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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 wishes to express its appreciation for the work of the Group of Experts convened by the Secretary General to consider the establishment of a regular process for global assessment of the marine environment (GMA). At the outset we wish to make it clear that the European Union has not yet reached a final view on certain important aspects of the proposed regular process, in particular on the question of what might constitute optimal institutional and organisational arrangements for the process. These matters are under active consideration and we hope to reach a conclusion shortly. In the meantime, we welcome the draft document of the Group of Experts in which they set out details of the scope, general framework and outline of a regular process. This work has brought us very much nearer the goal set out in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of establishing a regular process of global marine assessment this year.

The European Union believes that actions and measures to improve conservation and protection of marine ecosystems and resources must be based on reliable scientific information regarding the type, extent and primary causes of degradation of the marine environment and its resources. We agree therefore that the GMA must seek to provide policy makers, ocean users, the public, and the scientific community with reliable and objective information, with the ultimate goal of enabling sustainable policy choices. To achieve this goal gaps in knowledge or capacity must be identified and filled and the GMA must therefore serve both to increase our knowledge of the marine environment and to assist in developing capacity to assess and manage it.

The European Union agrees with the conclusion reached by the Group of Experts that the GMA should produce regular, integrated global syntheses of assessments of the status of marine ecosystems and trends in the marine environment. We agree also that the GMA should rely on adapting and developing existing regional assessments rather than carrying out assessments per se itself. In areas where assessments are lacking the GMA should promote and assist in developing appropriate regional assessments. This approach will both avoid unnecessary duplication where adequate regional assessment already exists, and allow for capacity building of assessment systems where this is necessary elsewhere. We agree therefore that GMA should seek to produce a synthesis of regional and national assessments of the marine environment. We agree that an assessment cycle of five years would allow for adequate regular assessments of changes in global environmental conditions. However, a final decision on the frequency of assessments should be taken in consultation with regional organisations and should take due account of the resource requirements for carrying out the regional assessments that will form the basis of the GMA.

The European Union shares the view of the Group of Experts that the quality of these regional assessments will be central to the success of the GMA if it is to achieve its objective as an aid to good policy choices. It is essential therefore that from the beginning best practice in assessment technique be identified and applied universally and that scientific methodology and process be harmonised so that different regional assessments will allow like to be compared with like in the global synthesis. Lessons learned in establishing successful regional assessments should be widely shared. The European Union believes that the success of the entire venture will depend therefore on the proposed “Assessment of Assessments” that has been identified by the Experts for the “start-up” stage of the regular process.

At this point we should state that we are concerned that the regional assessment organisations that will be expected to deliver the basic material for a GMA have not been sufficiently consulted to date on important organisational arrangements. The resource implications for adapting and harmonising their efforts may be considerable. Accordingly we would like to invite you to establish as soon as possible a mechanism for consulting these organisations. As we have already indicated, their views should be taken into account before any final decisions on the GMA process can be taken.

Mr. Co-Chairman,

The European Union would like to draw attention to the particularly valuable lessons that have been learned in the conduct of national and regional assessments of the marine environment in recent years in Europe. These include the following:

