Opening speech at the World Ocean Council

Source: European Commission (EC) i, published on Monday, September 29 2014.

European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]


European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science

Opening speech at the World Ocean Council

World Ocean Council

New York, 29 September 2014

Ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to be with you today in New York City - right on the edge of the North Atlantic. I'd like to thank the World Ocean Council, and in particular its Executive Director, Paul Holthus, for inviting me to address this distinguished audience.

The theme today is 'Collaboration' - 'collaboration in science-based ocean policy and marine planning'.

As Europeans and North Americans, when we think of the Atlantic, our first reflection may be that the ocean is something that separates us by its sheer vastness and by the harshness of its marine environment.

But the Atlantic Ocean also unites us. It's a physical link. And from Ireland, to Newfoundland, to Florida, we face similar challenges and similar opportunities. So, for me, as the European Commissioner responsible for Research, Innovation and Science, the Atlantic also presents a vast potential for collaboration. Collaboration aimed at tackling the challenges and making the most of the opportunities.

A little over one year ago, the US, the EU and Canada signed the Galway Statement on Atlantic Ocean Cooperation.

Today we have a perfect forum in which to present this cooperation to industry and to identify ways to collaborate and better address the Atlantic together - our shared heritage, our shared resource and our joint responsibility.

The challenges we face are global in dimension, whether climate change, the rise in sea levels or the sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

These challenges are so great, and so important, that international cooperation is not an optional extra - it's essential. We need the best researchers and the best innovators, in academia and in companies, working together with policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic.

But I don't want to talk only about the challenges. I also want to talk about the opportunities.

The Blue Economy is expected to experience major growth in the coming decades.

Blue biotechnology has an expected yearly growth rate of 5 to 10%.

Deep-sea mineral extraction could provide up to 10% of the world's total minerals.

Marine renewable energy is expected to grow to 40 Gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2020.

The Blue Economy will only realise its full potential across all its different sectors if it is built on a solid base of research and innovation.

And we rely on research and innovation to help ensure that growth does not come at the expense of the marine environment.

It took us a couple of centuries to fully appreciate the cost to the environment of the industrial revolution. We know better now, and can't afford to make similar mistakes in our oceans. Sustainability must be ensured and the seas and oceans must be de-polluted so that future generations can continue to enjoy the benefits.

Knowledge and innovation are the keys to reducing pressure on resources and ensuring that our oceans remain healthy for future generations.

Europe and its Atlantic partners already have a strong technology and innovation base in many new and emerging marine sectors.

However, these technologies often face bottlenecks that prevent them from making it ‘from lab to market’.

Investments are therefore needed to support the deployment and demonstration of innovations such as multi-use offshore platforms, integrated multi-trophic aquaculture and large-scale integrated bio-refineries.

And we also need to find ways of working together that encourage the flow of innovations between different marine sectors and, indeed, between land and sea.

And we need to improve our knowledge. When I launched the Galway Statement last year, I quoted the words of the Canadian Oceanographer Paul Snelgrove. I make no apologies for quoting him again, since I think he really hit the nail on the head.

He said: "We know more about the surface of the Moon and about Mars than we do about the deep sea floor, despite the fact that we have yet to extract a gram of food, a breath of oxygen or a drop of water from those bodies".

So, speaking as a policy maker, excellent science must underpin our efforts to preserve the marine environment, to ensure that our activities are sustainable and to forecast and mitigate the impacts of climate change on fisheries and on the Arctic, or natural hazards such as tsunamis and storms.

But excellent science doesn't come without effort and it does not come free.

Horizon 2020, the European Union's 80 billion euro programme for research and innovation, will fund excellent research to transform industrial research and innovation and to tackle our biggest societal challenges.

I would like to say a few words about Horizon 2020 because it seeks to address the different challenges we have to deal with in marine research and innovation by investing in research and innovation in the Blue Economy and marine technologies.

And while this is an EU programme, participation is open to everyone, including research organisations and businesses from outside Europe. Many of the businesses here already have some experience of participating in EU research framework programmes.

We're very keen to get businesses involved in Horizon 2020, so today I would like to invite all of you to explore the many opportunities that Horizon 2020 provides.

Responding to the demands of many stakeholders, Horizon 2020 is also home to a dedicated, cross-cutting marine and maritime component known as the Blue Growth Focus Area.

The 'cross-cutting' aspect is important. Ocean technologies have huge potential for multiple "Blue Growth" sectors, and technologies developed in one sector such as oil and gas can benefit other sectors such as deep-sea mining. Similarly, the outputs of research and innovation can have multiple uses - for example micro-algae technology has potential applications in areas such as chemicals, pharmaceuticals, green energy, food and animal feed.

Horizon 2020's Blue Growth focus Area emphasises Atlantic Ocean cooperation to support the Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance.

