Questions and Answers on International Ocean Governance

(Source: European Commission)

Why a new agenda on International Ocean Governance and what is in it?

The Joint communication on the renewed EU agenda on International Ocean Governance (IOG) updates the 2016 Joint Communication and strengthens the EU’s commitment to safe, secure, clean, healthy and sustainably managed ocean. The new agenda reflects a number of significant global developments since 2016 such as: the urgent need to act on the triple crisis of climate, biodiversity and pollution; the more and more recognised role of the ocean in our lives, but also the profound changes happening to it due to climate change but also unsustainable human activities at sea; the need to better protect the ocean as one of the biggest sources of life and biodiversity on Earth; the increased focus on food security, as well as maritime security, which has come to the fore with  Russia’s unprovoked aggression against Ukraine.

The new International Ocean Governance agenda sets key EU priorities: to halt and reverse the loss of marine biodiversity, fight climate change and marine pollution for a healthy ocean, protect the seabed from harmful practices, ensure a sustainable blue economy and build up ocean knowledge, ensure security and safety at sea and a compliance with international rules and standards.


How will the EU work to strengthen sustainable fisheries?

The EU will further pursue a zero-tolerance approach against Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and support compliance with conservation and management rules that aim at the sustainable use of fisheries resources. Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs) provide a solid framework for bilateral cooperation with selected non-EU partner countries and contribute to enhance marine, maritime and fisheries policies including environmental, social and trade aspects.

The EU is scaling up its efforts to promote the fulfilment of flag States’ responsibilities by those acting as ‘open registers’. Certain open registers known for their poor implementation of maritime law are commonly used by some ship owners to escape their international obligations or control over the vessels in what concerns fishing, as well as sustainable and safe recycling of the ships when they reach the end of their life. The EU also continues promoting transparency on vessels’ ownership to be in a position to identify those responsible for possible illegal activities.

The EU will continue strengthening its policy by developing appropriate IT tools in this regard, including a digitalised catch certification scheme. The EU is striving towards safeguarding market entry only for products that are sustainably sourced and produced. Indeed, effective management of fisheries and sustainable aquaculture are pre-conditions for a positive food system transformation.

The EU welcomes the multilateral agreement contributing to the protection of the oceans that was achieved in the WTO on 17 June this year. The EU is fully committed to complete as soon as possible the agreement with the elements not yet agreed.

Finally, in the context of fighting against marine pollution it is also relevant that ship owners who deliberately pollute can be quickly and efficiently identified.


How will the new agenda on International Ocean Governance address the impacts of climate change and pollution on the ocean?

The ocean and climate change are closely intertwined: the ocean and its ecosystems are essential to regulate the climate and are at the same time hugely impacted by climate change. Ocean and climate actions must therefore go hand in hand. A positive step to this end is the UNFCCC decision made at COP26 in Glasgow to hold an annual dialogue on the ocean and climate change to strengthen ocean climate change mitigation and adaptation action.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) raised the alarm on the impacts of climate change on the ocean. The absorption of carbon dioxide (25% of the human emissions of CO2) and extra heat (90% of the world’s extra heat resulting from the greenhouse effect) causes ocean acidification and warming, which leads to sea level rise, extreme weather conditions, coral bleaching, stratification, deoxygenation, dead zones and changes in biological productivity and to the distribution of species and habitats. It emphasised the need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take sustained and robust adaptation action. It is essential to combine action in all areas, ocean and land, while taking a coordinated approach to address interconnected issues of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.

The EU has anchored climate neutrality by 2050 into its law, in line with the Paris Agreement, and is committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from maritime activities and to make continued progress in climate adaptation. The Commission proposed a range of measures to ensure that EU maritime transport contributes to reaching this goal. This includes a new standard on GHG intensity of energy used onboard ships (FuelEU Maritime), the extension of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to maritime transport, and a revision of existing directives on energy taxation, alternative fuel infrastructures and renewable energy.

Globally, a regulatory framework on the energy efficiency of new ships is in place and energy efficiency measures for existing ships will enter into force in November 2022. The EU will continue decarbonising the fishing sector to reduce the dependency on fossil fuels, including by exploring mitigation measures and fishing strategies and gears that reduce emissions  and improve energy use efficiency. This has become even more important in the context of the current war in Ukraine.

