Rector Husebekk, Professors, Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour to be speaking here today at the northernmost University in the world.

It is not just the location that makes this University unique: there is also your strong reputation in the area of research, and particularly in the field of oceans.

I strongly value the role of science in driving forward a sustainable blue economy. This morning I had the privilege to visit one of the most advanced fish farms in the world - one of yours – and it has been very inspiring. I also welcome your involvement in the PharmaSea project: an EU-funded research project looking for new drug leads from samples taken from the trenches of the ocean.

Business needs science to look for new opportunities for growth and we politicians need scientists, to make informed choices – to make the right decisions.


For example, scientists tell us the Arctic ice cap has thinned by about 4-6 meters since 2012, about one sixth of its original thickness, and the ice flow is now 25 times faster. 

This has implications for the Arctic's fragile ecosystems, for Norway – and for our entire planet. Access to food and water, the use of land, the economy, security and the environment: all will be profoundly affected.

Moreover, the receding ice leads to an increase in economic activity in the region. There are new passageways being used for shipping; some countries are issuing new licenses to drill for oil and gas, going higher north than ever; others may be interested in starting commercial fishing.

In such context proper management and safeguards are key, otherwise opportunities become threats: just think of oil spills, shipping accidents and overfishing.

Let me make it clear: the EU is strongly committed to safeguarding the environment while ensuring the sustainable development of the Arctic region. This was the point I made two weeks ago in Anchorage at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic, which was also attended by Foreign Minister Brende from Norway.

For instance, I believe that commercial fisheries on the Arctic high seas should not begin before a science-based and precautionary management regime exists. All key actors, including the EU, must be involved early on in discussing such measures, ensuring ownership, support and a solid scientific basis for our actions.

[Ocean Governance]

This is also the line we take for the 60% of the oceans that are outside the borders of national jurisdiction, and are therefore - by definition - a "shared" source of minerals, sea weed and fish. 

Are we really sure we know what goes on out there?  Are rules being complied with? Are these rules up-to-date?

These are questions that need answering before the rush to those resources picks up. And these are the answers that blue industry needs in order to have legal certainty before they launch new investments in the oceans. We therefore need to do, right now, a health check of the existing ocean governance mechanisms.

This is why I have launched in June an international public consultation on ocean governance. We are asking all interested parties, including universities like this one, how we can ensure that the world's oceans are managed more sustainably.

We also ask people to point out any gaps in marine knowledge, and we want to know what we can do to improve maritime research - a corner piece of the ocean governance puzzle.

Your contribution to this discussion is very much appreciated.

Meanwhile, some important developments are on their way.

Recently the UN reached consensus on developing a new Implementing Agreement on biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. Once ready, this new instrument will make sure that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, developed some thirty years ago, is brought up to speed with today's challenges. I am confident it will improve governance of the high seas.

A more imminent step is the conclusion of the negotiations on the post-2015 sustainable development goals, which will include a stand-alone Goal on Oceans and Seas. This is important to allow us to deploy the means needed to improve ocean governance throughout the world.

For its part, the European Union is not being idle. We have put in place a robust set of environmental rules to protect the marine environment; we have integrated our maritime policies; we are creating the conditions for smart, green growth from the sea – which we call Blue Growth; and we have a harmonized system for maritime spatial planning that is creating a safe investment environment in a healthy marine environment.

Our new Fisheries Policy is strongly anchored on sustainability and contains a firm commitment to improve international fisheries governance.

In recent years, the EU has been pushing more than ever for science-based decision making, for the precautionary approach, for the eco-system approach, for a water-tight enforcement and control system and for better compliance. We have done this through the UN, through Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and at bilateral level - for example in our agreements with Norway. We have also made giant steps in the fight against illegal fishing.

So change for the better is happening.

[Ocean Governance and climate change]

But more needs to be done because there is another change happening before our eyes at an alarming pace, that of climate.

And the speed of that change means two things: we have to act fast, and we have to act together.

It is for this reason that the European Union and Norway have teamed up this year to strive for a 40% reduction of greenhouse gases compared to 1990 levels by 2030.

And we hope that this alliance can be further forged with other countries in the run-up to the climate change summit end of this year in Paris. 

Paris is indeed our best bet for a secure climate future, and the EU is committed to an ambitious international agreement that is universal and works for all.

There is a clear link between climate change and the oceans. This is because oceans act as climate regulators, absorbers of CO2, providers of oxygen and as a key source of renewable energy. Therefore, we need better governed oceans also to better manage climate change.

And addressing climate change is not only about saving our oceans or our planet. It is also about saving ourselves from poverty, unemployment, war, and oppression.

This is because climate change creates an entire range of effects, from floods to wildfires; from new diseases to draughts and food shortage; from extinction of animals to entire populations fleeing their territories in search of liveable conditions.

And if pressure on the seas – including from climate change – erodes our marine ecosystems, we are also eroding the basis of sustainable blue growth and the future of coastal communities.

So I count on your support, and in particular the research done at this prestigious university, to help improve the ways oceans are managed. Not in isolation, but together with our partners from other parts of the world.

Thank you.