EU: 2022 must see action on oceans, biodiversity, plastics

UNITED NATIONS — The European Union’s environment chief said that 2022 must be the year for an ambitious agreement on the oceans, for action that protects the world’s biodiversity, and for starting negotiations to tackle the global crisis of plastic pollution especially at sea.

Virginijus Sinkevicius, the EU commissioner for environment, oceans and fisheries, told a U.N. news conference that precious time to save nature and the oceans has been lost over the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 27-member bloc is determined to move ahead quickly to steer “a global green transition.”

“This year must be the year of the oceans. This year must be the year of biodiversity. … (and) it is essential to get plastics under control and the only way to do it is globally,” he said. “This year we must find a window of opportunity to reach agreements that will change the world for better.”

Sinkevicius said a top priority for the EU is to reach “a Paris moment for biodiversity” — like that in Paris in 2015 when world leaders reached the landmark climate agreement which set a target of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times. The world has already warmed 1.2 degrees Celsius (2.2 degrees Fahrenheit) since that time.

“Without acting on this front, we won’t succeed in solving the climate crisis,” he warned, “because the finest technologies to solve the climate crisis are not sophisticated machines. They are trees, oceans and healthy ecosystems.”

The Lithuanian politician said that at the 15th conference of parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Kunming, China from April 25-May 9 there must be “a genuinely transformative moment for biodiversity, and this requires a strong political engagement from all at the highest level.”

The most important outcome at that conference should be agreement to protect 30% of the planet’s land and oceans by 2030, and also restore degraded ecosystems, he said. This requires additional funding, and the EU Commission has doubled funding for biodiversity, which means a billion euros a year, he said, and it is looking to similar action from other countries and the private sector.

On oceans, Sinkevicius said, the EU will launch a coalition to support major negotiations for an ambitious agreement on the high seas at the One Ocean Summit in Brest, France organized by French President Emmanuel Macron and the EU from Feb. 9-11.

“And we hope to welcome the U.S. and many other countries on board,” said the EU commissioner, who visited Washington before coming to the U.N. for meetings.

That meeting will be followed by a conference on oceans on April 13-14 in the Pacific island nation of Palau, a biodiversity hotspot about 600 miles (970 kilometers) miles east of the Philippines, with 20,000 people scattered across a 250-island tropical archipelago. The EU commissioner said the meeting will focus on illegal, underreported and unregulated fishing as well as climate issues facing island nations.

The main event this year is the U.N. Ocean Conference in Lisbon from June 27-July 1 where Sinkevicius said “the European Union is determined to reach an ambitious agreement on the high seas” with strong monitoring.

“These negotiations are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect the ocean, and it was very encouraging to discuss with our American friends our common determination to reach a successful conclusion still this year,” he said.

Sinkevicius said about 140 countries are calling for a negotiating committee to be established to reach a global agreement on controlling plastic pollution, and more than 70 of them said it should be legally binding. He said he thinks global plastics regulations will also be welcomed by businesses so they don’t have to deal with very high standards in one region and much lower ones in another.

Sinkevicius said he was pleased that his American counterparts are as keen as the EU is to see these negotiations launched at the resumed fifth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi from Feb. 28-March 2.

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