Speech at the high-level conference on the future of oceans 


It is a great pleasure for me to welcome more than a thousand citizens, researchers, scientists, legislators, entrepreneurs and representatives of civil society and associations to the European Parliament's Chamber

Since the beginning of my mandate, we have organised eleven high-level conferences here in the European Parliament: from research to cultural heritage, from Africa to migration, from digital to clean energy.

We have involved citizens, companies, workers, associations, institutions and research bodies on issues that are fundamental for Europe and for our citizens. Today we wanted to address a topic of primary importance, that of the future of our oceans.

The European Parliament wants to give an immediate response to the millions of young people who took to the streets last week to demonstrate to defend our planet.

We are with you. The European Parliament is at the forefront of the fight against climate change. We are facing a crisis with epoch-making social, economic, political and environmental consequences.

To ensure a future for our planet, we must be responsible and act now. The Union's leadership in environmental policy must set an example to all global players.

We want to develop greater synergies between industry and the environment, combining social responsibility, innovation, jobs and sustainable growth.

Last week, in Strasbourg, we voted for a major Resolution on climate that welcomes the Commission's Communication on a Clean Planet for All.

We want a prosperous, modern, competitive and climate neutral economy. We support de-carbonisation with the objective of zeroing net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

We call on the Member States to commit themselves to this target. Parliament recognises the serious risks posed by climate change.

According to the European Environment Agency, between 2010 and 2016, the average annual losses in the EU due to extreme weather and climate conditions amounted to around EUR12 billion.

If no further measures are taken, in a high emission scenario, the annual costs of flooding in the EU could increase to EUR1 trillion by 2100.

The Agency also estimates that by 2030, 50 % of the EU's populated areas will be at risk of severe water scarcity. We therefore call for a fund for a fair energy transition and for the integration of environmental concerns into all EU policies, including trade policy.

All trade agreements signed by the EU must be fully compatible with the Paris Agreement, both to improve global action against climate change and to ensure a level playing field for our entrepreneurs.

The European Parliament believes that economic prosperity, global industrial competitiveness and climate policy are mutually reinforcing.

We need to invest more in industrial innovation, digital technologies, clean technologies and energy efficiency, to stimulate growth, strengthen competitiveness, promote future skills and create millions of jobs.

We cannot continue to exploit and pollute the oceans. We have fought to include the conservation and intelligent exploitation of the oceans among the UN Millennium Development Goals.

We were among the first to vote on the Paris Accords. At the UN Conference on the Oceans in June 2017 we helped to define nineteen ambitious commitments, from the reduction of waste at sea, to water monitoring, to the reform of ocean governance.

We are working to adopt more and more international legal instruments on marine biodiversity and illegal fishing. We want to achieve a single legal framework for all activities relating to the oceans.

Today, there are more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans. Every year, another 8 million tonnes end up in the sea. If we continue at this rate, by 2050 we will have more plastic in the seas than fish.

This is not only an environmental damage but also an economic one, because it damages tourism and the fishing industry.

70% of the objects that pollute our seas are disposable objects. That is why the European Parliament has adopted the directive banning disposable plastics by 2021.

The circular economy package that we approved last year changes the way we produce. Encouraging the recycling of municipal waste and re-use is the key to a sustainable future.

Recycling 1 million tonnes of plastic is equivalent to removing 1 million cars from the roads.

In the last plenary session in Strasbourg, we adopted a directive that no longer automatically considers as a producer, the fisherman who takes on board the waste that accidentally ends up in his nets. In this way, we want to avoid the choice between throwing the plastics back into the sea or bearing the costs of disposal.

This measure encourages ships to dispose of their waste on land and ensures that there are adequate waste collection facilities in ports. I hope that the Member States will transpose this directive as soon as possible.

With 5.4 million workers and an added value of almost €500 billion a year, the so-called "blue economy" is a key sector in Europe.

Some sectors have additional growth margins.  Today, 75% of external trade and 37% of intra-EU trade is carried out by sea.

It is essential to work towards more efficient maritime transport. The new EU budget 2021-2027 must include support measures to this end.

Clean seas and coasts must be the engine of the European economy. They are a unique economic, commercial and tourist resource in the world.

The EU fishing industry supplies European consumers with around 6.4 million tonnes of fish per year and employs 350,000 Europeans.

We must continue to support the fishing industry, with the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.

And we want to maintain leadership in sustainable fisheries. That is why we have been working on the Data Collection Regulation and the External Fleet Regulation throughout this parliamentary term.

Many European discoveries have been decisive in safeguarding the planet. I am thinking of the invention of biodegradable plastics, recyclable materials or technologies for reducing emissions.

With the Copernicus programme, we have fundamental data for a better understanding of our planet and for the sustainable management of the environment in which we live.

Copernicus services are an important resource for urban management, sustainable development and nature protection, regional planning, agriculture, fisheries, health, civil protection, infrastructure, transport and tourism.

For this reason, the European Parliament is calling for greater efforts in investment in innovation and research.

We have asked for a 50% increase in the funds of the new Horizon Europe programme to EUR120 billion. And we are calling for at least 30% of all the actions provided for in the next EU budget 2021-2027, and 35% of Horizon Europe, to go into sustainability measures.

In order to make better use of economies of scale and European added value, we must have common resources that match the challenges we are facing.

And Member States must do their part.

Environmental protection, research, innovation and industry are inextricably linked. The constant dialectic between universities, research centres, associations and businesses is the key to a successful marriage between the environment and an innovative and competitive economy.

We want a Europe that is more friendly to the oceans. We must continue along this path. Both in terms of environmental diplomacy, as we did at COP24 in Katowice in December, and in terms of concrete commitments.

That is why we need all of you. It is a challenge to be faced and won together. My thanks, the thanks of this Parliament, go first and foremost to you.

My commitment is that you can count on the full support of this Parliament.

Thank you

Gesine MEISSNER, Special Delegate of the President of the European Parliament for Maritime Affairs;

Karmenu VELLA, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries;

Adriana PETCU, Minister for Water and Forests, Romania

Alain CADEC, Chairperson of the PECH committee;

Adina VALEAN, Chairperson of the ENVI committee;

Hans-Olaf HENKEL, Vice-Chairperson of the ITRE committee;

Geneviève PONS, Director of the Jacques Delors Institute;

Daniela FERNANDEZ, CEO of the Sustainable Ocean Alliance