Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ speech at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille

Thank you very much Mr President, Ministers, Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, dear Mayor.

It is a great pleasure to be with you here today in the city of Marseille, which was founded by Greeks from Fokea, 2,600 years ago. At a time when climate change was not a pressing concern for our ancestors.

But the truth is that the Mediterranean -Mare Nostrum, our sea- is facing a crisis today. We need to be honest: as leaders, we have not done enough, up to now, to avert this crisis. Now is the time to change this.

The Action Plan “The Mediterranean, a model sea by 2030” that was presented earlier today by the French Government rightly focuses on what I consider to be the four key challenges for protecting our very unique marine environment: biodiversity loss, unsustainable fishing, marine pollution especially from plastics, and unsustainable maritime transport. We endorse it and, Mr President, we commit to becoming a champion for the full implementation of the EU’s nature conservation legislation.

My country, Greece, has more than 14,000 kilometres of coastline. We are a country inextricably linked historically, culturally, economically and socially to the Mediterranean Sea. By protecting the biodiversity of our seas we are transitioning to a “Blue economy”, we are harnessing the advantages of a new balance between economic growth, social cohesion and sustainability.

Let me talk, very quickly, about six actions that I think are important to highlight here; actions that are of particular relevance to Greece but, I believe, also to all countries of the Mediterranean.

First – We do commit to the goal of protecting 30% of the Mediterranean by 2030. And beyond the ambition to protect 30% of marine and coastal areas, we must work, also together with the Commission, to ensure that marine protected areas or MPAs are no longer paper-parks. We must aim for effectively managed networks of MPAs, with defined conservation measures.

Second – An issue which is frequently overlooked, the critical issues of marine spatial planning and integrated coastal management. We commit today to the prioritization, development, and implementation of marine spatial plans for all Greek seas, under our national Recovery and Resilience Plan, which we call “Greece 2.0”. This means following an ecosystem-based approach in line with integrated coastal zone management, supported by the best available science.

Third – On fisheries, Greece, like all Mediterranean countries, is facing serious challenges around overfishing. We know that this significantly impacts biodiversity. We commit strongly to reduce overfishing by 2030 by declaring that by that date 10% of our seas will be no-take reserves, meaning that fishing will not be permitted there.

Fourth – Greece is the largest EU producer of farmed sea bass and sea bream. We acknowledge the need to establish a sustainable aquaculture action plan, addressing key challenges such as spatial planning, potential frictions with other marine and coastal uses, including tourism, but also the issue of environmental pollution.

Fifth – As a country heavily dependent on tourism, it is important that we take all the necessary actions to ensure that the development and expansion of our tourism sector, which is so critical for the wellbeing of the Greek economy, does not come at the expense of our natural environment.

We therefore commit to the development of a sustainable tourism strategy that effectively addresses the environmental footprint of tourism and places biodiversity considerations at the heart of marine and coastal tourism planning, especially when it comes to extremely sensitive local communities, such as our smaller islands.

And Sixth – We all know the threat posed by plastic pollution for our region and for our seas. Greece, therefore, adopts the ambitious target to improve water quality by 2030 by reducing waste – plastic litter at sea by 50% and microplastics released into the environment by 30%.

I have one last pledge from our side: Greece commits to become a champion for the full implementation of the European Union’s nature conservation legislation, something that unfortunately, in not achieving, cost our country a recent ruling by the EU Court of Justice.

I personally commit that the protection designation status of all Natura 2000 sites will be completed by the end of 2022, through a fully transparent and inclusive process.

Let me conclude, ladies and gentlemen, by saying that as part of our firm commitment to this mission, Greece will have the pleasure of chairing the implementation of the Action Plan for the Mediterranean in 2023, while putting the protection of the Mediterranean marine environment -and also our forests- at the centre of our discussions during the upcoming EUMED9 Summit, which will take place in Athens.

Taking into consideration that it is a crucial year both for climate ambition and for biodiversity, we need to focus all our efforts on a successful conclusion at COP-26, and on an ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, which should constitute important milestones.

Fully supporting the EU’s ambitions regarding our 2030 and 2050 targets, Greece is already adopting bold measures for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, increasing the share of renewables in our energy mix and improving energy efficiency.

And our most important declaration is that we commit to phase out all our lignite power plants by 2028 at the latest.

We are proceeding with the submarine electricity interconnection to our islands -mainly in the Aegean and Crete- and we are actively promoting electro-mobility. And of course, last but not least, we have also launched a National Reforestation Plan. We did that before the recent destructive wildfires, which highlighted the need for more European cooperation both at the level of prevention but also at the level of intervention once these devastating fires actually break out.

We are planning to present the first national Climate Law to Parliament before COP-26, to further boost our decarbonization path by involving all sectors of the economy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Sustainable development cannot be achieved by acting alone. Our common ambition to preserve our ecosystems demands close cooperation involving all countries of the Mediterranean. Carbon leakage or litter leakage in our seas will always be around if we don’t act in a coordinated manner. All of us, all Mediterranean countries, share a common destiny. And we all have to join in this effort in order to deliver a more sustainable world for the generations to come.

Thank you.