It's great to be here today. Isn't this amazing? Well done organisers! I think this (venue) reflects perfectly the atmosphere in this conference.
I've only been here today, but I understand that the Maltese hosts provided you with some Dutch weather yesterday. But I'm here today and I get treated with Maltese weather which I rather like better.
I want to start by thanking Joseph Muscat for his wonderful speech yesterday, and for his leadership on these and many other issues. He has taken Malta right there up front in the European Union. He has just had an extremely successful Presidency of the Council of the European Union. And you see that Malta might not be the biggest Member State, but boy, can they organise a conference.
I also want to thank John Kerry for his leadership. We would not be here at this level of cooperation without his hard work in the last couple of years. I had the privilege to work with him very closely when he was Secretary of State and I was Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands. John is a source of inspiration. John is someone who will always be able to give us the feeling that whatever happens in American politics, the United States will be close to us in terms of their values, their feelings of humanity, and their commitment to global peace and security.
Before I go into the things I need to say, there is another personal remark I need to make. When the Coalition collapsed in the Netherlands in 2010, and having less to do, I thought I would attend a conference in The Hague. A marine biologist, whose name I had heard, but who I didn't know, came and delivered a speech. Her name was Sylvia Earle. And that speech was an epiphany for me, because I was not aware of the magnitude of the problem. I was not aware that there couldn't be green without blue. She put it into such clear terms that the conclusion was unavoidable: we need to do something.
I have to say, in my personal rankings, Sylvia Earle is in the Top Ten inspiring American women. Right up there with Gloria Steinem and Michelle Obama.
The calibre of speakers here, the interest by so many nations, by industry, by academia, shows that we have woken up to the cries of our oceans.
Last month I co-chaired a small event on our oceans in the margins of the UN General Assembly in New York with partners from the United Arab Emirates and Fiji. You saw that the sense of urgency was shared globally.
My challenge now is to translate the motivation and enthusiasm that we have seen today and yesterday, into something that we can all take home so that we do our homework and we don't stick just to pledges and good ideas and beautiful thoughts, but so that when we meet again in Bali, we actually have something to show for ourselves. I think this is the most important thing.
I'm a politician. I know making promises is the easy part. Delivering is the real challenge!
But today we are talking about commitments, not empty promises, and we are making them together; as politicians, business leaders, NGOs and academics.
The damage we are doing to our oceans is both an attack and an act of self-harm. They are our life-blood.
When oceans rise, cities vanish. This is something you don't need to explain to a Dutchman.
When they are emptied of fish, people starve.
When they are filled with plastics, the life in them chokes and dies.
If life in the oceans becomes extinct, our life on land will swiftly follow. Just listen to Ms Earle.
And yet, we take from the oceans as if their riches were endless and dump in them as if they were a bottomless pit.
So we have a lot of work to do.
We have made important commitments. The diagnosis is now shared, the prescriptions are clear. Now it's time to take the medicine.
And one of the most important things I saw today and heard about yesterday, is that we are no longer standing opposite each other. It's no longer business against academia or business against NGOs, or NGOs against the politicians. The sense of urgency is there and we know we can only solve this together.
Our main challenge is not technology or money. Yes we need both, but we can get there. Our main challenge is awareness, collective behavioural change, and governance.
We have to increase awareness of the impact that our daily choices are having on our planet's blue lungs. And we have to make it easy, exciting, enticing, to change our behaviour – as companies and governments, and as individuals and society. Yes it's hard to do. But it's also the right thing to do. And I maintain that the vast majority of humanity want to do the right thing.
This is of fundamental importance. We need to create demand and supply for sustainable goods and services. We need the public to keep calling on companies and governments for new products and new policies. We need to re-invent our economies by changing our production and consumption patterns, and by incorporating the ecological effects of our actions into our balance sheets.
Education is the tool that helps us to accelerate this change.
There is also a problem of governance to be overcome. The complexity of the challenges our oceans face is so big that we need to bring together a great variety of interests.
The Our Ocean Conference is a great example of the kind of cooperation we need: bringing all of us from all walks of life together, to share knowledge, seek inspiration and make concrete commitments to each other and to our people and planet.
