Imagining A World Without Pollution During The 2021 EU Green Week
The EU Green Week 2021
Last week was the EU Green Week, one of Europe’s biggest annual events, bringing together participants from all backgrounds (industry, non-governmental organizations, academia, citizens) to exchange ideas.
For the occasion, the European Commission organized many virtual conferences, exhibitions, and partner events around this year’s ambitious theme: Zero Pollution (for healthier people and planet). The goal is to give a stage for all stakeholders and interested citizens to engage on how we can work together to make the zero pollution ambition and a toxic-free environment a reality.
The topics that were developed were broad and varied with conferences like:
- Healthy environment for healthy lives;
- Microplastics pollution risks occurrence and the case of synthetic textile;
- Building cleaner more circular industrial plants;
- And more.
Interested in the impact of human life and especially pollution on the ocean, I attended some of the sessions on the subject. Today, I want to share with you some of the highlights of the session “Clean seas with a sustainable blue economy – challenges & opportunities” and additional research on the topic.
There is no green without blue
Our society is evolving in a new way, where initiatives like the EU Green Deal and the United-Nations 2030 Agenda call for sustainable transformation of the EU’s economy.
“The European Green Deal calls for a transformation of our economy to become a modern, resource-efficient and competitive economy where net emissions of greenhouse gases are phased out and the EU’s natural capital is protected. The Recovery Plan for Europe sets out to boost the green and digital transitions and make Europe’s economy fairer, more resilient and more sustainable for future generations. The European Union’s blue economy can help achieve this dual challenge: if put on a more sustainable path, it will become a font of action and ideas creating innovation, spurring fast and lasting recovery and protecting our planet.”Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European economic and social committee, and the committee of the regions – 17/05/2021
Oceans hold 97% of all our water and 80% of all life forms. They sustain us in all possible ways providing oxygen, food, resources for human health and a web of economic interactions. Europe’s blue economy is responsible for 4.5 million direct jobs, if we were to compare the blue economy to a national economy, it would be the 7th largest in the world.
The Blue economy is part of the sustainable development equation. It is essential to look at the oceans to achieve these objectives. We need the oceans for long-term living and shifting to a sustainable blue economy can promote resilience and recovery. However, joint efforts across the different economic sectors, actors, and the EU itself will be needed to make the shift and promote the goals for more sustainable economies, especially seas and oceans.
Making the transition to a sustainable blue economy
Oceans are highly complex systems, land and marine activities are closely interconnected and we still don’t understand everything. Coastal ecosystems also need protection, developing green infrastructures needs to be an objective to preserve the ecosystem and maintain the economy. It is essential to address the issue with a systemic approach, taking into consideration coherence and community.
A transformation of the blue economy value chains is necessary, including 4 main areas:
- Decarbonisation: Exploring the potential of offshore renewable energy, zero-emission vessels, transform ports, etc.
- Biodiversity and coastal resilience: Protection and restoration of ecosystems, investment in nature-based solutions, promotion of sustainable tourism to value natural capital, etc.
- Responsible food systems: CFP standards, implementation of strategic aquaculture guidelines, investment in macro & microalgae, etc.
- Circularity: Stopping macro-plastics. Investment in circular design (in fishing gears), development of recycling facilities, etc. in order to minimize waste and keep resources in use.
To achieve this transformation, stakeholders need to identify specific transformations in different sectors of the blue economy that could result in public and private initiatives. It then sets a direction for the EU Commission to intensify efforts, mobilize policies and instruments. Finally, a holistic approach will complement other initiatives of the Commission.
It is crucial to base decisions on the best scientific data available from researchers, industry, and different stakeholders. Science supports and contributes to the sustainable blue economy. For that purpose, The EU Blue Economy Report 2021 [available here] gives an analysis of the scope and size of the blue economy in the European Union. It is a source of inspiration to all concerned stakeholders and a supporting tool for evidence-based policy-making to support the development of policies that pursue the EU strategic vision for a sustainable blue economy at all levels of governance.
Conclusion: No water. No life. No blue. No green (Dr. Sylvia Earle)
Our society has to accept the complexity of the ocean, collaborate and take approaches across different stakeholders. The value of the marine is beyond their contribution to GDP, value-added and employment.
To finish on the subject I want to talk to you about the screening of a short documentary about Mandy Barker’s work that was part of another session during the Eu Green Week. The international award-winning photographer explained the creative process of some of her collections where plastic debris is collected from different beaches. She does inspiring work and I invite you to check it out.
The film was followed by a panel debate on how we can end marine plastic pollution with the perspective of a youth activist, a representative of the European Commission, a member of WWF, the directors of Searious Business and Business for Nature. It was interesting to listen to different opinions and see that everyone was on the same page when it comes to the urgency of acting now.
Hopefully, in a near future, we will not encounter “Mermaid tears” anymore. This poetic term refers to the small plastic pellets used in the plastic industry that end up in the ocean, collecting toxins on their surfaces and being eaten by marine wildlife. It is without forgetting the latest ecological disaster a few weeks ago in Sri Lanka. After a cargo ship carrying toxic chemicals burned, the western beaches of the country have been turned into a toxic wasteland. Millions of polyethylene pellets, destined for the packaging industry, cover the coastline. It is without a doubt one of the most serious marine pollutions in its history.
To end up this article on a positive note, here is an infographic that illustrates some of the ideas and concepts that were discussed during last week event:
Resources on the topic:
- Information on the European Commission – Sustainable Blue Economy
- Communication from the commission to the European parliament, the council, the European economic and social committee and the committee of the regions – 17/05/2021
- Mandy Barker’s website: https://www.mandy-barker.com/about