Speech by President von der Leyen at the Ocean Race Summit Europe

(Source: European Commission)

“Check against delivery”

Dear Grace,

Chère Catherine,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Biodiversity loss is one of the greatest threats to our planet and to our health. Our seas and oceans are a particular concern. They are our most natural ally in the fight against climate change. And they are the first to feel its effects.

Nowhere is that more important than in the rich and vulnerable marine life of the Southern Ocean. We can visibly see Antarctic ice melting at an ever faster rate. Which is no surprise. Temperatures have reached as high as 20 degrees Celsius. But this is not just about the Antarctic. It is about the effect it will have on oceans and climate around the world.

This is why the EU and its Member States are proposing to establish two new large-scale Marine Protected Areas. One in East Antarctica and another in the Weddell Sea. We are doing this together with a number of like-minded partners. If approved, these new zones would protect an area of over 3 million square kilometres. This would be a great achievement.

Of course, we know that it will not be easy to reach an international consensus. We still have particular challenges with some partner countries. But we are willing to fight hard. We know it can be done. As we saw five years ago with the Ross Sea Marine Protected Area. It took courage, leadership and political will to push for the greater good. But it was worth any effort.

Antarctica is a natural treasure that belongs to all humanity. We have to protect this common good. And this task is a common duty as well. And that is what the Antarctic Treaty has always been about. On the 60th anniversary of the Treaty I am hopeful that the stars will align for us to reach an agreement. Europe will mobilise all its diplomatic strength to get there.

I thank the European Parliament for its continued and determined support. Our joint efforts are bearing fruit. We saw it in the Ministerial meeting hosted by Commissioner Sinkevičius in April.

The US and others stepped in to join our proposal. Together we will fight for the protection of the Southern Ocean. Of course, this mission is also part of a bigger picture. We are working towards global commitments to protect 30% of our land and sea.

This is a goal for the Biodiversity COP15 in China. And we are aiming to increase climate ambitions at COP26 in Glasgow. The oceans are essential for both.

We are determined to turn words into action. And reaching an agreement on concrete measures to protect our Southern Ocean would be a very powerful message. I count on your continued support and you can count on mine.

Thank you.

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