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Ladies and gentlemen,
My sincere thanks to Portugal and in particular Minister Vitorino for organising today’s conference.
In fact, as you may know, Lisbon is hosting two very important ocean conferences today. I have just come from the European Maritime Day. Every year, the European Commission organises this event in a different European country, as a way of bringing together Europe’s rich and diverse maritime community.
I always look forward to European Maritime Day because it reminds us of the big role the ocean has played – and continues to play – for our maritime continent.
But I also know that it is important to look beyond our European shores. Especially when we are speaking about something as big as the sea. Managing our oceans well is simply too complex for any one country or region alone.
If we want oceans to be healthy, clean, safe, and sustainably managed – in short, if we want “smart ocean governance” – we need the broadest possible coalition to take collective, coherent and ambitious action.
And this international dimension is what I would like to focus on here today.
In 2016, the European Union adopted an international ocean governance agenda for the future of our oceans.
The agenda is an integral part of our response to the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It allows us to make the delivery of SDG 14 a reality.
And 2020 is just around the corner. By then, we all need to have met four of the SDG14 targets.
And let me briefly go through the four targets one by one, and where we stand for each of them.
The first is target 14.2 on protecting and restoring ecosystems. This is a cross-cutting target, requiring action on various fronts. I will not pretend that it is easy to achieve. But we have one phenomenal tool in our toolbox that can make our work a lot easier: maritime spatial planning.
That is why we in the European Union require all our Member States to put a maritime plan in place. Not only that. We were the first region in the world to insist that national planning also look at the cross-border dimension.
We want to share those experiences. That is why we have started working with IOC-UNESCO to develop a coherent approach to maritime spatial planning at an international level, where we are currently seeing a real planning community emerge. The International MSP Forum we created together, for example, is gathering planners from all across the globe.
This is very encouraging, and I am convinced we should continue down that path.
The second target is target 14.4 on sustainable fishing. This means fishing in line with maximum sustainable yield of course, but beyond that, it also means bringing IUU fishing to an end.
The European Union’s fight against illegal fishing is nothing new. Our rules to prevent illegal imports have set the bar high. We have taken ambitious action to protect our markets from illegal fish. And our cooperation with fishing nations all over the world, in particular our system of red, yellow and green cards, has brought a real change for the better. More and more countries around the world are joining us in our fight to make IUU fishing a thing of the past.
We need to stay vigilant. And we need everybody to ratify the relevant international agreements like the Port State Measures Agreement. Together we can make sure that illegal operators have nowhere to hide.
Third, target 14.5 on conserving at least 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.
In the EU, we have already reached that target. But around the world, only 3.4% of seas and oceans are covered by marine protected areas.
As an international community, we can – and we must – do more. And the waters of the Southern Ocean provide an opportunity to deliver on this promise.
The European Union has submitted two proposals for new marine protected areas to the Commission for the Conservation of the Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR): one in the East Antarctic and another in the Weddell Sea.
We count on your support to ensure that these proposals are adopted in October when CCAMLR meets again.
Finally, the last SDG14 sub-target due next year is target 14.6 on eliminating subsidies that contribute to overfishing.
The European Union unequivocally stands behind this commitment. And we will continue our efforts to reach a result as soon as possible, and at the latest by the next WTO Ministerial Conference in June next year.
We are open to new proposals to break the existing deadlock. But we should take care not to over-complicate things and waste valuable time in discussing concepts that are already covered by international law.
We need to find a compromise that addresses harmful subsidies while giving developing and in particular least developed countries room to grow. But let’s also be clear: we cannot accept blanket carve-outs for so-called developing countries that have some of the largest fleets in the world.
Two years since the European Union adopted its ocean governance agenda, we can already look back on first successes.
I am very proud of the progress we have made in meeting the SDG14 targets. In the European Union and with the international community as a whole.
But we are not there yet. Ultimately, our success will hinge upon three things.
One: more action, and more decisive action, at international level.
Two: stronger maritime research and innovation to support that action. And I am very pleased to announce that healthy oceans, seas, coasts and inland waters will be one of a handful of focus areas in the European Union’s post-2020 research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe – the biggest and most ambitious programme the European Union has ever had.
Horizon Europe will work hand-in-hand with international efforts like the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which starts in 2021.
Three: we need continued awareness-raising efforts that help us to keep up the pressure. That is why we fully support Portugal in co-hosting the second UN Ocean Conference together with Kenya next year.
Events like the UN Ocean conferences or the Our Ocean conferences are important accelerators for further action and commitment.
So let’s use these opportunities to push for our common goal. Healthy oceans. Productive oceans. Sustainable oceans.