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EU sets out worldwide maritime vision at Our Oceans conference

This article was first published in the December 2017 edition of Marine & Maritime Gazette - to view the original article, please click here.

The European Union has recently set out its commitments to change with regard to the oceans in several major areas that will affect the marine economy worldwide.

"Our Oceans" was a conference hosted in Malta on 5 and 6 October 2017 by the European Union. By the end, the EU had committed to over 100 actions across six areas: Marine Protected Areas, Climate Change, Sustainable Fisheries, Marine Pollution, Sustainable Blue Economy and Maritime Security.

Marine Protected Areas

Since their introduction into international law, MPAs are intended to cover 10% of marine and coastal areas by 2020. However, with only two years to go, this law only protects 4% of marine areas and less than 1% is effectively enforced. Commitments in this area include:

  • €20m to support the management of MPAs in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific countries through the BIOPAMA II Programme
  • Cross-sectoral and cross-boundary multi-stakeholder platform for regional ocean governance by 2020
  • €1.5m to analyse ecosystems and economic activity in the mid-Atlantic ridge
  • Phase-out of plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines in Commission buildings

Climate Change

The oceans presently absorb 90% of excess greenhouse gas heat and 30% of CO2 generated by humans, jeopardising seafood supplies and threatening rising sea levels. The EU is therefore committing to action including:

  • €1.5m to programmes reducing black carbon emissions in the Arctic and €600,000 over two years for an integrated Arctic project focussing on the environment and sustainable development
  • A €10m project in conjunction with the IMO concerning climate change mitigation in shipping

Sustainable Fisheries

With an estimated one billion people relying on seafood as their primary source of meat proteins and with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing on the rise, the EU is committing in several areas to sustainable fishing, including:

  • €15m to the PESCAO programme to improve regional fisheries in Western Africa
  • A minimum of €1m this year to the FAO global programme to support the Port State Measures to deter unregulated fishing
  • A 10 year pledge to save Mediterranean fish stocks and protect the region's ecological and economic wealth as well as €5.7m to support the FAO and GFCM improve sustainability

Marine Pollution

This is a major cause of ecological shifts, with contamination of heavy metals, bacteria from foreign waters as well as plastic and other human waste causing major losses of biodiversity in our oceans. To combat this, the EU is committing to, amongst other things:

  • Launch of WISE-marine, which gives information to the general public on European water issues to promote better ocean governance and ecosystem management
  • €2m this year to implement the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, plus a further €2.3m to support regional cooperation. The EU hopes to have Good Environmental Status (GES) of its waters by 2020
  • €2.85m for marine pollution prevention and a further €2.5m for marine pollution exercises in order to support cross border cooperation

Maritime Security

With 90% of the world trade taking place via maritime transport, the EU believes safety and security in our seas is a high priority. Pollution, natural disasters, migration, piracy and armed conflict are all factors affecting security in our oceans today. The EU is therefore committing to:

  • Continue its support of maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, including with the SWAIMS programme (worth €29m) and improvements of port security in West and Central Africa (worth €8.5m)
  • €1m this year to upgrading the ICT systems of EU maritime authorities plus a further €80,000 to facilitate cooperation between coastguard authorities
  • €37.5m to ensure maritime security and countering piracy in south eastern Africa and the Indian Ocean
  • Funding of a prototype surveillance tool to detect ships and monitor human activity at sea (the "SUMO" programme)

Sustainable Blue Economy       

The maritime economy is worth an estimated €1.3 trillion and is forecast to double by 2030. Yet the EU believes there is still untapped potential, with drivers such as aquaculture, offshore renewables, blue biotechnology, coastal tourism and mining mineral resources in need of development. The EU hopes to secure a sustainable economy by:

  • Cooperating with the Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO to accelerate marine spatial planning processes worldwide
  • Announcing the Pacific European Union Maritime Project (PEUMP) (worth €45m) to support sustainable management and develop fisheries and food security as well as conservation projects
  • Investing €23m in the marine environment monitoring service (Copernicus) to focus on climate change, fisheries and marine protection

The announcements underline the EU's determination to improve the worldwide maritime situation is seen as a signal to encourage world governments to make similar commitments. Yet although overall investment exceeds €550m, some have commented that, when dispersed into individual projects these commitments are minor. There also needs to be a thorough investigation as to how such commitments will affect the global marine economy, in the short term at least.