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European Commission - Speech - [Check Against Delivery]

Opening of the European Year for Development

Riga, 09 January 2015

Karmenu Vella - Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Mr President,

Prime Minister,


Members of the European Parliament,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a real privilege for me to be a part of this Opening of the European Year for Development 2015.

It is a very strong opening to the Latvian Presidency and a real sign of your commitment to succeed in leading towards a more sustainable agenda.

Progress during this year will require leadership and a sense of purpose. I am certain that you will get this same sense from the European Commission.

The President has already signalled how urgent the challenges are, and how seriously they are taken.

The presence of the Members of our College confirms that we have a deep understanding that progress can only be achieved if strategies, policies, and tasks are coordinated and aligned.

 Our shared task is to identify, articulate in one voice and deliver a common European Union position. The EU has been recognised as a leader in this debate. Our job is to retain and to strengthen this reputation.

One week after New Year's is when the resolve of New-Year resolutions tends to wane. Such weakening of determination is not an option for us. For the European Commission, the commitment to the Year of Development will not only last the full year, but will continue well beyond.

And indeed our own agenda for sustainable growth, jobs and investments must tally with the Global Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.


Global post-2015 agenda

The EU must continue to lead and not simply engage in the Post 2015 Agenda. We need to be strong and united; and we need to deliver through a collective spirit of commitment and responsibility.

On the environment, the EU has long been a leader in the implementation of internationally set goals. We are on track towards the Kyoto targets on emissions. Our rules go beyond the CITES agreement. Our ambitions go beyond the recent Lima accord.

On climate change, for instance, a new framework is to be finalised this year. And it is up to other potential global and regional leaders to come forward with targets in the next few months.

On oceans governance and blue growth opportunities, the proposed sustainable development goal is another positive step. But make no mistake – this should only be seen as the starting point.

We have made enormous progress in drafting shared standards on how we manage our planet’s land resources. But we cannot ignore our oceans resources which make up 70% of the Earth's surface. Our ambition to agree shared standards should not stop at the ocean’s edge.

Our understanding and recognition of the influence and opportunities which the world’s oceans present to us, grows year on year, and our potential use of oceans resources is becoming more relevant and necessary.

The shared aim should be an implementing agreement on the UN Law of the Seas, also covering biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction. The need to collectively protect these oceans resources should also grow in parallel.

There are aspects - such as the access to marine genetic resources - that are in urgent need of attention from the international community. A lot is already being done by the EU to safeguard these resources, but more needs to be done both at EU and global level.


Internal EU dimension of the SDGs

This year will again see the EU committed to sustainable development, with our Biodiversity strategy, the Water Blueprint and the circular economy.

Years ago the EU made a conscious effort to bring all the policies affecting the sea into an integrated maritime policy. It was an eye-opener. Attitudes shifted, national policy making changed and the EU's own vision and effectiveness were also transformed.

Today we have sea-basin strategies, we have cross-border planning of marine space and we have better tools for maritime surveillance. We also have a stronger voice and influence in the world when it comes to maritime policies.

And we must use that influence to highlight that sustainability and environmental protection are both essential for poverty eradication and growth. 

The Europe 2020 Strategy put sustainable, smart and inclusive growth at the centre of EU policies. The 7th Environment Action Programme (EAP) specifically sets out a roadmap for achieving this.

Addressing the challenge of growth, we have to factor in the element of competitiveness. And to help achieve competitiveness, we need to improve our resource efficiency and reduce our resource deficit.

Today a financial deficit higher than 3% of GDP immediately sets the alarm bells ringing - and rightly so. But shouldn’t a resource deficit of 23% do the same?

And this is where realistic goals and legislation on the circular economy could help mitigate our resource deficit, strengthen our competitiveness, and at the same time improve our development sustainability.

Just as we strive for a triple-A rated economy, we must also unequivocally strive for a triple-A rated environment, both domestically and globally. For this reason, the achievement of sustainable development will depend a lot on how much global leaders are prepared to commit. And here I refer not only to political leaders, but equally so to entrepreneurs, policy makers, NGOs, and a number of other stakeholders including citizens.

So, one of our priorities in 2015 will be that of raising awareness to the fact that sustainable development is everybody's business - that in today's interdependent world, each and every one of us is responsible and ultimately benefits from the state of the environmental that we work and live in.

We have to make it very clear that achieving growth, reducing poverty, and preserving our environment, are part and parcel of the same agenda.

The European Commission reaffirms its commitment to the European Year for Development. Our efforts for stronger action at home are also coupled by our determination to foster a higher support at global level.

The concept of environmental protection is not only a social imperative, but also an economic opportunity.

Our economic recovery will last longer if it protects the natural capital upon which it depends. There is no such thing as a strong economy in a weak ecosystem.

Our responsibility to ensure the highest environmental standards and protection is also a moral commitment to future generations.

The livelihood and the quality of life of future generations depend entirely on our present success in achieving our goals.



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