In Malta, the 28 members of the European Union have announced an ambitious package of 36 EU-initiatives to foster healthier, cleaner, safer and more secure seas. More than €6 billion have been committed by public and private actors at the EU-hosted Our Ocean conference 2017 in Malta on October 5-6, to better manage the oceans.

On behalf of the EU, High Representative, Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella announced on October 5 over €550 million of EU-funded initiatives to tackle global oceans challenges.

At the conference, First Vice-President Frans Timmermans was expected to announce that the European Commission would phase out by end 2017 all single-use plastic cups in water fountains and vending machines in its buildings in Brussels.

Furthermore, Development Commissioner Neven Mimica reaffirmed on behalf of the EU and its African, Caribbean, and Pacific partners their commitment for sustainable ocean governance.

“The sea is a global common. It is Our Ocean because it belongs to humanity, to each and every human being,” Mogherini said at the opening session of the Malta conference on October 5. “We all have a responsibility to preserve what’s common – to preserve it as a treasure and avoid that it turns into a threat.”

Mogherini noted that the EU believes that a globalised world needs a more cooperative global governance. “We believe in the power of diplomacy, we invest in it, we believe and invest in the power of common rules and international institutions. And it is difficult, actually impossible, to imagine a global governance without a cooperative oceans’ governance.”

Following the strong message sent by the EU to step up action for better governance of our ocean, the total commitments made by other public and private actors from 112 countries around the world reached over €6 billion, according to the European Commission. The resources will be invested to strengthen the fight against marine pollution and enlarge protected areas, reinforce security of the oceans, foster blue economy initiatives and sustainable fisheries and intensify the EU efforts against climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030. Participants also announced the creation of new Marine Protected Areas spanning more than 2.5 million square kilometres, or more than half the size of the entire EU.

“Amounting to over €550 million and launching complementary activities worldwide, the announcement underscores the EU’s determination to improve the situation of the seas. At the same time, as hosts, the EU seeks from the outset of the conference to set an example and send a strong message of encouragement to the rest of the world to step up and take action in the face of growing ocean challenges such as plastic pollution, protection of marine life, impact of climate change and criminal activities at sea. Over the comings days, the international community – governments and private sector alike – will come together to deliver on this objective,” Mogherini said.

The High Representative noted that the rise of sea levels is already forcing millions of people to leave their homes and migrate. “Talk to sailors, fishermen and people who live by the sea – here it is not difficult to do it, they will all tell you one thing: that they had never seen such strong storms before, or such big waterspouts,” she said.

“The ocean is becoming a security threat – and we know it is not the ocean’s fault. We have scientists, and meteorologists, and we should carefully listen to them. They told us that warmer oceans would lead to more hurricanes and this is exactly what is happening right now,” she said.

“Some of you may have seen the images coming from the Bahamas just a few weeks ago. Hurricane Irma sucked all the water away from the archipelago. For several hours, the sea simply disappeared, and was replaced by a sea of mud. It sounds like a story from an old legend, but it’s not. It is today’s reality. And we, as human beings, are contributing to make this happen,” Mogherini said.

“Climate change is man-made. Insecurity is man-made. But as an optimist, the good news is as we are currently part of the problem; we can decide to be part of the solution. This is something we can only do together. We share one world and one big ocean,” she said.

“This is why I am so grateful to good friend John Kerry [68th United States Secretary of State, from 2013 to 2017] – who will join us tomorrow (October 6) – for launching this initiative four years ago. And last year Karmenu and I, together with all the European institutions, were very glad to pick up the baton and organise this year’s conference,” Mogherini said.

“I am proud to announce – in the name of the European Union – that the European Commission is putting €560 million on the table, with 36 concrete actions for Our Ocean. These actions span from global cooperation with our partners, to small gestures in our everyday life,” she said.

“I give you one small, but very concrete example: our embassies, our European Union delegations around the world have cleaned up 27 beaches in the course of this year. It is a small thing that makes a difference. We need a global alliance and we need everyone’s daily commitment. It is a collective responsibility that we all share,” Mogherini said.

For his part, Vella reminded at his speech that when he took office as European Commissioner in 2014, he was the first to jointly hold the environment and maritime portfolios. “This was thanks to the European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. President Juncker realised that if we are to have a green sustainable future, we have to look after our blue planet. This task was clearly included in my mandate. What was also clear was, that this global issue couldn’t be achieved by the EU alone. We have to address global issues with global solutions. During the last three years, the EU has been a driving force behind this truly global effort,” Vella said, adding, “Together, we have the UN sustainable development goals, with goal 14 on ‘life below water’”.

“We now have the ground-breaking Paris climate accord which recognises the essential role of the ocean. We have EU commitments on ocean governance, on illegal fishing and on the Arctic. And now we embark on the 4th edition of Our Ocean,” Vella said.

“At this point I want to pause and pay tribute to the instigator of Our Ocean – John Kerry. John has been the Poseidon of this process. I want to thank him for his dedication and commitment. This Our Ocean platform, constructed with stakeholders around the world, is built to last. We now have a growing and widening movement of countries, business and civil society, all willing to take real action to protect and to use our ocean sustainably,” the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner said.

He reminded that representatives from six continents attended the Malta conference. “I would like to stress how delighted I am to welcome the business community onto the stage this year,” Vella said.