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21st Jan 2022

EU unveils roadmap to green maritime activities

  • Around 27,000 tonnes of plastics enter European seas every year (Photo: Bo Eide)

The European Commission presented on Monday (17 May) a roadmap to green economic activities at sea, including new targets to restore damaged marine ecosystems.

In the EU, sectors related to oceans, seas and coasts employ more than four million people. These include fisheries, aquaculture, coastal tourism, maritime transport, port activities and shipbuilding - dubbed the 'blue economy'.

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However, pollution, years of human over-exploitation, the increasing effects of climate change and the sector's income losses during the pandemic have put many of these activities under pressure.

"The pandemic has hit the marine economy sectors in different, but profound ways. We have an opportunity to start afresh," said EU commissioner for environment and fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius.

"There is no Green Deal without the oceans and no green recovery without the blue economy," he added.

In this new strategy, Brussels proposed revising ship-recycling rules, which currently require environmentally-sound recycling of ships larger than 500 tonnes, and EU requirements for decommissioning offshore oil and gas platforms in order to protect marine ecosystems.

This is part of the bloc's efforts to scale up protection of marine areas - from the current 11 percent, to 30 percent coverage by 2030.

Every year, around 27,000 tonnes of plastics enter the European seas. Most of them are single-use plastics, lost or discarded fishing gear, and waste discharged from ships.

The commission now wants the industry standardisation bodies to develop design standards for fishing gear that facilitate re-use and recyclability when the equipment is at end of its life.

As part of its zero-pollution action plan, presented last week, the EU Commission pledged to improve seawater quality by halving plastic litter and at least 30 percent of the microplastics released into the environment.

However, ensuring that litter caught in fishing operations is reported at ports and that plastic fishing gear is collected and recycled is key to reduce the impact of human activity at sea, the EU executive said.

Meanwhile, Brussels is set to propose legally-binding targets to restore damaged marine ecosystems, focusing on fish-spawning areas and sites with the greatest potential to host carbon capture and store (CCS) projects.

Brussels has called on member states to use the Covid-19 economic recovery funds - of which one-third of the money should be invested in climate-related projects.

Additionally, the commission wants to revise the bloc's taxation rules and extend its carbon market (the Emissions Trading System) to cover maritime transport, due in July - a goal already set out in the Green Deal, presented in 2019.

Both MEPs and member states still have to give green light to some of these proposals.

In previous strategies, the EU pledged to multiply the capacity for offshore wind farms and other emerging technologies by 2030, foster the development of biofuels for maritime transport and establish well-targeted support for the algae industry.

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The European Commission aims to increase the bloc's wind energy production at sea massively, reaching at least 300 GW by 2050 - a 25-fold increase from the bloc's current offshore wind capacity of 12 GW

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"If the UK wants a deal here, there's a deal to be done. If the UK wants to use fish as an excuse not to have a deal, then that could happen too," Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney warned.

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Environmental lawyers are threatening to take legal action against the European Commission if gas is included in the EU guidelines for sustainable finances. But the draft taxonomy has also triggered discontent among some EU national capitals and MEPs.

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