It's a pleasure for me to be here today – thank you, Høgni, for inviting us.

As you know, this is already the fourth time I attend: after hosting our 2015 meeting in Malta, and then travelling to St Petersburg in 2016 and to Shediac [Canada] last year.

And I have to say that I greatly appreciate our discussions. Every time I arrive, I know that I will learn something new and interesting. Every time I leave, I feel I understand your positions and views a little bit better than before.

And the importance of this should not be underestimated. This is how successful cooperation is born. By taking the time to sit down and talk to each other, face to face – and by listening to each other as well.

And what better place to do so than here, surrounded by beautiful countryside and sweeping vistas wherever you turn!

[ocean challenges]


Today, I would like to present the European Union's ocean agenda.

When I took up this job nearly four years ago, I was confronted with the many challenges our oceans are facing today.

  • Challenges like rising sea levels and water temperatures, eutrophication and acidification.
  • Or marine litter. If we continue business as usual, less than ten years from now, the ocean could contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish.
  • Meanwhile, 30% of commercial fish stocks are overfished.
  • International waters risk becoming safe havens for illegal activities – whether it's piracy, human trafficking, smuggling or illegal fishing. With serious economic consequences. The cost of illegal fishing alone is estimated at around 10 billion euros per year.

In the European Union, we are already doing a lot to tackle those challenges.

  • Our environmental rules are some of the strictest in the world.
  • Our reformed Common Fisheries Policy commits us to achieving sustainable fisheries by 2020 at the latest.
  • Our IUU Regulation allows us to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing both within and outside the EU.
  • Our Integrated Maritime Policy makes sure we take a coordinated, planned approach to developing our maritime economy, for example, through maritime spatial planning.
  • Not to mention our maritime strategies for different sea basins or our maritime security strategy.

But of course, all of the challenges I’ve described are not European in nature. They’re global issues.

Climate change knows no borders. Fish have neither passports nor nationalities. A plastic bottle entering the ocean in Asia can end up halfway around the world – and will still be floating in the sea when our great-great-grandchildren go to the beach.

So one of my first questions when I took up my position was: Do we have a solid framework in place to tackle those pressing challenges internationally as well?

[the need for better international ocean governance]

This question might seem a bit strange.

After all, as you know yourselves, there is no shortage of global conventions, protocols or commitments. Secretariats, organisations, institutions have been created at global, sectoral and regional level. Above it all sits UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the overarching “constitution”, under which all ocean activities must be carried out.

And oceans are arguably receiving more political attention than ever before. The United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes a standalone development goal on oceans: SDG 14.

Why? Because we have slowly come to realise that sustainable development without the oceans is unthinkable. Oceans make up 70% of our planet's surface. Yet we are currently using them for less than 3% of our economic activity. But by 2050, our planet will be home to more than 10 billion people. People who will increasingly turn to the oceans, our planet’s “last frontier”. For food, for energy, for economic growth and jobs.

And as our activities at sea expand, it is our responsibility to avoid repeating the same mistakes we made on land. We need to ensure our oceans are used sustainably.

Yet when we, the European Union, asked our European and international partners whether the current international ocean governance framework delivers – whether all of this was enough to make sure our oceans were safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed – nearly all of them said no.

Not because the international community doesn’t have enough rules - although some new rules are needed. But more often than not because we are not fully implementing what has already been agreed.

In a way, this is good news. It means that there is no need to start from scratch. We don’t need a fundamentally new model. We simply need to upgrade the existing one.

[the Ocean Governance Communication]

And that is exactly what the European Union has been promoting. Above all with our agenda on international ocean governance, which we adopted in November 2016. In this agenda, we set out 50 actions.

These actions fall under three headings, as you can see:

  • First, improving the international ocean governance framework.
  • Second, reducing pressures on the oceans and creating the conditions for a sustainable blue economy.
  • And third, strengthening international ocean research and data.

And I would like to use the rest of my time to tell you what we have been doing under this agenda over the past two years.

[addressing governance gaps]

As I said, one of our key objectives is to improve the framework we already have – including by addressing gaps where they exist.

Protecting biodiversity beyond national borders is a case in point. The European Union has been promoting this intensively over the past years so I am very pleased that the international community agreed on the way forward to creating a new, legally binding instrument that would do exactly that.

We want this instrument to deliver effective measures to conserve and sustainably use marine resources in areas beyond national jurisdiction.

We want it to be truly universal, including all states.

We want it to enhance cooperation and coordination among international organisations. So that we break down silos and manage ocean areas and activities holistically.

