Karmenu Vella: Green Week will show how traditional blue collar jobs can become part of green transition

European environment, maritime affairs and fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella on what to expect from this year's EU Green Week activities, the importance of the blue economy and the job potential of acting green.

Karmenu Vella | Photo credit: Natalie Hill

This year's EU Green Week conference will focus on creating green jobs. Why is this important for the EU's long term environmental goals?

First of all EU Green Week is more than just a conference; it is a week of engagement, activities and debates across Europe which allow main actors and networks to exchange and promote experiences. What better way to engage than by highlighting the job potential of acting green?

The EU has made big commitments on fighting climate change and on promoting the circular economy.

These pledges should be seen as creators of opportunity. High environmental standards can create new business opportunities and new green jobs. With this year's Green Week we will focus on making sure we have the right skills to deliver on those pledges. 


Take for example the building sector: an architect may design the perfect eco-house, but the building work will still be carried out by tradespeople like joiners, electricians and plumbers.

And, the environmental technologies built into the house will need professional maintenance. Green Week will showcase examples of how these skills needs are being met. It will show how traditional blue collar jobs can become part of a green transition, such as through Ireland's QualiBuild programme.

This was set up in 2013 to help it meet the EU 2020 energy efficiency target, and to train the green builders of the future. People with green skills are a key element in the transition to a more sustainable economy.


In the main conference you will be discussing the creation of green jobs in relation to water, maritime and cities. How will these jobs be created?

With the transition towards a circular and low-carbon economy, new sectors are emerging. Companies come up with new business models, expand their markets and find ways to better use resources. This has a profound impact on employment. New jobs are created, or the nature of existing jobs changes. 

Let's take the example of water: high European standards for drinking water, bathing water and waste water treatment have helped a strong EU water industry emerge.

The two global leaders are EU-based and have a combined turnover of €20bn. By seizing new market opportunities, Europe can increasingly position itself as a global market leader in water-related innovation and technology. If the growth rate of the water industry increases by one per cent, this can create between 10,000 and 20,000 new jobs. 

Public authorities and governments need to provide direction, incentives and leadership, so that enterprises can make the right investments in change, and we fully use the potential strengths in eco-industries and eco-innovation.


This year will be the 10th anniversary of EU maritime day. Why do you believe it's important that we have a special day to highlight maritime issues?

European Maritime Day (EMD) was launched a decade ago to raise awareness about maritime affairs and support the EU's eff orts to develop an integrated maritime policy. 

Over time, it has become a fixture on the agenda of Europe's maritime community as it offers learning and networking opportunities very much appreciated by stakeholders who gather from every corner of Europe and beyond, every year in a new European host city.

The EU is committed to turning the challenges facing the maritime world into opportunities. In 2007, we launched a vision for a more integrated approach to maritime affairs that has since grown into a coherent set of interrelated policies.

From maritime spatial planning to the fight against illegal fishing; from ocean mapping to marine science; from habitat conservation to regional strategies, to investing in harnessing the full potential of the blue economy, these EU initiatives have proven to be transformative.

The participation of Europe's maritime stakeholders to the EMD and other regular meetings, events and fora, has been critical to provide valuable input and will continue to be so in the future as we further strengthen our policies and tackle new challenges.

The topic of this year's EMD is the future of the seas. Where do you believe are the opportunities for the EU and where are the challenges, especially g given that one of Europe's maritime countries, the UK, is leaving the EU? What is the significance of a British city - Poole - playing host to this year's EMD?

Seas and oceans are among the most precious resources on our planet and important drivers for Europe's economy. The output of the world's blue economy is currently worth €1.3 trillion. 

The OECD predicts that, by 2030, it could more than double and that many ocean-based industries could outperform the global economy as a whole. This presents a tremendous opportunity that Europe is ready to seize.

Much of the potential of the blue economy will be driven by new technologies, products, services and business models. In fact, many of them developed to provide solutions to important ocean challenges such as over-fishing, climate change, ocean acidification or marine pollution.

Sustainability is another key driver for innovation and represents a global market opportunity. Europe's researchers and entrepreneurs are already leading the way in fields such off shore renewable energy or green shipping. For example, Europe currently hosts as much as 52 per cent of all tidal stream developers and 60 per cent of all wave energy developers in the world.

As for the challenges presented by Brexit and the choice of a British town to host this year's EMD, Poole, due to its large natural harbour and its maritime heritage, is surely an appropriate location for European Maritime Day.

The choice of Poole was made back in 2008, when the EMD was fi rst launched. Since then our partners in Poole have been enthusiastic and committed to work with us on making this EMD a success regardless of current political circumstances.

Having said this, my joy at being in the UK will of course be tinged with unhappiness. It's sad to see a trusted partner and key ally decide to disembark our common ship. I personally regret this. But we have to respect this choice. Our challenge now is to build a new and constructive relationship between the European Union and the UK. One in which the UK remains a close partner and a good neighbour.

On many issues, such as the future of our oceans, we continue to share the same interests and the same concerns. Problems like marine litter, ocean acidification or climate change will only get worse unless we act decisively and cohesively.

National solutions are not sufficient to tackle complex global problems. And the EU is good at forging synergies with its partners to face common challenges united. Last year, the EU adopted a joint communication on international ocean governance presenting to international partners 50 concrete actions for safe, secure, clean and sustainably managed oceans.

If we want to leave a healthy ocean to our kids and grandkids, we need to commit to radical change and we need the help of the business community to succeed. This will be one of the focuses of this year's European Maritime Day and I strongly believe that, with the private sector on our side, we can take our battle for healthy oceans and a striving blue economy to the next level.


Why do you believe there is a need for new proposals to integrate maritime policy, and why now?

An integrated maritime policy allows us to see the full picture and efficiently coordinate our actions across sectors as diverse as fisheries and aquaculture, offshore energy, ports, shipping and shipbuilding, maritime technology, marine research, maritime surveillance, maritime and coastal tourism and employment and development of coastal regions.

Let me just give you a few examples to illustrate my point: We have introduced legislation to create a common framework for maritime spatial planning (MSP) in Europe. MSP aims at making sure our waters are managed more coherently and different users of ocean resources interlock - not interblock - with each other. It also promotes new synergies between sectors such as wind parks, fishing and aquaculture, or shipping and tourism.

By 2021, all of our member states will have a maritime spatial plan in place for their waters. This will increase stability, predictability and transparency and attract investments in the maritime sector, while contributing to the protection of the marine environment.

Progress has also been made in transport, where we have approved an action plan to create a European maritime transport space without barriers, which facilitates transport between EU ports harmonising and simplifying administrative procedures in short sea shipping. This would improve the efficiency and competitiveness of intra-EU maritime transport.

We have contributed to enhance maritime safety and security by setting up the common information sharing environment (CISE), while the European marine observation and data network improves public access to marine data. And we are major contributors to ocean research: we spend €260m a year on marine research, which - among others - helps to monitor the achievement of good environmental status for all EU waters by 2020.

This ambition is enshrined in the European marine strategy framework directive adopted in 2008 and embeds an ecosystems approach to the management of all human activities with an impact on the marine environment.

Thanks to our integrated approach to maritime affairs, we moved past a highly inefficient compartmentalisation of maritime sectors and we are now on track to streamline the management of our waters and increase not only the profitability but also the sustainability of sea-based activities.


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