Exclusively written for the Sting by Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner in charge of Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
When we think of climate change the oceans are now central to our thinking and our efforts.
It must be at the heart of our efforts because the ocean is the heart of our planet. We know it makes up 70 % of the earth’s surface, and yet we know only 5% of its depth.
Happily, oceans are explicitly referenced as goal 14 of the Sustainable Development Goals; “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.
This already makes 2015 a good year but now we must push on. By that I mean that we should do what it takes to get the best possible result at COP 21 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 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 the speed of that change means two things: we have to act fast, and we have to act together.
Take the arctic region as an 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
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 in Anchorage at the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic
This is one reason why I have launched in June an international public consultation on ocean governance. We are asking all interested parties how we can ensure that the world’s oceans are managed more sustainably.
And we hope that this alliance can be further forged with other countries in the run-up to the climate change summit in Paris.
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.
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.
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.
But there are still many questions. 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.
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.
The link between Climate Change and the Oceans is clear. Our shared aim is to ensure that we identify the best possible Ocean Governance rules that help us preserve and protect our planet.
About the author
Karmenu Vella is the European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. He was born in Malta on June 1950. Mr Vella graduated in Architecture and Civil Engineering, and later obtained a Master of Science in Tourism Management from University of Sheffield. He was first elected to Parliament in 1976 and continued to be was re-elected in the elections that followed for nine consecutive times. During his political career he has been appointed Minister for Public Works, Minister for Industry and Minister for Tourism twice. Mr Vella had also held various senior posts in the private sector.