At the EU-hosted Our Ocean conference in Malta, on 5-6 October, the European Union has committed to several tangible actions to foster healthier, cleaner and safer seas, encouraging governments to tackle the growing ocean challenges, from plastic pollution and protecting marine life to the impact of climate change.
As explained, marine pollution is a massive problem, with over 10 million tonnes of litter ending up in the sea each year. By 2050, our oceans could contain more plastic than fish. To tackle these challenges, the EU announced:
- the launch of WISE-Marine, a gateway to information on European water issues for the general public and stakeholders to promote better ocean governance and ecosystem-based management.
- €2 million in 2017 to support the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive by the Member States and a further €2.3 million to support regional and inter-regional cooperation for this objective.
- €2.85 million for marine pollution prevention and preparedness projects and €2.5 million for marine pollution exercises, to support and complement the cross-border cooperation efforts between EU countries and with selected countries in the EU’s vicinity.
- draft measures to reduce the leakage of plastics into the environment by the end of 2017, as part of its upcoming plastics strategy.
- draft measures in 2017 to reduce the discharges of ship-generated waste and cargo residues into the sea.
Further, on the climate change that affects oceans in a variety of ways, with rising sea levels and increasing acidification among the most alarming impacts, the EU announced:
- A €10 million project with IMO concerning climate change mitigation in the maritime shipping sector. The project aims to establish five Maritime Technology Cooperation Centres (MTCCs), one in each of the target regions – Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific – thereby forming a global network. The network’s task is to enable developing countries in these regions to develop energy-efficiency measures in maritime transport.
- €1.5 million for reducing black carbon emissions in the Arctic. The project is intended to reinforce international cooperation to protect the Arctic environment.
- €600,000 over the next two years for an integrated Arctic project focusing on the three priority areas of EU Arctic policy: Climate Change and Safeguarding the Arctic Environment; Sustainable Development in and around the Arctic; and International Cooperation on Arctic Issues.
In addition, less than 5% of the world’s marine and coastal areas are currently protected by law, and even less is enforced – despite the UN’s 2020 target of 10% protection. The EU therefore announced:
- The European Commission announced the phase-out by end 2017 all single-use plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines in its buildings in Brussels. It also committed to report on all its efforts towards a further reduction of the use of other single-use plastic items in all its buildings and events at the occasion of the 2018 Our Ocean Conference. Measures to achieve this will include improving its green public procurement, reducing single-use plastics in canteens and cafeterias, promoting use of tap water, launching a wider awareness-raising campaign for staff on waste reduction, sorting and recycling and greening Commission events.
- €20 million to support the management of marine protected areas in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries through the programme BIOPAMA II (Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme).
- Together with Germany, support for the establishment of a cross-sectoral and cross-boundary multi-stakeholder platform for regional ocean governance by 2020. This platform will be developed under the Partnership for Regional Ocean Governance (PROG), that will provide new knowledge on integrated ocean governance at three different levels: (1) within regions; (2) between regions; and (3) between the regional level and the global level.
- €1.5 million to analyse ecosystems and economic activity on the mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Rio Grande Rise, in order to support the definition of a coherent set of Areas of Particular Environmental Interest.
- Its intention to support the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean in establishing a Fishing Restricted Area (FRA) of at least 2,700 km² to protect demersal stocks in the habitat recognised as essential nursery and spawning ground for a number of marine species outside territorial waters of Italy and Croatia of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit area of the Adriatic Sea.