  • In relation to working arrangements, the creation of a small, full time, multi-disciplinary and well-equipped team working closely together has been a key factor in the success both of national assessments and the synthesis of these assessments into a regional assessment.
  • In relation to information, we have found that some of the most important human activities affecting the marine environment take place on land adjacent to coasts but that statistics on matters such as population density, land rezoning, tourism trends and industrial development tend to be compiled on a regional or country basis and not in relation to proximity of the activities concerned to the sea.
  • As regards regional co-ordination, the adoption of different organisational arrangements in different states within a region can mean that co-ordination within the region is somewhat restricted, hampering exchange of texts and information as well as efforts to harmonise report structures and the coverage of particular topics.
  • An extremely important aspect of successful regional environmental assessment is data comparability. A symptom of insufficient collaboration at regional level is that statistical information on particular environmental issues and conditions is too frequently produced by different methods or expressed in different units. Accordingly synthesis of data sets from different parts of the region to provide a single, integrated summary of regional conditions is not always possible. This can result in several, not directly comparable, texts or illustrations on the same topic and it increases the length of reports. Whereas this problem most commonly arises in the case of information on human activities, it also occurs amongst data sets obtained from monitoring, especially on contaminants in sediments and biota. Harmonisation of design of monitoring and data reporting is therefore a particularly important aspect of assessment.
  • A criticism of many current assessment systems is that the process is slow and by the time reports are published much of the information is 3-4 years out of date. In cases where assessments reveal problems such as pollution, this can be a major constraint on the timely intervention of policy makers and managers in dealing with the conditions concerned. It can also delay the introduction of regulatory measures to mitigate foreseeable damage to ecosystems or resources. It is particularly important that national institutions responsible for obtaining data on activities and conditions affecting the marine environment reduce the time between data collection and issuing results. Institutional arrangements should be designed to allow for more frequent assessments and more sectoral or thematic assessments. In essence, the assessment process should be ongoing – information should be compiled, summarised and reported as it is generated. This would greatly reduce the time and cost in preparing intermittent, more comprehensive assessments.
  • Lastly, the European Union has learned that environmental assessment must be established as a core activity within national marine science programmes if timely, dependable and comprehensive reports are to be produced.Mr. Co-Chairman,

    The European Union believes that the Group of Experts has set out a workable conceptual framework for the Global Marine Assessment. In particular the role and quality of the proposed Global Scientific Assessment Panel and Peer Review experts will be very important in establishing the credibility and reliability of the process. We agree that existing pools of expertise, such as GESAMP, should also lend their experience and knowledge to the exercise in order to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort.

    As we have already indicated the European Union has not yet reached a firm view on the ideal arrangements for housing the GMA. However, consistent with our position that new structures should not be created where they already exist, we believe that the GMA should be hosted by a United Nations specialised agency or existing programme or fund. National research institutions might also be offered to support the functions of a future GMA host.

    Given the importance of maintaining momentum towards establishing the process in accordance with the Johannesburg goal, the European Union proposes that the General Assembly invite the Secretary General to establish a task force consisting of DOALOS, the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Oceanographic Commission, and in consultation with other relevant actors, to begin work on the “start-up” phase identified by the Group of Experts. The task force, which should operate for the recommended two year period of the “start-up” phase, should have as its purpose the assessment of assessments – to identify best practice and formulate proposals for its application globally, to harmonise scientific methodology and process and to consider capacity deficits and methods for addressing them. In the meantime work may continue on optimum organisational arrangements for hosting the GMA in the expectation that the process may be formally launched and the first five year assessment cycle may commence.

    As the Group of Experts has correctly identified, capacity building will play an important role if a regular process of Global Marine Assessment is to succeed. As already indicated, we also agree that the GMA should make maximum use of ongoing marine assessment programmes and processes, so that current and continuing programmes cover many of the costs associated with the GMA. We also believe that existing programmes that fund capacity building projects should be mobilised to help develop GMA capacity in developing countries. In this regard the EU considers that the current establishment of a strategic framework for technology transfer and capacity building under UNEP is of particular relevance and should provide general guidance for any new capacity building activities pertaining to the Global Marine Assessment. Collaboration between the GMA and the Ocean and Coastal Area Network, once established, as well as with all other UN specialised agencies, programmes and funds, will be essential.

    Mr. Co-Chairman,

    It is clear that important organisational, capacity and funding issues will have to be resolved before the regular process can be established. These issues require broad consultation and careful consideration. We hope nevertheless that our comments will contribute to the development of an effective framework for the GMA and we will continue to work towards that objective.

    Finally the European Union would like to thank the Government of Iceland for its kind offer to host the intergovernmental conference at which the Experts’ draft document will ultimately be finalised and adopted and the Global Marine Assessment formally established.

    Thank you, Mr. Co-Chairman.

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