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Oceans drowning in plastic: UN Climate Change Conference

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Ocean protection is crucial in fighting climate change – that is one of the key messages emanating from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Presiding over the conference for the first time is the Pacific island of Fiji – itself no stranger to the devastation caused by climate change including storms and sea-level rises that have forced entire villages to relocate to higher ground.

Protecting the oceans means cutting marine pollution, especially by plastic. There are warnings that if nothing is done, there could be more plastic in the oceans than fish by 2050. Booming plastic production and mismanaged waste disposal are the main culprits according to experts.

At its level, the European Union has pledged to reduce marine litter by 30% by 2020.

Sasha Vakulina, Euronews: “Joining me is Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Commissioner, here at the United Nations’ annual climate conference in Bonn many marine advocates are pushing to make ocean protection a priority in fighting climate change…”

Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries: “The oceans are very much the prime regulators of climate, they are absorbing 90 percent of the planet’s heat, they are absorbing 30 percent of the planet’s carbon dioxide, they are giving the planet some 50 percent of the oxygen that we need. So we are getting all these benefits from the oceans.

“Unfortunately, what are we giving in return? We are giving the oceans a lot of plastic litter, we are giving the oceans lots of acidification, eutrophication, pollution, over-fishing. So the oceans are getting warmer, sea levels are getting higher, we are seeing all these climatic disasters around us, flooding, droughts and everything.”

Sasha Vakulina: “To what extent is the European Union pushing for leadership when it comes to fighting climate change and protecting the oceans?”

Karmenu Vella: “First of all, I think it’s not enough to have someone, whether it’s the European Union or somebody else, leading because this is a global issue, we need global solutions and most importantly, we need global action. And no single country, no single continent can deal with this huge problem on its own. So, yes, we are pushing because we see a lot of urgency which is needed, we are seeing that things, threats and pressures are moving much faster than we thought.

“Whatever action – preventive action – we take today, it is not going to have an immediate effect on the oceans tomorrow. If we stop CO2 emissions today, the oceans will still have to continue absorbing for decades to come. If we stop plastic going into the oceans today – the gyres will still continue to collect plastic which was possibly thrown in the oceans decades ago. So the urgency is to act now – preventive – but also remedial will have to continue as well.”

Sasha Vakulina: “What are the most urgent measures to take when it comes to ocean protection?”

Karmenu Vella: “I think the most urgent measures that we have to take is first of all to reduce carbon dioxide immediately. The second is to restore the ecosystems because when we talk about the oceans absorbing, we are talking about mangroves and so on, which are absorbing the carbon dioxide, so (we need to) restore the ecosystem. And the third important and urgent thing is that we come together ASAP, because, as I said, it’s no use everyone going their own way. We need to act, but more importantly we need to act all together.”

Sasha Vakulina: “People sometimes feels that it’s up to governments and big businesses to take measures. Even though they could also do a lot on a daily basis to help in this fight against climate change.”

Karmenu Vella: “That’s a very important point. I think you’ve hit the nail on its head. Why? Because when people see that all these issues are being discussed at a global level, they are being discussed at global conferences, at G7 level, at G20 level, their first impression might be ‘It’s a big problem, but I don’t have the solutions, governments have to find the solutions.’ No. Each and everyone of us is responsible for this disaster and each and everyone of us has got to be part of this solution.

“Two examples: we are talking about plastic litter in the oceans, which is killing biodiversity, killing mammals, killing fish, polluting the oceans – it all boils down to whether you are using plastics or not, to whether you are throwing away plastics, whether you are recycling plastics or not. We are talking about emissions, which are climate change sources and so on – it’s all about what car you are driving, whether you are driving a car with high emissions, or not, whether you are using public transport more often or not. These are global issues but they have individual solutions.”

Eurostat figures published in 2016 reveal that households are responsible for 9% of acidifying gas emissions compared to more than 70% for agriculture, forestry, fishing, manufacturing, transportation and storage combined.



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