Protecting nature in the blue economy

blueconomy

Water covers 70 % of the Earth and many of Europe’s natural riches lie in the seas around its coasts. A Green Week session heard about efforts to build environmental safeguards into an expanded blue economy.

The ‘blue economy’ brings many opportunities, such as coastal tourism, renewable power and fisheries,” said Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Listing its advantages, he spoke of sustainable aquaculture that can allow natural stocks to recover, renewable energy sources bringing energy security and greenhouse gas reductions, and offshore wind power that already provides 75 000 jobs in the EU.

Sounding a note of caution, he reminded participants that a productive ocean economy depends on healthy marine ecosystems. Yet Europe, he said, allows 6 million tonnes of plastic to end up in the ocean every year. “Marine litter is one of the most striking effects of a resource-inefficient economy,” he noted, adding that a new circular economy proposal to be published by the Commission by the end of this year should help address the problem.

Turning to fishing, he underlined the need for wider controls. He reminded audiences that the EU’s fish catch is only 5 % of the global total, while illegal fishing worldwide accounts for 15 %. One example of why “global ocean governance is an absolute priority,” he said.

Successful strategy

According to Richard Lochhead, Member of the Scottish Parliament and Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, “Scotland won Europe’s natural lottery”. Its enormous marine resources account for two-thirds of the UK’s national waters, making them the fourth-largest territorial waters in the EU.

EU legislation has played a huge role in Scotland’s protection of biodiversity in its seas, and Scotland has now developed marine planning and a marine litter strategy of its own. Action on data accessibility for citizens and stakeholders is also making a difference, and bottom-up initiatives from citizens are helping to create new marine protected areas (MPAs) – the north-east Faro-Shetland Channel being the largest MPA in Europe.

Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office, noted the extreme degradation of the oceans, blaming the systemic interaction of different pressures. He made a case for stronger protection, arguing for:

  • Greater coherence in EU environment, maritime and fisheries policy
  • Environmental protection to be made the 11th of the current Commission’s 10 overarching objectives, or a focus of the review of the Europe 2020 strategy
  • Strong Birds and Habitat Directives, if Europe is to deliver on the “good environmental status” defined in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive
  • A digital catch-certificate system to replace the current paper-based one, with more collaboration with the US and Japan.

Biodiversity must be paramount,” he said, across all EU policies, and not just for Green Week.

The Commission is currently gathering input on how the EU could contribute to achieving better international governance of oceans and seas.

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