consequences for the fisheries in other areas and the complicated governance issues of such decisions. This issue needs further examination and discussion to be based on science, impartial decision making procedures and control mechanisms.
What is needed at international level is a change of perspective. We need to see the bigger picture. A holistic and comprehensive approach is the basic requirement for a healthy and resilient marine environment. As I said: no fences. Integration is the name of the game. It is gaining ground in all our Member States and beyond, as is our blue growth agenda. So far we have given special attention to promising maritime sectors such as marine biotech, aquaculture, ocean energy, deep sea mining and tourism. We think that with a focused research effort and steps to improve the environment for innovation, these sectors can prosper in a smart and sustainable way.
A key tool to ensure sufficient marine space for concurrent economic activities is maritime spatial planning. If all goes well our legislative proposal should enter into force after the summer and it is a historic achievement. For the first time in the world, countries have a legal obligation to cooperate in planning their seas across borders.
Spatial planning gives operators certainty on whether and what economic developments are possible, where and for how long. It will speed up licensing and permit procedures, and will provide good management of the cumulative impact of maritime activities. It a huge and real step for marine governance in Europe.
At the same time there is also an overall need to get a deeper and better understanding of how our oceans work, how they interact with the climate and how economic activities affect the marine environment.
Ocean observation, mapping and forecasting are essential in this vein. This is why the EU has directly and explicitly geared its financial support, and particularly its research funds, towards the sea.
Since last year, the EU, the United States and Canada have started a transatlantic research alliance which is to cover observing systems and ocean stressors, as well as research in the Arctic region, a fragile environment that is undergoing enormous change in terms of temperature and human activity.
We hope to see similar forms of cooperation with and between other countries in the future.
Needless to say, the private sector will have a big role to play in this sustainable growth model. Any firm operating in transport, oil and gas, fisheries, aquaculture or coastal tourism is entirely dependent on ocean resources, services and space. They will have to take up a corresponding responsibility for marine environmental protection, in Europe and in the world.
The EU perspective to the ocean challenge is one of caution and common sense. We don’t want to open up the seas to unbridled growth or a lawless gold rush. But we think that controlled, smart and fair development is possible.
We need cooperation with international community, to create one common front. And we need it now.