The level of challenge to our oceans is immense but so too is the opportunity, if we adopt the right set of policies and work in co-operation not only at European but at global level, Mairead McGuinness MEP and first Vice-President of the European Parliament said today.
Delivering the keynote address at the ‘Our Ocean Wealth’ summit at City Hall, Cork on Monday she said the EU has become a global pioneer in maritime policy thanks to its Maritime Spatial Planning Directive, excellent research institutes, innovative blue enterprises and its regional cooperation in the different sea basins.
“However, it’s a pity that knowledge about oceans, especially on the state of marine biodiversity, remains limited. Available data paints a bleak and deteriorating picture of the state of marine species and habitats. And the EU needs to address this lack of data while tackling the issues that the limited available data is showing,” she said.
Per head of population, Ireland is one of the highest consumers of plastics, with each individual generating 61kg of plastic waste per year on average, equivalent to 5,500 single-use coffee cups.
“In the European Parliament Environment Committee we have approved new legislation to ban 10 of the most common plastic items from 2021. The ban covers disposable products that have readily available alternatives including plastic cutlery, straws, drink stirrers, cotton buds, balloon sticks and other products made of oxo-degradable plastics, dangerous to the environment,” she said.
There will be a focus to limit the use of plastics through design and labelling requirements and waste management.
Ms McGuinness said the European Parliament believes that economic prosperity, global industrial competitiveness and climate policy are mutually reinforcing.
“But even with stringent emission reductions, global sea levels are predicted to rise dramatically, disrupting life on land and in the seas,” she said.
“In the six years 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.”
Oceans cover 71pc of our planet’s surface and the Irish Continental Shelf is one of the largest seabed territories in Europe. They are the largest carbon store – where an estimated 83pc of the global carbon cycle is circulated through marine waters.
“We can harness the natural power of our seas. Oceans represent a huge, predictable resource for renewable energy,” she said. “The development of this emerging sector would not only help us to achieve our renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction targets, but it could fuel economic growth through innovation and create new, high-quality jobs. It also plays an important role in the security of our energy supply.”
She said the Atlantic Ocean along Ireland’s west coast has particular potential. As an island nation, ocean energy can contribute to energy self-sufficiency.
“Our oceans also provide food and our fishing policies must ensure that we fish in a sustainable way. Oceans represent a highway for the transportation of goods and are important for tourism.
“Healthy, clean oceans guarantee the long-term capacity to sustain economic activities coming from our oceans, while a natural decline threatens the ecosystem of the planet as a whole and ultimately, the well-being of our societies.
“It’s so important for life on land and in the sea that our waters are protected,” she said.
And she said the European Union is an active player in protecting oceans and shaping ocean governance at global level.