Merħba – Welcome to Malta – and welcome to the Our Oceans Conference.
You have come here from all over the world for one reason: our ocean. The life-giving heart of our planet – owned by no one, but shared by everyone.
And you have come all the way to Malta, my home country.
It is almost 50 years to the date when Malta's representative to the United Nations, Arvid Pardo, delivered his historic speech before the UN General Assembly. A speech which initiated the 15 year process leading to the adoption of the most far-reaching treaty ever negotiated under United Nations auspices, the Convention on the Law of the Sea.
In that speech, Malta called for international regulations to ensure peace at sea, to prevent further pollution, and to protect ocean resources. And here we are today addressing those same issues.
We are 50 years older. But, are we 50 years wiser? And I ask this question for a number of reasons.
In the past 50 years, it became clearer than ever how much the oceans give us: climate, oxygen, food, resources, medicine, energy, transport and much of life on Earth.
But in the past 50 years, it also became clearer than ever what we, humans, give back to the oceans in exchange: greenhouse gas emissions, acidification, coral bleaching, marine pollution, illegal and overfishing.
And finally, it became clear that human action is taking its toll on the ocean faster than we ever thought before.
Ladies and gentlemen,
When I took office as European Commissioner in 2014, I was the first to jointly hold the environment and maritime portfolios. This was thanks to the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. President Juncker realised that if we are to have a green sustainable future, we have to look after our blue planet.
This task was clearly included in my mandate. What was also clear was, that this global issue couldn't be achieved by the EU alone. We have to address global issues with global solutions.
During the last three years, the EU has been a driving force behind this truly global effort.
Together, we have the UN sustainable development goals, with goal 14 on 'life below water'.
We now have the ground-breaking Paris climate accord which recognises the essential role of the ocean.
We have EU commitments on ocean governance, on illegal fishing and on the Arctic.
And now we embark on the 4th edition of Our Ocean.
At this point I want to pause and pay tribute to the instigator of Our Ocean – John Kerry. John has been the Poseidon of this process. I want to thank him for his dedication and commitment.
This Our Ocean platform, constructed with stakeholders around the world, is built to last. We now have a growing and widening movement of countries, business and civil society, all willing to take real action to protect and to use our ocean sustainably.
I'm very proud that here, in this room, there are representatives from 6 continents. And over the next 48 hours we will have substantial and concrete commitments from each of them. In fact Airbus' work on new satellites for marine surveillance means we are even getting commitments on action from space!
And I would like to stress how delighted I am to welcome the business community onto the stage this year. The private sector commitments we will see over the next two days, are the biggest endorsement of Our Ocean's progress, and its success.
You will hear from some of the largest companies in the world how they will significantly reduce the use of plastics. Others will tell you how much they will invest in new technology to fight against illegal fishing and improve maritime security. You will also hear from financial institutions that – with the support of the European Commission, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Prince of Wales's International Sustainability Unit - will develop sustainability principles to guide their investment decisions in the blue economy.
These and other pledges will show that we can all make a difference, collectively and even individually. When deciding on which business to invest in, what packaging to use, what car to drive or what fish to eat, we can all act for the ocean.
And I can promise you that the European Union will continue to act for the ocean. That is why we are bringing more than 30 new commitments to this conference, covering all the 6 areas of action of this conference.
Take only one example on fisheries. In the Mediterranean, over 90% of assessed fish stocks are overfished.
That is why earlier this year, the European Union rallied all Mediterranean countries to come together to commit and to act in order to save the stocks and the 300 000 livelihoods that depend on them.
And our plans are bearing fruit. Today I am proud to announce that the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean is set to adopt the EU's proposal to establish a Marine Protected Area, the first of its kind, in the Adriatic Sea.
To protect the spawning areas of important species like hake and langoustine. And to make sure Mediterranean fishing communities have a future.
This is the first step in a long process. But our experience in Europe shows that our actions can make a difference.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
All of us here are united by one thing: our love for the ocean – and our determination to preserve and protect it for those that come after us.
So, let’s get to work, let's hear your commitments!
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