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The LAPP in the High Level Debate ‘Can The Blue Economy Save Our Ocean?’ in the European Parliament

On Wednesday 16th of May, 2018, two student researchers of the LAPP, Hanna Leisti and Heidi Kaarto, had an opportunity to take part in the High Level Debate ‘Can the Blue Economy Save Our Ocean?’. The event was organised by the Sky and WWF in the premises of the European Parliament in Brussels with the purpose of discussing the new EU Plastic Strategy.

The event was opened by EU Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans. In the beginning he thanked the Sky for increasing awareness of the current plastic problem up to a point where it was even reaching the tabloids in the UK. In addition, Timmermans challenged the UK for a race to the top: in the future, the EU and the UK should compete on who is the best in decreasing the use of plastics. The Vice-President was convinced that EU will win since it has truly recognised the problem and developed a strategy to this end that includes various ambitious aims. Among these are the objectives of improving the quality of life and adapting the economy to more sustainable business models. Timmermans noted that action on the EU-level is appropriate given the ability of the Union to guarantee a level-playing field for the industry and the possibility of challenging partners around the world to act together to solve the problem: the Union aims to lead the way in taking sustainable measures on the scale of the whole world. However, in the end, Timmermans put his belief into the driving force of consumer patterns in getting the industry onboard.

The opening speech was followed by a debate between representatives of different sectors, lead by Thomas Moore, the Sky News Science and Medical Correspondent. The panel was composed of Dr Samatha Burgess, the Head of Marine Policy in WWF European Policy Office, Peter Thomson, First UN Special Envoy for the Ocean, Nick Molho, Executive Director of Aldersgate Group, Daniel Costello, Canadian Ambassador to the EU and Gregory R. Belt, who represented Anheuser-Busch InBev Global VP Sustainability and Value Creation. One of the key features characterising the discussion was the agreement on the urgent need to act: the ocean is in the cline. As regards the future, Dr Burgess noted that whilst it is too late to clean-up the oceans from marine litter, we have to focus on preventing plastic from entering the environment in the future. In that regard, she expressed the idea of a Paris Agreement on oceans that would include binding legal targets for the states. The idea got wide support from the other speakers: instead of plain rhetoric, real targets and their practical realization is needed. In this regard, the forthcoming G7 summit in June 8 and 9 plays a great role with its focus on sustainability.

Also, Daniel Costello expressed the need for further research especially in case of microplastics and the need of engaging people from the whole plastic cycle. In this regard, Nick Molho agreed that there was a need to move into a more circular economy that involves better product standards and, especially, products that, firstly, compel the industry to minimise plastic pollution and, secondly, are attractive for consumers. Additionally, he noted the importance of public procurement policies in tackling the problem of plastic pollution and referred to the scheme of “right business, right contracts.” By adjusting public procurement policies European Union may efficiently affect on the whole supply chain and make sustainable business models more attractive. Lastly, the representative of Corona, Gregory R. Belt, noted the important function consumers have had in driving their action: the consumer surveys proved that the consumers valued highly the saving of beaches and oceans from plastics and they were those statistics that made the beer manufacturers to act in order to minimise their contribution to the amount of marine litter. However, it is still a work in process since although the plastic bottles have been replaced by aluminium and class, more redesigning is called for, especially for six-pack rings.

The closing words of Karmenu Vella, EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, emphasized that the problem of plastic pollution grows at a much higher speed than expected. He recalled the significant actions the EU has taken so far to address the problem, such as the launch of a new environmental agreement on high seas, investment on research on oceans and building of alliances with the industry, including the financial and private sector. He also stated that blue and green should be in the future considered together since both are are equally important.

All in all, the event provided a great platform for the sharing of opinions between the different actors involved in the war against plastic pollution. Now, we are just waiting for the rhetoric to be realized in the form of concrete actions towards the saving of the environment from further plastic pollution. The industry, in particular, has a great role in that regard: as noted by Vella, there cannot be economic opportunity without environmental responsibility.

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