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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-Chair

I have the honour to speak on behalf of the European Union and its Member States.

Firstly, I would like to congratulate you and Ambassador MacKay on your appointment as Co-Chairs of the 14th Meeting of the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea.

Mr. Co-Chair

Carbon dioxide emissions have had a profound effect on the chemistry of the world’s oceans.  Since the industrial revolution about one third of the carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere as a result of human activity has been absorbed by the oceans.  Recent research has shown that this phenomenon has resulted in a 30% increase in the acidity of ocean surface waters since pre-industrial times.  If emissions of carbon dioxide are not reduced this could increase to 150% by the year 2050, a level that has not occurred for more than 20 million years.

While ocean acidification can be predicted with a high degree of certainty, the overall impact of ocean acidification on marine life and ecosystems remains uncertain and there is growing concern that key species, especially calcifying organisms, and habitats are threatened.

The extent of the impact will depend on the ability of species to adapt to an unprecedented and rapid change in ocean chemistry.  Marine organisms that form calcium carbonate structures or shells are most obviously at risk from ocean acidification, both because more acidic oceans will reduce the rates at which they can calcify carbonates but also because their shells and structures will dissolve in more acidic water.  This includes important components of the ocean food web such as primary producers, cold water coral reefs, shellfish and crustaceans. It could have profound consequences for entire marine ecosystems, climate processes, food production and biodiversity, as well as for sectors of the economy reliant on these ecosystem services, including fisheries and aquaculture.

Mr. Co-chair

Although ocean acidification is not caused by global warming, it is a separate, but related, consequence of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.  It is a global problem that requires an internationally coordinated response. It will continue as long as CO2 emissions continue.  There are no practical methods of reversing it on any human timescale.  Mitigation can be achieved primarily through reduction of CO2 emissions.  The technology of carbon capture and storage has potential as a mitigation technique by storing CO2 in geological formations that prevent it entering the atmosphere and the oceans.  A coherent network of Marine Protected Areas providing protection to vulnerable species and habitats from other pressures may improve resilience to climate change and ocean acidification.

Mr. Co-chair

The European Union and its member states are committed to reducing CO2 emissions.  The EU’s climate and energy package is a set of legislative measures that aims to ensure that the European Union meets its ambitious climate and energy targets for 2020.  These targets, set by EU Heads of State and Government in March 2007, include a commitment to reduce EU greenhouse gas emissions by 20% relative to emissions in 1990. 

This target is implemented through the EU’s Emissions Trading System, which delivers a uniform carbon price for large industrial installations and the power and aviation sectors, and its Effort Sharing Decision, which defines reduction targets for all other sectors.  The achievement of the target is supported through EU and national policies to reduce emissions.  In 2011 emissions were estimated at 16% below 1990 levels. 

The monitoring and measurement of pH and CO2 profiles to measure ocean acidification are built in to the Marine Strategies developed by all EU member states in implementing the EU’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive, which aims to achieve good environmental status for the EU’s marine waters by 2020.  

The technology of carbon capture and storage has significant potential as a mitigation technique for climate change.  In 2009 the European Union adopted a Directive on the geological storage of CO2 and in March this year the European Commission published a consultative paper on the future of CCS in Europe in order to stimulate debate on how best to promote its development.

Mr. Co-chair

Much more research on ocean acidification and its effects on marine ecosystems and biological processes is required.  This will help us to better forecast the ecological impacts and socio-economic consequences of ocean acidification and to develop mitigation and adaptation management policies, including risk analysis.  One of the principal challenges in the research field is the need for sustained programmes of in situ measurements and the need for international cooperation in the development of a coordinated global network of ocean observations.

A number of research projects have been undertaken within the EU in recent years.  In particular I would like to mention the European Project on Ocean Acidification (EPOCA), launched in June 2008 with the overall goal of advancing our understanding of the biological, ecological, biogeochemical and societal implications of ocean acidification. It brought together more than 160 researchers from 32 institutes and 10 European countries.  It produced 21% of all research papers on ocean acidification published during the period 2009-2012.  In 2010, the EPOCA team published a ‘Guide to best practices for ocean acidification research and data reporting’ in order to provide guidelines and standards for ocean acidi?cation research.

Mr. Co-chair

As parties to the Law of the Sea Convention we have a duty to cooperate to protect and preserve the marine environment.  Ocean acidification can no longer be seen as a peripheral issue.  It is a global problem that requires a global and integrated response, based on a solid understanding of its impact on the marine environment. 

We look forward to hearing from the panellists this week and to participating in open and informative discussions with all delegations. 

Thank you Mr. Co-chair.


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