“Europe has the largest maritime territory in the world.” (Interview with Geneviève Pons et Pascal Lamy)


Geneviève Pons and Pascal Lamy interviewed by Bertrand de Lesquen

Between January and June 2022, France will hold, for six months, the rotating presidency of the EU council. Is this continental Europe also – as much – a maritime entity?

Definitely yes. Europe has the largest maritime territory in the world, thus making it an unquestionable maritime power, notably due to the fact that France has the second largest maritime area in the world behind the United States. France has made maritime issues one of the priorities of its Presidency of the Council of the European Union (EU). The One Ocean Summit, announced by President Emmanuel Macron last September, falls within this framework. In this respect, this event will be the appropriate place to highlight the Ocean Mission, approved by the European Commission on 29 September 2021. This Mission, in which we both play a key role[1], will be both the cornerstone of the One Ocean Summit and the guarantee of its European dimension. It has become the conviction of European Commissioners Virginijus Sinkevičius and Mariya Gabriel, that we recently visited with Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, appointed by the President to prepare this summit. And this is, of course, our conviction as well.

More precisely, how does France contribute to the maritime dimension of Europe?

As previously said, The French maritime domain is immense. Our country is present in the four corners of the earth, in the Pacific, in the Indian Ocean, in Antarctica, in America… In the fields of research, exploration and innovation, France is a key player on the world maritime scene. We can of course mention Ifremer[2], a true national jewel, which is at the origin of major scientific discoveries worldwide, but also a driving force of innovation for the blue economy on a national and European scale. As far as science is concerned, let’s not forget the scientific bases Dumont d’Urville and Concordia that France established in Antarctica that we share with Italy. But also, many research centres in the French overseas territories. These stations are at the very forefront in studying the effects of climate change. In addition, the French maritime industry is very strong, whether in conventional sectors such as transport, fishing and tourism, or in emerging fields such as renewable
energies or biotechnology. Besides, the French Navy ensures the presence of France on all the world’s seas and oceans. This is a major asset for many geostrategic issues. Finally, we can highlight the quality of the work carried out by French NGOs. For example, the Tara Foundation or Surfrider have been conducting essential initiatives for the conservation of marine ecosystems and public awareness. With this maritime heritage, France logically decided to include the Ocean in the priorities of the French Presidency of the European Union.

More specifically, what will be, or what do you think should be, its priorities regarding the Ocean?

We do not yet officially know the priorities of this French Presidency (Editor’s note: this interview was conducted in early December 2021). However, we can already mention a number of important dates on the European Union’s agenda for the first half of 2022, starting with the series of international events dedicated to the ocean. The One Ocean Summit in Brest will be the first of these, followed soon after by the Palau Summit on 16-17 February 2022, and the UN Summit in Lisbon in June, to mention just a few. The European Commission’s legislative agenda will also be busy. A joint Communication from the Commission and the European External Action Service on international ocean governance is expected by June 2022. A legislative proposal on ocean observation, aimed at optimising and prioritising the ocean observation activities of Member States, thus setting
the Digital Twin of the Ocean is also expected to be released by the end of the French Presidency. Regarding fisheries, an action plan to preserve biodiversity and a report on the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) are also expected.

Geneviève Pons, in your position as co-chair of Ifremer’s Stakeholder Committee and former director of WWF Europe, what do you think of the approval by France, in its 2030 Investment Plan, of deep-sea exploration, which worries many NGOs?

This is indeed a real concern. But a clear distinction must be made between exploration and exploitation. During its first meeting, the Committee that I co-chair adopted this fundamental distinction as a subject to be studied and clarified by Ifremer.

On the occasion of this first meeting, we had the opportunity to visit the brand new “70.8” in Brest, a science museum dedicated to maritime technology and innovation whose scientific advisor is part of the Committee. We could admire the extraordinary biodiversity of the deep sea. This profusion of life is a treasure to be discovered and preserved. The formation of polymetallic nodules took millions of years. At the very least, we must think carefully before considering exploiting such resources and set clear limits to prevent exploration from leading to harmful exploitation. This is one of the issues of global ocean governance in which the European Union will have a role to play in the future.

Which other EU countries play a key role in the maritime sector?

