Source: Committe of Regions
In this interview, Emma Nohrén (SE/Greens) answers five questions on the role of local and regional authorities in protecting the marine environment. The Vice Mayor of the Swedish Municipality of Lysekil is the rapporteur of a draft opinion which calls for a new EU law on oceans with clear targets and milestones to reduce marine pollution and restore marine ecosystems. With the right support, local and regional authorities can set up new measures and projects that contribute to saving the oceans, while providing employment and boosting the economy. Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. Plastic accounts for 75% of marine litter in the world’s seas.
Why are our oceans and seas important for us as European citizens?
Oceans and climate are two sides of the same coin! They are forever linked and both are dependent on each other. The oceans regulate our climate and provide us with oxygen, food and many ecosystem services. This balance needs to be kept. Otherwise, oceans will start working against us. For instance, scientists already see signs that the Arctic Ocean is starting to release more greenhouse gases than it captures.
The nature and the seas are also important for recreation, health and mental well-being. The pandemic and its restrictions have made us very much aware of this. Coastal cities and regions experience how oceans work as magnets for people who wish to live by the sea, as well as for tourists. It is crucial to preserve healthy seas and marine life, which are, in fact, the main attractions of our coasts.
You are the rapporteur of the CoR draft opinion on the protection of the marine environment by subnational authorities. What is the main message that you wish to deliver?
We need action now! We have already lost a lot of valuable time and not yet achieved Good Environmental Status which means that we must use marine resources in a sustainable way to ensure continuity for future generations.
Across the EU, subnational governments hold competencies in key areas that affect the marine environment. In municipalities and regions, we decide about transport, tourism, wastewater and storm water management, and many other areas such as waste management, urban and rural planning, grant permissions for construction, farming and industrial production, all of which have a direct impact on the marine environment.
While local and regional authorities have a lot of power to protect the marine environment, we certainly need more support. Our financial resources are already limited and it is very difficult to find additional means and gain the necessary human resources to even get started. That is why we propose the creation of a European Marine Biodiversity Task Force, an on-demand pool of project managers who can energise us and help us set up the right projects.
What would you reply to those who say that this should not be our priority now?
It is a priority that is long overdue. We have neglected the state of the oceans for too long. Moreover, we have treated oceans as dump for all sorts of pollution and only recently become aware of the magnitude of the problem. If we do not act swiftly and decisively, irreversible changes will occur. The challenge is that most damages to oceans take place under the surface and are not visible to the human eye. Biodiversity loss is already immense so we must hurry up and act before it is too late. Coastal cities and regions know very well the true value of the sea and are very much aware that it is less expensive to save a stressed sea than to restore a destroyed one.
If tomorrow you were to become the European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, what would you do with respect to the marine environment in your first week of mandate?
I would ask my staff to draft a proposal for a new regulation – an EU Oceans Law. Why, you might wonder. Well, we already have the Marine Strategy Framework Directive ( MSFD ), the Common Fisheries Policy ( CFP ) and other laws but we still lack and overarching strategy and environmental goal for our oceans! Most people know that we need to limit global temperature rise to 1,5 degrees, but what is the target to save oceans?
It is important to have measurable targets and deadlines. An Ocean Law will set out the direction and send a clear signal to society. Moreover, it will create the certainty and stability needed for business to invest in new solutions so that the EU is at the forefront of the green transition which is the core idea of the European Green Deal . I also believe that an Ocean Law will get the public aboard, engage citizens and put the EU on the map in relation to the important global work of protecting the oceans within the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What is the relationship between the work on protecting the marine environment and the European Green Deal?
Now is the time to restart and do the right things! We, in the EU, have the ideas, the technology and the knowhow for a transition towards a climate neutral Europe. The EU climate policy is at the core of the European Green Deal. As already mentioned, the climate cannot be regulated without the oceans. Therefore the Climate Law needs to be complemented with an Ocean Law, which sets targets and deadlines to improve marine environment.
Actions to save the oceans are about restoring biodiversity, cutting pollution and moving towards a circular economy; these are all main areas of the European Green Deal. Right now, EU funds to improve marine environment are underused, but with the right support, local and regional authorities can set up measures and projects that contribute to saving the oceans, provide employment and boost the economy to recover from the economic and social crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
What should be the three main priorities for all EU coastal cities and regions in the next 5 to 10 years?
First of all, it depends on where the cities and regions are located. The EU’s four sea basins struggle with different problems. However, these are some priority actions we should consider:
Protect coastal habitats – actions could be: set managing rules for Marine Protected Areas within the 12 mile zone, define new fishing rules for the area, reduce boat traffic, create silent bays, review planning of urban construction and make sure that tourism is sustainable.
Reduce loss of nutrients to water – actions could be: start a dialogue with local farmers to change practices in agriculture and reduce the use of fertilisers, improve water waste treatment, collect and treat wastewater in rural areas and construct wetlands to reduce run-offs.
Reduce litter, pollution and underwater noise – actions could be: improve facilities in ports for waste and wastewater, provide electricity in ports for ships, reroute shipping and launch projects with upstream regions to avoid littering and pollution in rivers.
The draft opinion ‘Local and regional authorities protecting the marine environment’ is a dossier of the CoR’s Green Deal Going Local (GDGL) working group. Launched in June 2020 and composed of 13 local and regional elected representatives , the GDGL working group has the objective to guarantee that EU cities and regions are directly involved in the definition, implementation and assessment of the numerous initiatives that fall under the European Green Deal, the EU’s sustainable growth strategy to reach climate-neutrality by 2050.
Reduce marine litter. European Parliament Briefing (2019).