Nature-based solutions can also provide climate change mitigation and adaptation by increasing carbon uptake and storage, reducing coastal risks and by providing multiple other benefits such as better water quality and increased resilience of ecosystems and communities.

The EU is committed to stopping pollution of all kinds, notably from land-based sources to sea. Marine plastic pollution has increased tenfold since 1980 and needs a global response. Since the adoption of its Plastics Strategy in 2018, the EU has been a driving force in tackling plastic pollution internationally through its diplomatic efforts, and within the Union. It will actively engage in the global negotiations for an ambitious legally binding Global Plastic Agreement by 2024, as agreed at UNEA5, and will continue working towards that end.


How will the EU work to halt and reverse the loss of marine biodiversity?

Marine biodiversity protection and conservation are key priorities under the EU’s external action in pursuit of the future international legally binding instrument on marine Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The EU’s ambition is to reach an internationally binding agreement on BBNJ still in 2022, and to ensure its effective ratification and implementation. In addition to its active engagement in the negotiations, the EU has led through its Ocean Diplomacy the setting up of a coalition on Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) to foster an ambitious, fair and effective agreement.

The new Biodiversity Strategy set a target of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030. A global network of marine protected areas will safeguard the health and biodiversity of the world’s oceans. The Commission also laid out its proposal for a Nature Restoration Law which aims to cover at least 20% of EU’s seas and restore all ecosystems in need of restoration by 2050, including marine ones. Furthermore, through its diplomatic leverage and outreach capacities, the EU continues to help broker an agreement on the designation of new Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean as an important contribution to the 30% protection goal by 2030.

The steadily increasing demand for use of the ocean requires integrated planning of maritime space that takes due account of the interests of all maritime sectors and their impact on the marine environment, and their contribution to climate change and biodiversity loss. Building on an ecosystem-based approach, Maritime Spatial Planning can support the achievement of conservation and restoration targets and contribute to a sustainable blue economy.


How will the new agenda on International Ocean Governance address maritime security and safety?

Maritime security protects legitimate activities and is a prerequisite for a sustainable blue economy, flow of trade along the sea as well as peace and stability at large.

In line with its Maritime Security Strategy, the EU continues to strengthen its role as a maritime security provider within and beyond its borders. In doing so, it takes a cross-sectoral approach to the evolving character of maritime security challenges and threats, including cyber and hybrid attacks, the growing impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and the risks they pose to stability and security.

The EU will continue to work with its maritime security regional partners to address increased presence of both global and regional actors, some of whom do not hesitate to use irregular forces in zones of instability. The EU will continue monitoring developments closely and respond swiftly to any threats to maritime security, cooperating with its partners such as NATO.

In bilateral dialogues and in regional and international fora, the EU will address forced labour and other forms of work that violate human rights in the area of fisheries, including when detected in the context of the fight against IUU fishing. The EU will continue promoting the ratification and effective implementation of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Work in Fishing Convention.


What tools will the EU use to strengthen international ocean governance?

The ocean requires a collective approach, based on the provisions of international law with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) at its core.

The EU pursues partnerships and alliances with third countries, multilateral and regional organisations, and non-state actors such as NGOs, economic operators, scientific community and civil society at large. It does so by means of regional and bilateral dialogues, ocean-related development cooperation, specific outreach and demarches, coalition-building on key priorities and (co)-hosting multi-stakeholder global events to further mobilise and sustain the momentum for global action.


What funding opportunities will be available for reaching the goals set in the agenda?

The Commission will invest up to €1 billion for ocean, coastal biodiversity and climate, including for the high seas in 2021-2027. In addition, it will provide €350 million a year to fund marine and maritime issues, through the Horizon Europe 2021-2027 programme, and an additional  €110 million a year to the European Mission ‘Restore our Ocean and Waters by 2030’ for the period 2021-2023. The aim of the Mission is to demonstrate practical solutions for cleaning waters, restoring degraded ecosystems and to transition the blue economy to climate neutrality.

The EU and its Member States are among the most important donors of ocean-related development aid and voluntary contributors to international organisations and processes, notably through the Global Europe Instrument/NDICI: from 2014 to 2020, over €1 billion was committed under EU development policy to promote ocean governance in third countries.

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