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Healthy oceans vital to limit climate change, Commissioner Vella tells Oceans Day in Paris

(04/12/2015) Healthy oceans are fundamental for a healthy climate – which is why governments need to do more to protect them, EU Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said at the Oceans Day conference in Paris today. With oceans under increasing pressure, not least from climate change itself, Mr Vella made the case for better managed oceans as a way to return them to good health and support their role as climate regulators.

The Oceans Day in Paris takes place within the setting of the COP21 international climate negotiations, which take place from 30 November to 11 December. The event aims to advance the oceans and climate change agenda at COP21 and beyond. It builds on previous Oceans Day events, most recently the World Ocean Day in June.

"We want to further strengthen dialogue and cooperation with all international partners on all aspects of ocean governance. Let us all work to ensure that healthy oceans and their productive ecosystems help keep this blue planet green," Mr Vella said.

The link between oceans and climate change is clear. On the one hand, oceans are climate regulators: they absorb 30% of the world's CO2, produce half of the oxygen we breathe, and show a vast potential for renewable energy. Healthy oceans are therefore vital in tackling climate change.

On the other hand, climate change is already putting oceans and those that depend on them under severe pressure. Oceans, seas, and coastal areas experience more and stronger climate extremes, including stronger hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones. As CO2 emissions to the atmosphere increase, so do ocean temperatures, acidification, and sea levels. In addition to destroying life-sustaining ecosystems like coral reefs, these changes have knock-on effects for economic activities: for instance, rising water temperatures have already seen fish moving north and south towards the poles.

A better international ocean governance framework can help reverse these trends and ensure that the world's oceans continue to deliver their vital functions. This means protecting the oceans' life-sustaining ecosystems and resources, and ensuring that economic activities develop in a sustainable way.

The EU has already started to act: it has put in place robust legislation to ensure good environmental status of the seas; it has developed maritime spatial planning legislation, including an ocean energy roadmap; and it is funding maritime research that will improve the knowledge of our seas. The EU has also adopted a strategy to boost sustainable blue growth: a strategy which combines protecting the marine environment with promoting the blue economy.

Today's event further underlines the importance the EU attaches to healthy oceans worldwide and is part of ongoing work to strengthen the dialogue on an improved international ocean governance framework.

More information

Speech: Oceans Day at the UNFCCC COP 21, in Paris

Video: Commissioner Vella: Ocean governance listening tour