Speech by President von der Leyen at the One Ocean Summit

European Commission, 2022European Commission, 2022

“Check against delivery”

Dear President Macron, cher Emmanuel,

Thank you for hosting us, here in the wild and beautiful Brittany.

Dear distinguished guests,

The first piece of European literature, the Iliad, talks about the ocean as ‘the river where all things are born’. It reminds us that, no matter where on Earth we live, we are all connected to the sea. It is our planet’s life support system. Every second breath we take is from the ocean. It gives us half the oxygen we breathe, and absorbs much of the carbon we throw into the atmosphere. Our entire climate depends on the ocean. We have mild winters here in Europe because the ocean pumps millions of tons of warm water every second from southern latitudes towards us. The ocean is life, it is nourishment, energy and jobs. 90% of traded goods are carried by the waves. And for thousands of years, the ocean has been a source of inspiration for art and literature. For ancient Greeks like Homer, the ocean was an almighty god. The ocean is part of who we are. And it must be our shared responsibility. Because today, the ocean is in danger.

Today, we know the ocean is vulnerable and is threatened by our misdeeds. Pollution, chemicals and the overexploitation of marine resources. The ocean is too large for any one of us, and yet so fragile that our individual actions matter. This is what brings us here. It is time for an alliance between us and the ocean. And Europe is ready to lead.

This Summit has four main focuses: Biodiversity and conservation, marine pollution, oceans as a solution to climate change, and research. On each one, the European Union is putting on the table its flagship initiatives. And each flagship is a proposal for cooperation. Because Europe can make a huge difference as a maritime power. But only together will we turn the tide, and let our oceans teem with life again.

Let me give you three examples. First, today the European Union and the French Presidency of the Council are launching the High Ambition Coalition on the High Seas. The Coalition is calling for the adoption, still this year, of an ambitious treaty for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. We need an international agreement, a legally binding instrument that would sustainably govern the high seas. We are so close, but we need to push.

The ocean is a geopolitical arena, but it is also a frontier for the expansion of cooperation and international law. Like in the Ross Sea in Antarctica, which is today a refuge for whales, seals, penguins and fish. Because in 2016, the US, China, Russia, the European Union and others overcame their differences to protect this rich ecosystem. We can do it again. Studies show that we need at least 30% of the ocean protected for it to be healthy. We have seen the extraordinary regenerative power of marine life, like in the Ross Sea. The High Seas Treaty would launch a regeneration wave of our ocean.

Second example. Every problem is an opportunity for innovation. But we need a clear and ambitious objective. We need a mission, like the European Green Deal. That is why we have launched the ‘Mission to restore our ocean and waters by 2030′. With EUR 0.5 billion in funding from the world’s largest research and development programme, Horizon Europe, and other instruments. Our ocean programme will focus on Europe’s five seas, and test specific solutions to defined problems. For example, in the Mediterranean, our mission is to prevent and eliminate pollution, in particular plastic, nutrient and chemical pollution. Or consider the Baltic and North Sea: There, our mission is to decarbonise shipping and electrify ports. Throughout its lifetime, the Ocean Mission will move from piloting to deployment, and bring to market innovative solutions to regenerate the ocean. It is a European mission, yet it is open to all who want to contribute. In the Black Sea, for instance, we are already working with all coastal states. Because the actions of one matter to all overlooking those waters. And all solutions must be shared solutions. This is the power of science diplomacy, and its unique potential to overcome differences to improve lives.

Finally, the ocean is still largely a great mystery for humankind. That is why Europe is building a digital twin of the ocean. We are connecting our assets – like the Copernicus satellites, marine infrastructure like icebreakers, buoys and underwater drones, and high performance computing. We will gather the raw data and turn it into real-time knowledge and longer-term predictions. We are putting the power of the digital revolution at the service of our climate. Let me give you an example. Glaciers in the South and North Poles are melting fast. Glaciers the size of entire countries. This is raising water levels, globally, threatening the existence of small island states and coastal cities. But there is more. It is also changing the current that circles the Antarctic, the world’s largest current and a decisive regulator of the climate. It brings ancient waters from the deep to the surface, which should have a cooling effect, but is also releasing more carbon dioxide. We need to better understand these processes and their impact. A digital twin of the ocean can do that, and much more.

Thanks to the EU and its Member States, a digital twin should be operational by 2024. It will make ocean knowledge open-access, available to citizens, scientists and policymakers around the world. It will be a platform for global cooperation. It is about putting the capabilities in place to achieve the commitments we make at this Summit. Together, with the digital twin, we will turn the lights on in the ocean.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The ocean is immense, restless and wild. When we stand by the coast, we feel small. But as we gather here today in Brest, we must realise the great power and responsibility we have, as humankind. So let us stop thinking small. Because our mission is as big as the ocean. Ladies and Gentlemen, let us roll up our sleeves and save our ocean.

Thank you very much. I wish you an impactful and regenerative Summit.