In the 2014 and 2015 work programmes, we have earmarked 57 million euro for actions implementing the Galway Statement, for example our experts have just evaluated proposals responding to the call for developing in-situ Atlantic Ocean Observations for a better management and sustainable exploitation of maritime resources.

So Horizon 2020 represents a major opportunity for the ocean industries, whether based in Europe or North America - I hope that you will work together to take full advantage of all it offers.

And in addition to research and innovation funding, the European Union is introducing a number of policy measures to address the challenges I mentioned earlier:

Research provides valuable support to crucial EU policies such as the Integrated Maritime Policy and Common Fisheries Policy, as well as international cooperation such as UN negotiations on an Implementing Agreement for the Law of the Sea, or the creation of a UN Sustainable Development goal on the ocean. I look forward to the involvement of industry both in the research needed to define and support these and other policies as well as in the implementation of these policies.

To give our innovators every chance to drive forward a blue economy that creates jobs and growth, we must fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

We need more and better data on the state of our oceans, sea bed resources and marine life.

By 2020, the European Commission will have created EMODnet - the European Marine Observation and Data Portal. This will provide easily accessible marine data, which is interoperable, free of restrictions and available as a multi resolution map of all European seas.

I am sure you can appreciate the scale of this task, but it is one worth undertaking for the rich information resources it promises to all users, whether researchers, policy-makers or businesses.

So I very much hope that, as well as benefitting from the information provided by EMODnet, the marine industries will also contribute and make its own data available - of course excluding information that is commercially sensitive.

Research efforts within marine and maritime science are often diffuse and lacking a multidisciplinary approach, which can hinder the development of the key technologies that the marine industries demand.

To overcome this fragmentation of research, the European Commission will establish an information platform on marine research and innovation across Horizon 2020 and within the EU Member States.

The platform will be a gateway into the insights emerging from research projects, which can then be used to accelerate the uptake of new ideas by industry. This is another area which I know is also a top priority in the United States and Canada.

Again, in a spirit of collaboration, the European Union is also keen to ensure that all voices contribute to the ongoing discussion on how we can use ocean resources sustainably and drive growth and jobs.

So, the European Commission is proposing to set up a Blue Economy Business and Science Forum, which will involve business, scientists and NGOs to help shape the blue economy of the future and share ideas and results. This Forum will be launched next May at the 2015 European Maritime Day in Piraeus, Greece.

I am sure that these initiatives will help to address concerns I know some of you have that the ocean industries need to be better informed about changes and developments in ocean governance, policy and planning, whether nationally or internationally.

I want to come back now to the Trans-Atlantic Ocean Research Alliance that I had the pleasure to launch last year with high-level representatives from the US and Canada in my home city of Galway.

In Galway, some of the world's best marine scientists identified large convergences between our respective scientific agendas. They concluded that together, we can build a capacity to understand and predict major Atlantic and Arctic processes, as well as the changes and risks they carry in relation to human activities and climate change.

I am glad to say that significant progress has already been made in the implementation of the Galway commitments.

These efforts were recognised in the Joint Statement signed at the EU-US Summit last March, during President's Obama visit to Brussels. Our leaders highlighted the Transatlantic Ocean Research Alliance as an excellent example of how we can unite our efforts in research and innovation.

It is remarkable that the Alliance has gained such momentum so quickly, and for this I would like to thank our US and Canadian partners for their enthusiastic and action-driven cooperation.

It is now crucial to keep this momentum - to make the Alliance an even bigger success, and I invite you to be part of this.

A series of regular Stakeholder Meetings to turn the Galway Statement from words into action started in Brussels last spring with high level participation from Europe, Canada and United States, bringing together a variety of existing networks already active on both sides of the Atlantic.

Tomorrow the third meeting will take place in Washington.

We need to plan how we will meet our objectives, so an Implementation Roadmap is already taking shape as one of the main outcomes of these stakeholder meetings. It is of utmost importance that everybody takes ownership in their specific areas, with clear actions and timelines.

We should use this opportunity to engage the ocean business community. I am glad that the World Ocean Council actively contributed to the success of the first two meetings and I hope that many more of you will engage with the Alliance in future.

And in the future, you will certainly be part of a bigger endeavour, with even broader horizons. Trans-Atlantic cooperation cannot be confined to its Northern shores. There is already growing interest from Southern Atlantic countries like Brazil and South Africa to contribute to our joint objectives.

This would enhance the research and innovation on marine and climate issues, foster innovation and lay the foundations for a joint, responsible management of marine resources throughout the Atlantic Ocean all the way down to Antarctica.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Our oceans are ever shifting, with different layers and zones connecting and influencing each other.

Collaboration on our Atlantic Ocean agenda must also create rich interconnections between policymakers, industry, researchers and citizens.

I am confident that we are up to the task, and that our work has a very bright future.

Thank you.