The EU should step up international cooperation to protect oceans

The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) backs a new and strengthened governance of the oceans, calling for increased international cooperation, the safeguarding of the well-being of the marine environment and the protection of fish stocks from overfishing, given their vital importance for local communities.

Increased international cooperation in order to make oceans sustainable by 2030 and ensure security and safety at sea – this is the key conclusion of an opinion on the subject adopted at the EESC's January plenary session and drafted by Stefano Palmieri.

Given its cross-cutting characteristics, ocean governance cannot be considered a pure "marine affair" but requires a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to support decision makers at all levels.

The human impact on the oceans often originates in land-based activities. A significant proportion of marine pollution stems from the release of waste, pesticides, antibiotics, phosphates and plastics into water, not to mention the issue of unexploded ordnance.

Ocean governance therefore needs to be tackled not only under Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) No 14 ("Life below water") of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, but under all the SDGs, especially those addressing industrial production and collective behaviours.

A new ocean governance

According to the EESC, the EU's role in the legislative field and in strengthening international networks and partnerships is key, and different stakeholders should be effectively and transparently involved at every stage of the process.

To achieve integrated ocean management, it is important to put in place better coordination between public administrations at international, national and local level, as well as invest in impact evaluation of marine activities on employment, remuneration and living conditions, in technology, and in workers' training.

The EU has a leading role in the efforts for the ocean, but all countries need to play their part: only this way will the new generations be able to still call our planet a Blue Planet, said Mr Palmieri. We must not forget ocean literacy and humanitarian aspects, raising citizens' awareness on marine issues and better informing them on the law of the sea: human beings who are in dangerous waters need first of all to be rescued and then to be brought to a really safe harbour.

Towards ocean sustainability by 2030

In order to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and sustainability by 2030, the EU should focus on taking measures to safeguard the well-being of the marine environment and protect fish stocks from overfishing, both of which are vital for many communities.

To this end, the Committee supports the target of 30% of the world's oceans becoming marine protected areas by 2030, and asks that the necessary implementation and monitoring mechanisms be created.

Deep-sea mining is an issue of concern. For areas excavated many decades ago, the long-term impacts are still visible and the ecosystem is recovering slowly. On this matter, the EESC backs the suspension of any deep-sea mining authorisations until enough scientific evidence is gathered on their environmental impact.

Sticking to environmental standards in maritime transport

A notable source of pollution is maritime transport, which covers over 90% of the world's goods transported and constitutes the backbone of the global economy.

Even at the end of their life ocean-going ships can have a remarkable environmental impact, and if not performed according to existing standards, their demolition can pollute the ocean and put marine life and workers' health at risk.

For this reason, the EESC recommends discouraging the use of flags of convenience to circumvent obligations in the field of ship demolition.

Making fisheries more sustainable

Fisheries must also be made more sustainable, as they are currently impacting fish stocks. Focus should be on a "zero-tolerance" approach towards illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, tighter rules on bottom trawling, and more compliance with labour rules in this area.

In this respect, 19 EU Member States, some of which are important coastal countries, have not yet ratified ILO Convention No 188 Work in Fishing, and should ratify and transpose this into national law as soon as possible.

On the other hand, small-scale fishing, as well as aquaculture and algaculture, is essential for the economy of coastal communities and provides healthy food in a sustainable way from the environmental, social and economic points of view. This sector should be supported by means of a specific strategy to help it recover a solid position in the market, as it suffered the highest losses in the economic crisis.

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