For many years, oceans have been at the front line of the battle against climate change, the most important challenge we face this century. They have absorbed 25% of human carbon dioxide emissions and 90% of the world’s extra heat.
But the oceans cannot hold the line alone. They are warming up, and acidifying. The stress endured by the ocean is there for all of us to see: rising sea levels, extreme weather conditions, coral bleaching, dead zones, and a reduced volume of fish that fishing communities around the world can catch.
Two years ago, climate and oceans was set out as one of the top political priorities in the EU’s Ocean Governance agenda. Launching this together with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, we highlighted three specific areas:
Marine Protected Areas can play a crucial role to deliver on the goals of the Paris agreement. Protected wetlands and mangroves in particular are crucial to preserve biodiversity, trap carbon, and boost climate resilience.
But we see that these blue carbon sinks are threatened. The fact that this destruction takes place outside the EU does not prevent us from taking action. In 2017, we dedicated more than 90 million euros to restoring marine and coastal ecosystems around the world.
For instance, the EU’s ‘Global Public Goods and Challenges’ programme recently announced a 10 million euro grant for seascape management and sustainable development of local communities in Asia’s Coral Triangle area.
In the Pacific, the European Union has set aside 35 million euros to protect marine biodiversity, promote marine protected areas and enhance resilience to climate change. The partnership will be implemented in 15 Pacific countries.
Credit: Ethan Daniels/Shutterstock
Mangrove forest, Indonesia. Although large areas of mangrove forest have been cleared, this is still one of the Coral Triangle’s most important ecosystems. They provide vital products and services for local livelihoods but are also crucial to preserve biodiversity, trap carbon, and boost climate resilience. Recognising their important role, the EU supports mangrove protection and rehabilitation throughout the Coral Triangle.
The ocean in all things
Beyond the Paris Agreement, the EU is raising the ocean’s profile on the international stage in a number of places:
First, we strongly support the ‘Ocean Action Days’ organised during the COP meetings of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and we are happy to see that Chile has taken this a step further, by organising an ocean-focused “Blue COP” this year.
We are also supporting strong global action through international organisations like the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which has set out to halve shipping emissions by 2050, or the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), where we have agreed to develop guidelines on climate change adaptation and mitigation in fisheries and aquaculture.
And third, in the ongoing negotiations in the United Nations on a new agreement for protecting marine biodiversity in the High Seas.
Supporting ocean science
We have backed our ocean research and observation, the vital supply line in keeping up the fight for sustainability, with solid investments.
For instance, over the past two years, we have devoted 23 million euros to our Satellite observation programme Copernicus. This will allow for global ocean forecasting and analysis, including on climate change effects, the models for which give us an increasingly accurate ability to forward plan.
These three areas summarise our current contributions. Three fronts in our battle. But just like the ocean itself, the EU cannot fight this battle alone. The title of this year’s World Ocean Summit was “building bridges”. From local communities to global arenas we send a call for allies. Climate Change is harming the ocean. For too long the ocean has absorbed this punishment alone. It is time for us all to come to its aid.
Karmenu Vella is the European Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs. He was born in Malta on June 19th 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.
« Originally published in world ocean initiative on 28 March 2019 »