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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission
Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Preserving oceans is crucial for our lives

European Schools Film Contest Award Ceremony
Brussels, 5 June 2008.

Members of the Jury,

Dear Contestants,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My thanks to you all for making the trip to Brussels for this very special event.

I feel delighted, and privileged, to have been asked to be Honorary Chairman of this contest to find the best scripts on climate change and the effects of human activity on our oceans' ecosystems. I am sure that you are all anxiously awaiting the result of this contest so I promise not to keep you in suspense for very much longer.

But before I announce the overall winner of this generous award, let me begin by thanking the EUR-OCEANS network for its comprehensive education programme for schools. I am also grateful to its Public Outreach Team for organising this competition. On the one hand, it encourages our young people – tomorrow's decision-makers – to think about climate change issues. And on the other, it allows us – today's policy-makers - to understand more about attitudes to climate change among schoolchildren across Europe.

Those of us fortunate enough to live in the developed world have much to be thankful for.

Everything we could possibly want is readily available to us in shops and supermarkets. At home, at the push of a button or with the click of a mouse, we can chat to friends living just around the corner or on the other side of the world. We can order in or simply lounge in front of the television watching what is happening elsewhere with the same ease – always I am sure, once we all have done our homework.

But our lifestyles, though comfortable, come at a price.

And that price is being paid largely by the environment.

The latest biodiversity report by the World Wildlife Fund shows a sharp decline in various animal and plant groups over the past 35 to 40 years. We, human beings, are now consuming about 25% more natural resources than the earth can provide.

Different species and the various natural habitats that exist are crucial to our lives. From them we get our food, drinking water and a number of the medicines we take when we are unwell. They also often protect us from natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.

For example, you will have heard many times, at home and at school, how eating fish is good for you. That is true. And yet many fish stocks are running low - there are simply less fish in the sea.

So what can we do about this?

Well, as custodians of the beautiful planet on which we live, we have to learn that for everything we take, we must give something back. We can do this together, but also as individuals.

If you log on to the WWF website, you can calculate your own carbon footprint and get tips on how to reduce it and do your bit for the environment. Your individual efforts on this front may be small, but if we all do our bit, then the result, taken together, can be really quite large.

As the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, I would like to tell you a little about the work we are doing to counteract the effects of climate change on the oceans.

Although we are beginning to understand the causes behind climate change, we know that many of them are likely to remain unpredictable. The truth is that we still know really very little. We need to invest more on studying climate change and on conducting research - and for that clearly we will need more scientists. You might consider becoming a scientist - that is, if you like science.

One thing we are sure of is that changes in ocean and sea temperatures will change the amount of fish in the sea and where they are found. This will in turn make it harder for us to manage them. And it will mean that we will probably fish less and that we will have to change the way we do things.

One of the main problems we are dealing with at the moment is the cost of fuel: gas or petrol. If you have a car in your family, you might have heard your mother or father saying that every visit to the petrol station seems to cost more and more.

This is also happening to fishermen who have to buy fuel to take their fishing boats out to sea.

As the price of fuel goes up, fishermen are going to find it more and more difficult to cope unless we do something about it.

One of the things to do is to have fishing boats that need less fuel to fish. This is why we are trying to find energy-saving technologies and practices by improving the way in which boats, and the equipment they use to fish, are designed and used. We can also improve the way fish are sold so that fishermen will get more money for their catches than they do today.

Other things which can be done that will help us face the realities of climate change, include having less boats going out fishing - by finding other things for fishermen to do. They also include minimising discards – which is when fish are caught by mistake and are thrown back into the sea either dead or damaged. We are also trying to help reduce the effects of climate change by having more fish in the sea, by for example, trying to catch only fish that are big and so have already had babies.

Sometimes, some of the actions we take are tough for fishermen, however we hope that by these very actions we are helping to reduce the negative effects of climate change in the future.

As you have highlighted in your wonderful film scripts, we have a lot to do to fight climate change. The good news is that we know about it and are doing things that will help.

For example, this competition has proved that you care about the environment and understand how important it is for us to act now. Not only that, you have also all given this a great deal of thought and have found a way to get your message across. This is why you are here today.

You can now consider yourselves the youngest ambassadors of climate change awareness.

You are an example to your classmates, friends and family.

More than that, you are trailblazers.

By preparing these films, you will help spread the word about the need for us all to do our bit to save our fragile and beautiful oceans.

I truly hope that, at some point in the not-too-distant future, we will be handing out awards that celebrate the oceans as a diverse and strong ecosystem.

Your efforts to raise awareness about climate change issues give me real hope.

I am sure that the winning team will have great fun using the educational tools they receive as their prize. But you can all be proud of your achievements for coming up with the best script in your country. In my eyes, you are all winners.

Well done.

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