Firstly, Portugal, which has placed the maritime issue at the heart of its Presidency of the European Union in the first half of 2021. Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Spain are also major maritime nations, each in their own particular area: fishing, transport and ports, offshore exploitation, wind energy. Without forgetting Norway and the United Kingdom. Even though they do not belong or no longer belong to the European Union, they are nonetheless key partners in this domain.

To date, what are the European Union’s top priorities in terms of maritime policies?

So far, the European Union had essentially focused on the necessary integration of its maritime policies, first through the adoption of the Integrated Maritime Policy in 2007. Environmental concerns have slowly but surely made their way into every aspect of the EU’s maritime policy, from the Common Fisheries Policy, revised in 2012, to the Blue Growth Strategy, whose ambition is to ensure the sustainable development of the blue economy, to the priorities of the international ocean governance agenda. But the Blue Europe needs a new impulse. This is how we have considered our contribution to the Starfish 2030 report, which served as a basis for the Ocean Mission. We are now committed to achieving three major objectives by 2030: eliminating pollution, decarbonizing the blue economy and restoring marine ecosystems.

Geneviève Pons, to date, in which condition are the European “waters” covered by the Ocean Mission?

To be honest, most European waters are not in good condition. This is the purpose of the Mission, which is precisely entitled “Restoring our Ocean and Waters”. According to the European Environment Agency, only 40% of European surface waters are currently considered to be in good ecological condition. 90% of the European maritime space is affected by multiple threats due to human activities: pollution, climate change, overfishing, urbanization… As a result, Europe is far from having achieved the 2020 objective of good ecological status of its marine waters. Some threats, such as plastic pollution, are common to all basins, while some others are more concentrated in specific regions. For example, the impact of agricultural pollution strongly affects the Baltic Sea, but also the waters of Brittany, as shown by the proliferation of green algae for several decades.

Pascal Lamy, what will be the first concrete actions of the Ocean Mission for 2022?

The main focus of 2022 will be the launch of the Ocean Mission’s flagship projects. The aim of these initiatives is to serve as platforms for the development, demonstration and deployment of transformative innovations of all kinds – technological, social, commercial and governance – in order to achieve the Mission’s three main objectives. They will be assessed until 2025 and then implemented in all European waters and basins in a second phase to be completed in 2030. Due to our annual contribution to the World Sea Forum in Bizerte, Tunisia, one of the flagship projects is particularly important to us. This is the Mediterranean flagship project, which will focus on the prevention and elimination of pollution, with a particular focus on plastic pollution, one of the plagues that threaten Mare Nostrum and its shorelines. This project will rely on existing networks to ensure the commitment of our many partners around the Mediterranean, such as the Union for the Mediterranean, the BlueMed Initiative, the WestMed initiative for the blue economy, the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean…

Will the Ocean Mission cooperate with Copernicus, the European Earth observation and monitoring program, and its Sentinel 3 and Sentinel 6 satellites dedicated to ocean observation?

Yes, of course! We have already been collaborating on the report. Note that it is a French company, Mercator Ocean International, which implements the marine service of Copernicus, the European space program. This service provides free, regular and systematic satellite information on the state of the ocean in all its dimensions, on a global and regional scale.

The Ocean Mission intends to go even further in improving our capacity to observe and understand the ocean, with the creation of a Digital Twin of the Ocean. The first step in this project will consist in connecting data from Copernicus with data from other existing platforms such as EMODnet (essentially in situ data).

Pascal Lamy, can you tell us more about this Digital Twin of the Ocean?

The goals we have set will not be achieved without the benefit of a certain number of additional tools. These include improving science, which is still very imperfect, and sharing it with decision-makers and citizens. This is where the great idea of the Digital Twin of the Ocean comes in. The concept consists in developing a digital representation of the ocean, as complete and holistic as possible, allowing simulations using artificial intelligence to better prioritise the actions to be carried out. To achieve this, the multiple databases, satellites and in-situ observations that already exist, but in a dispersed manner, in Europe and around the world, will need to be compiled, coordinated and augmented. The Digital Twin Platform would provide free and open access to modelize, explore, discover and display the past, present and future ocean patterns. The target audience includes all interested stakeholders, such as the public sector, companies, NGOs and citizens.