At the same time, we want to avoid undermining UNCLOS or the mandates of international organisations, including RFMOs. After all, our aim is to make international ocean governance more, not less effective!

A second gap in the ocean governance system that could not be predicted only a few decades ago concerns the Arctic. There, the prospect of ice-free summers has suddenly become very real. And with that could come unsustainable economic activities.

The international community has shown that it can take responsible action. The deal our countries reached at the end of last year to prevent unregulated fishing in the high seas of the Central Arctic Ocean is a truly historic achievement. It will safeguard fragile marine ecosystems for generations to come – an example of international cooperation at its best.

For the European Union, the Agreement is a first step towards creating a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation. 

I look forward to the signing ceremony in Ilulissat in October. And I hope all Parties will ratify the agreement swiftly so that it can quickly enter into force.

[reducing pressure on the oceans]

But better ocean governance is not just about closing governance gaps. It’s also about reducing the pressure we humans put on the oceans, whether from overfishing, marine pollution, or man-made climate change.

That is why our agenda includes action to mitigate climate change impacts on the oceans; to promote maritime spatial planning; to expand marine protected areas; and to address marine litter.

For instance, in January, the EU adopted a Plastics Strategy to transform the way plastic and plastics products are designed, produced, used and recycled. By 2030, we want all plastic packaging to be reusable or recyclable. We are looking into how we can prevent harmful microplastics from entering the environment. And we have proposed binding measures to reduce the impact of plastics – especially single-use plastics and lost and abandoned fishing gear – on the marine environment.

In addition, we are also suggesting that countries include ocean-related action in their plans to implement the Paris Climate Agreement. This would help us better recognise the impact climate change is having on our oceans and the role our oceans are playing to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Furthermore, we are working with our partners within the WTO to ban, by 2020, harmful subsidies that contribute to overcapacity, overfishing and IUU fishing. The EU has tabled constructive proposals and we will continue to engage in good faith.

And our fight against IUU fishing continues. The European Union is the world's biggest importer of fish. We have an obligation to ensure all fish we consume are caught legally. The FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Catch Documentation Schemes are a step in the right direction.

So is the Port State Measures Agreement, which entered into force in June 2016, and which has been ratified by the majority of the countries around this table. But becoming party to such an agreement is only the first step. The next is putting this treaty into practice. We need to make sure that all coastal states around the world, including developing countries, have the means to effectively implement what they have signed up for.

And this is true for other ocean governance instruments as well, including the ILO Work in Fishing Convention, which has now become part of European Union law.

[Actions on ocean research and data]

Finally, ensuring safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans will only be possible if we have reliable and accessible ocean data at our disposal.

At the moment, we are still too often like the blind man and the elephant – or maybe in our case it would be more apt to speak of a whale. We know parts of the whale – we have investigated them and know those parts very well. But there are some parts that only others know, and there are big parts that we still don’t know or understand at all.

That is why the European Union and its Member States are spending about 2 billion euros a year on ocean research, and an additional 20 plus million euros a year on our Copernicus marine service, a satellite based system that observes, monitors and forecasts the state of the ocean.

It is why we are working with regional and international partners on bringing together various marine data sets in one global data network, open to all.

And it is why we are now extending our successful ocean research cooperation with the USA and Canada to partners like Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

Only then – by boosting our research spending, combining data sets, and cooperating internationally – will we be able to see the full “whale”. Only then can we tackle the pressures on the oceans with a sound, evidence-based approach.

[looking ahead: the importance of working together]


As you see, the European Union is taking the ocean challenge very seriously.

Later this year, we will publish a report where we will take stock of the action the EU has taken under our ocean agenda in the past two years.

But effective ocean action can also come from different stakeholders if they are given an appropriate platform. I am therefore very proud that the European Union hosted the fourth high-level Our Ocean Conference in Malta last year. I was very pleased to welcome some of you personally and representatives from nearly all of your countries.

Our Ocean 2017 gathered over 400 commitments worth more than 7 billion euros. And not only from international institutions and governments, but from businesses, NGOs, foundations and research institutes as well. I hope we manage to build on this momentum when we meet again at Our Ocean 2018 in Bali in October and at Our Ocean 2019 in Norway next year.

Because none of us can solve the challenges our oceans are facing on our own. We need each other. And we need to team up and push together for global progress as well: whether it’s strengthening RFMOs, protecting fragile ecosystems in the Arctic or Antarctic, or phasing out harmful fisheries subsidies. Only together do we stand a chance in keeping our oceans healthy and productive for generations to come.

Thank you.


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