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EU at the UN

The EU's commitment to effective multilateralism, with the UN at its core, is a central element of its external action. As a UN observer with enhanced status, the EU delegation coordinates with its 28 Member States to speak with one voice. The EU also works closely with the UN secretariat and its agencies, funds & programmes, partnering on a range of global issues and challenges.

Mr. Co-Chairman,

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union.

The European Union welcomes the attention being paid in ICP to the growing problem of marine debris. It is a significant form of pollution which at this stage has not been addressed fully by the international community.

Marine debris is found in all the seas of the world, from populated coastal zones to remote islands and the polar icecaps. It spoils the beauty of the sea and coastal zone, and damages local economies by contaminating fish catches and driving away tourists. It kills and injures marine mammals, birds, turtles and fish directly and through entanglement or ingestion. Research in the North Sea area showed that 98 % of the dead North Sea fulmars had plastic particles in their stomach. It threatens marine and coastal biological diversity by disturbing ecosystems. Marine debris pays no respect to geographical boundaries. It is a problem that must be tackled by states working together.

Marine debris originates both from sea-based sources like shipping, fisheries activities and offshore oil and gas production as well as from land-based sources like tourism, sewage and waste disposal, as well as dumping and littering. In the North Sea region, which contains some of the busiest shipping routes in the world, approximately 50 percent of debris comes from shipping, amounting to a yearly input of 20.000 tonnes.

Another important source of marine debris is the lost fishing gear that drifts in the ocean. It causes great damage, in particular to marine mammals who get entangled and strangled in these nets beyond human control. We would call upon the FAO to address the issue of lost fishing gear in the near future and to consider the elaboration of a Code of Good Fishing Practice. In doing this, we would suggest that FAO explores whether a co-operation with IMO on this issue might be useful.

Much of the debris has a very long retention time. A plastic bottle for example can remain intact for up to 450 years. This means that if we solve the problem of discharges today, it will still take very long before the effects in the marine environment would be over. This calls for urgent steps to improve the availability and use of port reception-facilities to stop the further input of debris in our oceans as soon as possible.

We note that already a number of instruments relevant to the prevention of marine debris exist. Today the MARPOL Convention prohibits the discharge of plastics into the sea and the London Convention on the Prevention of Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter and its Protocol address the issue of the deliberate dumping of waste at sea. In our region these instruments are implemented through the OSPAR Convention, Helcom and the Barcelona Convention, as well as the EU Port Reception Facility Directive1. The FAO Code of Conduct on Responsible Fisheries is also relevant in this respect.

Even though there are global and European standards that prohibit discharges, this does not appear to be adequate. The existing global norms can only be implemented when adequate waste reception facilities are available in port, and are used by the shipping sector. Presently this is not the case in a great many ports, and further technical support and co-operation should be given. A good contribution is made by the IMO Committee for Technical Co-operation which contributes to the implementation of existing international obligations such as MARPOL.

The European Union considers that it would be wise to not only deal with marine debris in marine fora, but to link the issue with other national strategies on recycling, limiting waste at source and packaging. In that respect we wish to refer to relevant European instruments such as the Directive on packaging and packaging waste2, and the Council Directive on waste3

An important forum is UNEP’s Global Programme of Action (GPA), which addresses the negative effects of land-based activities on the marine and coastal environment. To ensure a better implementation of the GPA, it is essential that governments respond to the identified financial, scientific and technical needs, and develop appropriate policies and implement associated measures.

To enhance the co-operation with countries that need financial, scientific and technical support, such states must take a leading role in identifying priorities for assistance with respect to the prevention of marine debris. Concerted action may benefit from regional processes, such as the development of regional action programmes.

Incentives to encourage cleaning-up programmes and prevention of marine debris are an important complement to regulation. There are good examples of this approach such as the Green Ship Award, where ships are rewarded through a reduction in harbour fees for operating in an environmentally friendly way.

The education of seafarers is also important. And not just seafarers, but also shipowners and other stakeholders in the maritime sector should be included in awareness raising programmes. The EU would suggest that the education of seafarers and those involved in offshore mining on the issue of marine debris should be encouraged in all training programmes.

Equally important in addressing the issue of marine debris is raising the awareness at local level. The European Union wishes to emphasise the role of the private sector and of volunteers, particularly in mounting clean-up campaigns, information activities and educational projects. In Europe, as in other parts of the world, the Blue Flag concept is used at local level. Beaches and marinas are eligible for the Blue Flag, based on criteria covering issues such as water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management and safety services. This is a useful approach to tackling marine debris locally.

In our region, the Save the North Sea project began in 2002, and aims to highlight the environmental concern of marine debris to all the users of the North Sea, and to create a unified strategy to decrease marine debris. The project has raised awareness of the issue of marine debris in the North Sea through a wide range of activities. Although the project ended in December 2004, a number of initiatives will continue, including the Fishing for Litter Scheme (with ongoing projects in the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark and the UK), marine debris education, and marine awareness courses. Here again, we consider the involvement of the public at large of great importance.

Although marine debris is dealt with in a variety of ways, the solutions are not keeping up with the increasing problem. It is a problem that requires the involvement of everyone, from governments to businesses and the public at large.

Thank you, Mr. Co-chairman.

1Directive 2000/59/ EC.
2Directive 2004/12/EC.
3Council Directive 91/156/EEC.


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