“Keeping the 1.5°C target alive or within reach” was the leitmotiv of COP 26. Geneviève Pons, which main conclusions do you draw from this COP 26?

Effectively, the 1.5° target is “hardly alive”. My primary conclusion is that the Glasgow Pact[3] is failing to live up to the climate challenge we are facing. Even if significant progress has been made, particularly on fossil fuels and coal. It is indeed the first time that a UN decision includes fossil fuels and coal, the two main contributors to climate change emissions. Their inclusion sends a strong message to investors that their end is coming. More than 40 countries – including major coal consumers such as Poland, Vietnam and Chile – have agreed to give up coal, one of the main sources of CO2 emissions. Strong commitments on ending methane emissions and deforestation were also acted. With COP 26, national ambitions have been boosted and the process launched in Paris is accelerating. But there are also significant gaps in the area of adaptation financing and damage repair. The agreement achieved at COP 26 states that the Santiago network, a structure that aims to develop expertise to deal with loss and damage, will be provided with funds to support technical assistance to developing countries on loss and damage. But to meet the needs of these countries, consensus is not enough: it is essential to identify the required funding. We will have to wait until next year to see how these funds will be managed in more concrete terms. The consequence is that the urgent needs of the most vulnerable countries, whether islands or those threatened by coastal flooding are not covered. Let me remind you that during the COP21, 80 WWF representatives from all over the world had struggled for a week, alongside several partners such as island states, and obtained with them, in the very last hours, the mention of the 1.5°C limit for global warming. The survival of these states depends on it, but also that of many environments. For example, with an increase of 2°C, corals will no longer exist in the sea. With 1.5°C, the loss is limited and there is still hope that they will grow again, as the IPCC report points out[4]. For NGOs like WWF, 1.5°C was the main goal of COP21. We are satisfied that the IPCC has confirmed its importance. The Paris process should have led to higher ambitions. Unfortunately, it has only partially succeeded in doing so.

Pascal Lamy, what steps have been taken for the Ocean at this COP26?

Progress made on ocean issues at COP 26 remains too weak in view of the urgent need for action, but it is not insignificant. In 2015, when the Paris Agreement was signed, the ocean was virtually absent from the negotiations, even though it represents more than 70% of our planet’s surface and is a huge reservoir of solutions to climate issues. COP 25 in Madrid in 2019 was given the nickname of the “blue COP” as it laid the foundations for the integration of the ocean into climate negotiations. COP 26 seems to have secured it for good. A whole day of the Glasgow COP was dedicated to the ocean and resulted in the signing of the “Ocean for Climate” Declaration by around 100 civil society organisations. Another remarkable fact is that the Glasgow climate pact mentions the ocean on several occasions, starting in the preamble.

Geneviève Pons, in the end, who are the good and bad pupils of this COP26?

The good ones are all those who have committed to reach carbon neutrality, who have set the earliest dates to achieve it, and who have implemented the most ambitious means. The EU is among them, with all the legislative measures included in the “Fit for 55” package. The bad pupils are those who have not made this kind of commitment – carbon neutrality, date and means – or those who have refused to mention coal in the Glasgow Pact or have “watered down” the language. But we must also bear in mind that not all countries can keep up the same pace and that we need to help the weakest. Financing adaptation and loss and damage
is one of the answers.

At its 40th annual meeting last October, the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) did not reach the consensus required to establish new marine protected areas in Antarctica. What do you think about this?

Effectively, the marine protected areas for which we are struggling within the Antarctica 2020 coalition[5] have not been designated. For the fifth year in a row, China and Russia have vetoed them. But we must not give up. Antarctica’s role in climate regulation and biodiversity networks is too important not to continue to make our voice heard on this issue. The last few months prior to the CCAMLR meeting in October proved to be successful for the Antarctica 2020 Coalition campaign. We have obtained support at the highest political level, from President Macron, but also from Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez… The two ministerial meetings led by Commissioner Sinkevičius – whose strong commitment to the subject should be highlighted here – prior to the CCAMLR made it possible to mobilise new support and were, in this sense, particularly fruitful. Unfortunately, we must admit that this was not enough to gain the support of Russia and China. For all of us who have been involved in this battle for several years, it is now clear that only a decision at the highest level will resolve the Russian and Chinese hesitations. For this reason, we call on President Macron to bring our cause directly to the attention of Presidents Xi and Putin in the framework of the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union. A letter that he would co-sign with other top leaders engaged in the same cause could be decisive. This subject will be discussed again in Brest in February.