Throughout the last two days you have heard from my Commission colleagues Federica Mogherini, Karmenu Vella and Neven Mimica about the different commitments that the EU is making: including €560 million in EU-funded initiatives which bring the total commitments made by the EU, its Member States and European business to well over €1 billion, and I'm being careful to make a conservative estimate.
We are committing to create significant new marine protected areas, tackle climate change and marine pollution, support sustainable fisheries and maritime security, and stimulate the blue economy.
One of the issue is want to mention is research. Innovation is the driving force of change. The work of our scientists and engineers is essential to both the protection of our oceans and the growth of the blue economy.
Innovation helps us to develop new technologies and new models to protect our coastal communities from the threats of storms, tsunamis and rising sea levels.
This requires sustained investments in research. The EU invests over 250 million euros per year in marine and maritime research through Horizon 2020, the EU Programme for Research and Innovation. And we really intend to maintain this investment in the future.
Tackling marine pollution is a particularly important topic for me. The EU will commit almost 5.5 million euros specifically to preventing and fighting marine pollution. And we are taking action this year to tackle the broader issue of plastics pollution, with an ambitious EU Plastics Strategy.
Plastics is a topic that was discussed widely and is very very important. Throughout the conference we have been reminded again and again that the way we manage this important material is getting out of control. It has reached the point where plastic pollution is increasingly discussed as a challenge on the same scale as climate change. Every second 400 kilos of plastic goes into our oceans.
The European Commission is convinced that urgent action is needed. For that reason, our Plastics Strategy will aim to transform our plastics economy, moving from a linear to a circular model. There can be no more 'take-make-use-dispose’ mentality.
Concretely, on micro-plastics, we are working on an integrated strategy which will address both micro-plastics added to products and micro-plastics generated in the life cycle of products. This is necessary for protecting our environment and our health from this extremely pervasive pollution source.
On macro-plastics, we plan to address the issue of most frequently found items on beaches and at sea, to increase recyclability of plastics, and to curb single-use plastics.
Single-use plastic items are a major source of littering and their recycling is yet not economically viable. Sustainable alternatives exist which we could and should bring to the market through the right mix of incentives.
The time has really come to ask ourselves whether the benefit of drinking with a plastic straw or from a plastic cup outweighs the costs. Is this comfort so important to us that we are willing to poison our seas and drinking water, kill sea birds and animals, and witness pieces of plastic replacing the sand on our beaches?
Dear friends, have you heard the expression that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones? Well we have a glass house in Brussels, called the Berlaymont, where the Commission resides.
And as well as not throwing stones we believe we should consume less single-use plastics, for the sake of our environment and our own wellbeing.
We are committing today to make our own plastic consumption more sustainable. In Brussels we will start by phasing out by the end of this year all single-use plastic cups in our water fountains and vending machines.
We are also working on other measures to reduce the use of single-use plastics in our buildings and at events and will launch an awareness-raising campaign for our staff.
Last but not least, let me come back to governance. You may know that I am responsible in the Commission for something that we call 'Better Regulation'. One of the ways we achieve more efficient and effective regulation is by working together better in its design.
That is why the Commission will support the establishment of a multi-stakeholder platform for regional ocean governance by 2020.
Partnerships is what we need.
I want to end by recalling what John Kerry said. The only way we are really going to change this is with more awareness. The only way we could really do something about climate change, the only reason we got to the Paris Agreement, is because people were aware.
The awareness is not there yet in the broader public. But it's almost there. I feel it coming very soon. And conferences such as these can help galvanise support for awareness, can help change our educational system, could put our kids in a position to change the behaviour of our parents. That is how we create equal fair and peaceful societies, how we generate sustainable energy, on the basis of global goals that were agreed by the UN and that are binding on all of us.
You can count on the European Union to lead the way, both at home and in partnership with you abroad.
And you can count on 500 million Europeans to act as champions of sustainability.
Ladies and gentlemen, thank you so much for your patience. Thank you for being here. Thank you for your contributions. Thank you for helping us solve one of the most challenging problems humanity is faced with.
And now I want to give the floor to Karmenu Vella.