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Cities and regions call for a new EU Oceans Law to protect marine environment, reduce pollution and reverse biodiversity loss  

The CoR points out that large parts of EU environmental legislation including the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Nature Directives have not been sufficiently implemented

The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) has presented a set of proposals to protect the marine environment and restore oceans' eco-systems. The CoR calls for a new EU Oceans Law to define a long-term direction with measurable targets and deadlines to ensure the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems. Local and regional leaders propose an Ocean Fund to decarbonise maritime transport and call for the removal of the exemption for fuel used in fishing in the Energy Taxation Directive. The CoR also calls on the Commission to propose ground-breaking new rules on quota obligations for recycled nitrogen and phosphorous on the EU market as part of its efforts to reduce leakage of nutrients into EU seas, stop algal blooming and the spread of dead bottoms.

Oceans are facing irreversible environmental pollution. International sea shipment, excessive boat traffic, urban construction, industrial production, farming and energy production, all have an impact on the quality of water, seas and marine biodiversity. While the world's oceans are flooded with plastics, chemical pollution and runoff of agricultural fertilisers, the increasing pressure of urban development and tourism on coastlines is also severely affecting marine ecosystems and biodiversity.

Against this background, the CoR has adopted an opinion led by rapporteur Emma Nohrén (SE/Greens). The Vice Mayor of the Swedish Municipality of Lysekil said: "Oceans and climate are two sides of the same coin! The climate cannot be regulated without healthy oceans. Therefore, the Climate Law needs to be complemented with an Ocean Law, which sets targets and deadlines to improve marine environment. Oceans' pollution is a global issue yet local and regional communities are the ones carrying the main burden . We must kick-start actions to unleash local and subnational authorities' untapped potential to protect the EU's marine environment, while providing employment and boosting the economy. We can wait no longer. We have to put the EU at the forefront in the green transition as foreseen in the European Green Deal.”

The CoR points out that large parts of EU environmental legislation such as the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Nature Directives have not been sufficiently implemented as reported by the Court of Auditors . After the first MSFD implementation cycle, the CoR underlines that without defined threshold values or clear, ambitious and measurable goals, progress will never be made and urges for such targets to be defined without further delay.

The CoR calls on the European Commission to set up rules for Member States to integrate local and regional authorities into the consultation procedure and into the process of identifying, designing and planning measures, clarifying responsibilities and fostering more engagement to successfully implement the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

The CoR also requests that the European Commission creates a 2030 European Marine Biodiversity Task Force composed of environmental project managers that assist and advise subnational authorities with project planning and access to EU funds to halt marine pollution and restore oceans' ecosystems.

In line with the recently adopted EU climate law, cities and regions demand a new EU Oceans Law to define a long-term direction to ensure the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems and supports the European Parliament proposal to establish an Ocean Fund with the objective to decarbonise maritime transport and to use 20% of the revenues to protect, restore and better manage marine ecosystems.

To halt the increasing eutrophication of EU seas, the CoR calls for the European Commission to clear the path and propose quota obligations for recycled nutrients in fertilisers on the EU market, as part of the circular economy. The CoR stresses that phosphorous and nitrogen are vital to food production and phosphorus is included in the EU list of critical raw materials.

The EU's assembly of local and regional representatives supports the goals and targets to protect biodiversity in the European Green Deal and the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 . However, the CoR urges the European Commission to include clear and measurable targets with accompanying deadlines to conserve fisheries resources and protect marine ecosystems in its action plan to be published by 2021.

The CoR is alarmed by the poor protection and insufficient monitoring and control provided in current EU Marine Protecting Areas (MPAs). According to the European Environment Agency , less than 1% of MPAs in the EU are in full protection. The CoR strongly supports the European Commission proposal to create a network of Marine Protected Areas covering 30% of the EU, which also include restrictions on fishing and economic activities. Local and regional leaders emphasise that 10% of EU seas must benefit from a high level of protection, including no-take zones.

The CoR proposes the creation of an EU Oceans Academy consisting of young universities scholars from all Member States to inspire and disseminate best practices and knowledge about the importance of healthy oceans.

To tackle plastic pollution, CoR members call on all Members States to set up deposit return schemes for plastic beverage containers and asks the European Commission to ensure they are compatible. This would be a crucial step towards a single market for packaging. The CoR also calls on the European Commission to adopt a ban on all new granular infill for sport pitches with a six-year transition period and to include nanoplastics, biodegradeable and soluble polymers in the regulatory measures to reduce intentionally added microplastics, currently under negotiation within the EU.

The CoR notes that environmentally differentiated port fees can be an efficient way for coastal regions to improve the environment, and reduce emissions to air and water, as well as waste and noise and calls on a ban on the discharge of scrubber water within the EU.

The CoR reiterates that the polluter-pays principles should be at the core of EU legislation on marine environment and congratulates the European Commission on its publically available WISE Marine web portal .

The draft opinion was presented during the CoR's plenary session on 5, 6 and 7 May 2021.

Background:

Read here the interview with Emma Nohrén (SE/Greens) answering five questions on the role of local and regional authorities in protecting the marine environment.

Adopted on 17 June 2008.The aim of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) is to more effectively protect the marine environment across Europe. The European Commission has developed a set of detailed criteria and methodological standards to help Member States implement the MSFD. These were revised in 2017 leading to the new Commission Decision on Good Environmental Status . Biodiversity is one of its key policy areas of The European Green Deal , adopted at the end of 2019. In May 2020, the European Commission adopted the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 to halt the decline in biodiversity and bring nature back into our lives.

The opinion Local and regional authorities protecting the marine environment falls under the remits of the CoR's Green Deal Going Local (GDGL) working group. Launched in June 2020 and composed of 13 local and regional elected representatives , the GDGL working group has the objective to guarantee that EU cities and regions are directly involved in the definition, implementation and assessment of the numerous initiatives that fall under the European Green Deal, the EU's sustainable growth strategy to reach climate-neutrality by 2050.

Between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year. Plastic accounts for 75% of marine litter in the world’s seas. Reduce marine litter. European Parliament Briefing (2019).

Contact:

David Crous

Tel. +32 (0)470 88 10 37

david.crous@cor.europa.eu