An Ocean of new commitments



The 2017 edition of Our Ocean, hosted by the EU in Malta, generated an unprecedented level of ambition. As the waves die down, what, precisely, was achieved?

The Our Ocean conference has always been about commitments – they are its raison d'être. But the fourth edition, which recently closed in Malta, did not just bring impressive commitments. It also nearly doubled previous financial promises, and moved into fresh action areas.

This conference isn't just about commitments. It's about implementation as well. Now we start tracking those commitments, and following up on these numerous work streams. Full steam ahead!

EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella

The headline achievements include 437 tangible and measurable commitments, €7.2 billion in financial pledges, and 2.5 million square kilometres of additional marine protected areas (MPAs). The new areas are equivalent to more than half the size of the entire EU.

The latest conference was the first to mobilise the business community on a significant scale, with more than 100 commitments from major global players like Airbus, Unilever, PepsiCo, AXA and Sky.

The EU's 36 commitments amounted to over €550 million, and together with its Member States and the European Investment Bank, the total EU pledge exceeded €2.8 billion. Other countries, NGOs, foundations, research institutes and international organisations tabled nearly 300 commitments in a global show of determination.

Building on the work Europe is already doing to bring Member States together, protect the marine environment and achieve the “good environmental status” defined in the EU marine legislation, Our Ocean also saw a swathe of new EU commitments.

The 36 commitments are spread over all four conference themes – marine pollution, climate change, marine protection, and sustainable fisheries – as well as the two aspects specifically highlighted at the event: a sustainable blue economy and maritime security. Below are highlights (the full list is available at https://ourocean2017.org/our-ocean-commitments).

The marine environment is under pressure and marine pollution is a massive problem, with 10 million tonnes of litter ending up in the sea each year. To tackle these challenges, the EU launched WISE-Marine, an information resource on water issues, to promote better ocean governance and ecosystem-based management. There will also be €2 million to support implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, €2.85 million for marine pollution prevention and preparedness projects, and €2.5 million for marine pollution actions.

Draft measures to reduce the leakage of plastics into the environment were also announced for the end of 2017, as part of the upcoming EU plastics strategy, as well as measures to reduce the discharges of ship-generated waste into the sea.

Climate change has direct consequences for the oceans, with rising sea levels and increasing acidification among the most alarming threats. New EU action includes a €10-million project with the International Maritime Organization on climate change mitigation in the shipping sector, through a new network of Maritime Technology Cooperation Centres in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific to help develop energy-efficient maritime transport. Some €1.5 million will go to reducing black-carbon emissions in the Arctic, and €600 000 has been earmarked for integrated Arctic projects.

Less than 5% of the world's marine and coastal areas are currently protected by law, despite the UN target of 10% protection by 2020. It is an action area the EU is taking very seriously, so Our Ocean was a fitting place to announce new funding of €20 million to support MPAs in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries through the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme. Together with Germany, there will be more support for a new cross-sectoral and cross-boundary multi-stakeholder platform to be in place by 2020. The forum should provide new knowledge on integrated ocean governance, with a first meeting pencilled in for 2019.

The EU is also a strong supporter of the coming 2700 km² Fishing Restricted Area to protect nursery and spawning grounds off Italy and Croatia in the Jabuka/Pomo Pit in the Adriatic.

Commitments to sustainable fisheries include €15 million under the PESCAO programme to improve regional fisheries governance in Western Africa, and €5.7 million to help the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean improve the sustainability of fishing resources, following up on the Medfish4Ever Declaration, a 10-year pledge to save the Mediterranean's fish stocks and protect the region's ecological wealth that was signed in March 2017.

The blue economy – a new action area for Our Ocean – is already worth €1.3 trillion, and that figure is set to double by 2030. The EU added the theme to the conference to build bridges between sustainable ocean solutions and economic growth in coastal communities worldwide.

New EU commitments include €250 million to fund marine and maritime research in 2017, €12 million to support new projects to combat marine litter, and €50 million for the BlueMED Initiative, for cooperation on science and research in the Mediterranean.

Internationally, there will be over €60 million to strengthen the All-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance and deeper cooperation with Brazil and South Africa on marine science, research and innovation. EU research teams working in international consortia on the challenges facing the Atlantic Ocean will exceed 500 by 2019.

A €14.5-million initiative will promote a sustainable blue economy in the EU, with new funds for high-potential projects in emerging blue economy sectors. The Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership programme, worth €45 million, will support sustainable management and development of fisheries for food security and economic growth, while addressing climate change resilience and conservation of marine biodiversity.

Nearly €6 million will go towards helping EU countries cooperate across borders on maritime spatial planning, and support to test the first wave and tidal array deployments in Europe will be increased.

Around the globe, trade relies on maritime security – the second new action area for the conference. That security is under threat from many sides, including natural disasters, piracy, trafficking and armed conflict. To make the oceans more secure, the EU announced €37.5 million to counter piracy along the south-eastern African coastline and in the Indian Ocean; a €4-million investment in the Copernicus satellite monitoring programme for monitoring oil pollution and large-scale commercial fisheries, continued support for maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea, €1 million to upgrade EU maritime authorities’ ICT systems, and a prototype surveillance tool to reveal the extent of human activities at sea.

This 'Search for Unidentified Maritime Objects' software analyses data from radar imaging satellites to find vessels as small as 1 metre long, even in cloudy conditions or at night, and should help identify polluting ships, monitor fishing activities, and counter piracy and smuggling.

Despite the many successes, no one sees the conference as an end point. "This conference isn't just about commitments," said Commissioner Vella after the close. "It's about implementation as well. Now we start tracking those commitments, and following up on these numerous work streams. Full steam ahead!"

Our Ocean will continue in Indonesia in 2018.

Environmental law
Water, marine and coast
Nature and biodiversity