You mentioned the 4th World Sea Forum in Bizerte, Tunisia, in which you took part last September. What kind of signal does the organisation of such events give on this side of the Mediterranean?

The Bizerte World Sea Forum, initiated by Olivier Poivre d’Arvor, now French Ambassador for the Poles and Maritime Issues, is a wonderful opportunity for dialogue between the two shores of the Mediterranean. The ambition of this Forum could be summed up in two words, “Mare Nostrum”, this thousand-year-old sensation of common belonging that unites the Mediterranean people of all sides. The Mediterranean Sea is facing huge environmental challenges, especially in terms of pollution. We must address them together. To have a chance of success, the European Mission’s flagship Mediterranean project must involve the other Mediterranean shores.

Last October, the European Union announced that it would not allow the exploitation and purchase of gas, oil and coal from the Arctic. What do you think about this?

This announcement by the European Union is definitely good news. The Arctic region is known to be warming three times faster than the rest of the planet. The melting of the Arctic ice, combined with permafrost thawing – which releases huge amounts of methane, a strong greenhouse gas – is greatly accelerating climate change. As you can imagine, the impact is particularly damaging for indigenous peoples and the extraordinary biodiversity found in these frozen lands. With the Green Pact, the European Union has the ambition to become a world leader in the fight against climate change. In this perspective, it is therefore perfectly understandable that the EU should refuse to contribute to the ecological, climatic and human disaster that is currently taking place in this region of the world. A region that is European, through Greenland – a territory associated with Denmark – and Sweden and Finland, which are close to the Arctic Circle. This is the meaning of the Arctic Strategy presented last October by Commissioner Sinkevičius and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell (Read page 20).

  1. Pascal Lamy and Geneviève Pons are respectively Chairman of the Mission committee and Representative of the Assembly of Stakeholders on the Committee, who contributed to writing the Starfish 2030 report that inspired the Ocean Mission and its implementation plan.
  2. In which Geneviève Pons co-chairs the new Stakeholder Committee (in French: Comité des Parties Prenantes.)
  3. The 26th Conference of the Parties, or COP26, held in Glasgow (United Kingdom) from 31 October to 13 November 2021, brought together nearly 200 world leaders, as well as tens of thousands of representatives of governments, cities, regions and non-state actors (companies, investors, NGOs, etc.). The two weeks of negotiations resulted in the adoption of the “Glasgow Climate Pact”, which notably finalised the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement, but did not fully meet the ambitions that had been set. Source: French Ministry of Ecological Transition.
  4. On 9 August 2021, the IPCC released the first part of its sixth report, eight years after the previous one. 234 scientists from 66 countries produced the report, based on more than 14,000 scientific studies. Three months before the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, the climate forecasts in this new report were very pessimistic and damning. Source : www.vie-publique.fr

Pascal Lamy is the President of the Paris Peace Forum and of the Europe Branch of the Brunswick Group. He is Special Advisor to the European Commission on prospective issues. President of the French National Committee of the Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC), he also participates in numerous institutes and councils (Jacques Delors Institute, Beijing Forum, World Trade Forum…). Pascal Lamy was from 2005 to 2013, Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and from 1994 to 2004, Commissioner for Trade. He is an affiliated professor at the China Europe International Business School (Shanghai) and at HEC (Paris). Latest publications: Strange new world (Odile Jacob 2020); Où va le monde? (Odile Jacob 2018).

Geneviève Pons is Director General of the Europe Jacques Delors think tank. She was in charge of the environment and climate in Jacques Delors’ cabinet during his last two mandates as President of the Commission (1991-1995) and is still, to this day, considered one of the most active and infl uential women leaders in this fi eld. Former Director of WWF Europe, Honorary Director of the European Commission, she co-chairs together with Pascal Lamy the Antarctica 2020 coalition, which aims at protecting large marine areas around Antarctica, and, together with Sébastien Treyer, the Ifremer’s Stakeholder Committee created in November 2021. Geneviève Pons is a graduate of Sciences Po Paris, the Sorbonne and ENA.

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