Environment News Service  [Printer-friendly version]
October 25, 2005

EU SETS GOAL TO CLEAN MARINE ENVIRONMENT IN 15 YEARS

[Rachel's introduction: As the European Union is beginning to ask,
"How much pollution can we avoid?" the U.S. is continuing to ask,
"How much pollution can we get away with?" -- an excellent example of
a modern precautionary approach versus the tired old risk-based
approach.]

[RPR Introduction: Precautionary action begins by setting a goal, then
taking the steps needed to meet the goal. The European Union has just
set an ambitious goal of cleaning the oceans within 15 years. The
other approach, still being followed by the U.S., examines each
individual discharge into the oceans and asks, "Can the oceans
tolerate this one?" without ever considering the cumulative impact of
all the discharges. The U.S. approach has no hope of cleaning the
oceans, because that is not its goal. The U.S. is asking, "How much
pollution can we get away with?" while the E.U. is asking, "How much
pollution can we avoid?" -- an excellent example of the old risk-based
approach versus a modern precautionary approach. --RPR Editors]

BRUSSELS, Belgium, October 25, 2005 (ENS) -- The European Commission
has proposed a new strategy to ensure that all EU marine waters are
environmentally healthy within 15 years. Loss of marine biodiversity
due to contamination by dangerous substances, excess nutrients, the
impact of commercial fishing, and effects of climate change are the
major problems outlined by the Commission that the strategy is
supposed to address. Environmental groups called the plan inadequate.

Presented Monday [Oct. 24, 2005], the Thematic Strategy on the
Protection and Conservation of the Marine Environment aims to ensure
that all EU marine waters are environmentally healthy by 2021.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said, "Europe's seas and oceans
make a huge contribution to our quality of life and our economic
prosperity, but they are deteriorating because of over-exploitation,
pollution, climate change and a range of other factors."

"This is an area where there is a strong need for a European
overarching and integrated approach," Dimas said. "We want to ensure
that European citizens today and in the future are able to benefit
from seas and oceans that are safe, clean, healthy and rich in
nature."

The evidence of the deterioration of the marine environment continues
to accumulate, pointing to potentially irreversible changes -- as
illustrated by the poor state of certain fish stocks in Europe or the
effects of eutrophication on the marine ecology of the Baltic Sea.

The current deterioration of the marine environment and the associated
erosion of its ecological capital, jeopardizes the generation of
wealth and employment opportunities derived from Europe's oceans and
seas, such as fisheries and tourism, the Commission warned. The
Commission has developed an integrated policy framework to help deal
with the pressures and negative impacts on the marine environment.
Dimas says the strategy lays down clear operational guidelines on how
to achieve good environmental status for all of the EU's marine areas
by 2021.

But the new marine strategy was immediately criticized by Europe's
largest environmental groups. BirdLife International, Greenpeace, the
International Fund for Animal Welfare, Oceana, Seas At Risk, WWF, the
Fisheries Secretariat and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB),
which represents 143 member organizations in 31 countries, called the
"desperately inadequate."

The groups say they regret that the strategy contains no binding
commitment to protect Europe's seas, saying "the protection of marine
habitats and biodiversity is essential for the future of the marine
ecosystems and the fisheries sector."

The environmental groups agree that the marine waters are in bad
shape. Chronic overfishing has placed 38 of 43 fish stocks at risk,
and hundreds of thousands of tons of oil are discharged every year
into European waters, they point out.

The proposal was expected to fill a gap in the EU environmental
policy, which is focused on land. "But the Commission's text falls
short," the groups said. "It is now the responsibility of the European
Parliament and Council to set legally binding objectives within this
Directive, including a clear definition of what constitutes a healthy
sea."

The Commission says they strategy will build upon what has been
achieved so far at all levels of governance to protect Europe's seas.

The 25 EU member states share responsibility for the Baltic Sea, the
Northeast Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, each of which has
its own distinctive environmental characteristics. To take account of
regional differences, the common objectives and methods set forth in
the Commission proposal are to be implemented at the level of marine
regions. Member states sharing a marine area will be responsible for
working in close cooperation to develop plans designed to ensure good
environmental status in their marine waters, Dimas explained.

The member states' plans are to include a detailed assessment of the
state of the environment, defining what achieving good environmental
status means in the context of each regional sea. They will also
contain clear environmental targets and monitoring programs.

No specific management measures will be set down at EU level, but
national plans must be checked and approved by the Commission.

Member states share marine areas with countries that are not members
of the European Union and an important part of achieving good
environmental status will involve close co-operation with these third
countries, within the framework of existing regional seas conventions,
Dimas said.

Each member state will draw up a program of cost-effective measures
aimed at delivering good environmental status of the marine
environment. Impact assessments, including detailed cost-benefit
analyses of the measures proposed, will be required prior to the
introduction of any new measure. The national programs must be
approved by the Commission.

The marine strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies the
Commission is required to propose under the EU's Sixth Environmental
Action Programme. The other strategies will cover air pollution, waste
prevention and recycling, sustainable use of resources, soils,
pesticides and the urban environment.

The air pollution strategy was presented on September 21, 2005. The
other Strategies are due to be presented over the next few months.

The marine strategy is set out in a Communication, accompanied by a
proposal for a Directive and the analysis underpinning the development
of the strategy is contained in an accompanying Impact Assessment.

The full marine strategy is available here.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2005.