EU makes poor progress on healthier ocean commitments

EU makes poor progress on healthier ocean commitments
Illustration shows an action 'When the sea dies, we die with it' by Ocean Rebellion, a daughter movement of Extinction Rebellion, in front if the European Commission headquarters, in Brussels, Sunday 12 December 2021.Credit: Belga / Nicolas Maeterlinck

At a press event during the European Union’s Ocean Week, six NGOs published a joint assessment of the EU’s progress in improving the health of oceans by 2030, a goal set out by the Blue Manifesto.

The EU has pledged to fully protect 30% of the ocean, shift to low-impact fishing, remove pollution from seas, and restore marine ecosystems by the year 2030. The analysis conducted by the NGOs has concluded that the EU has made “little progress in the last year to achieve the necessary targets outlined in the Blue Manifesto.”

Of eight policy milestones set by the plan at the end of last year, only one was fully met. Three were not met, and two others had insufficient progress. Worse yet, three milestones sent out in 2020 had been downgraded as a result of policymaking in 2021, worsening results achieved in years prior.

The NGOs cited “scarce political ambition” and “delays in the policy process” as the two biggest causes of poor progress.

“Despite the poor performance scored for two years in a row towards the goal of making the ocean healthy by 2030, the EU can still make up for lost time by stepping up in the eight coming years,” said Adam Weiss, Head of the ClientEarth Ocean programme. “The EU faces a challenge where failure is not an option…there is no Ocean B.”

The NGO cites failures made by the EU in several key areas. They state that EU legislation on plastic pollution had set ambitious goals of a transition away from single-use plastics but that the member states had done “the bare minimum during the transposition into national legislation, defeating the ambition of the original policy.”

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Speaking at the Ocean Week event, Grace O’Sullivan, Green MEP from Ireland, stated the clock was now ticking to fix Europe's ocean.

“We are running out of time to turn the tide on ocean degradation…We need to be ambition and bring the ocean to the core of the political agenda, following through on the promises of the European Green Deal…Member States must be held to account over their failure to act on the climate and biodiversity crises, before it is too late,” she said.

Furthermore, the bycatch of at-risk fish stocks, the NGOs says, remains “mostly unaddressed” by lawmakers. The EU and the Council of the EU have also failed to ensure the compliance of the fishing sector with environmental policies.

“Despite a six-fold increase in the Natura 2000 surface at sea in the last 20 years, most threatened marine habitats and species in the EU remain in poor conservation status,” said Alexandra Cousteau, senior advisor at Oceana said.

Cousteau, and other speakers present at the event, called on European Commission to push ahead with “legally-binding targets” to restore biodiversity and be ambitious in protecting degraded ecosystems.

A full report of the NGOs’ findings is set to be published in anticipation of the upcoming EU nature Restoration Law on 22 June.

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