During an official visit to the United States this week, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius deepened EU-US environmental cooperation ahead of upcoming multilateral processes and increased US awareness of key Green Deal priorities. These include climate action, deforestation, biodiversity protection and restoration, circular economy, critical materials and batteries, sustainable blue economy, international ocean governance, plastic pollution and green transition.
He held discussions in Washington DC and New York with a range of US counterparts from the US Administration and Congress, as well as multilateral organisations, reaching out to stakeholders including NGOs, representatives of business and financial sector, philanthropists and university students. In discussion with UN interlocutors, Commissioner focused on combined efforts in pressing areas under the environment and oceans agendas in the run up to the major global events, negotiations and processes taking place in 2022-2023.
Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said:
None of us can afford to ignore the triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution. And none of us can tackle it alone. As two major global economies the EU and the US need to work even closer together to transform the way we run our economies and set high social and environmental standards to improve people’s lives and health across the Atlantic. I am happy we have a shared understanding of the urgency and the tools to stop nature’s decline, both on land and at sea. Jointly, the EU and the US will be strong advocates on the international stage for moving to a circular economy, putting nature on a path to recovery, decarbonising our economies and fighting against plastic pollution.
During the visit the Commissioner repeatedly underlined the urgency of reducing, together with the US, our excessive use of natural resources, which fuels current environmental and climate threats. He urged the United States to join forces with the EU and the international community to advance multilateral measures. These include the negotiations for a treaty on the protection of marine Biodiversity Beyond areas of National Jurisdiction, an ambitious post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework to be agreed under the Convention for Biological Diversity and the launch of negotiations on a Global Plastics Agreement.
The visit revealed a number of shared interests in environment and ocean matters, with clear links to US priorities of tackling climate change, job creation, and building back better while protecting the poorest in society and strengthening our democracies. Both sides agreed they have much to gain by sharing experience and approaches through cooperation and coordination.
The key outcomes included:
- Strengthened environmental cooperation with the US Environmental Protection Agency. In a key meeting with Administrator Michael Regan EU and US identified a number of shared priorities such as circular economy, pollution, plastics, and environmental justice and agreed to strengthen exchanges on these and other subjects. To give direction and structure to future cooperation they updated the existing Working Arrangement between DG Environment and the US EPA.
- On plastics, the EU calls for a globally binding agreement that takes a circular, life-cycle approach to plastics. The US announced its support to launch negotiations at the UN Environment Assembly in February 2022.
- On circular economy, Commissioner encouraged collaboration for staying within planetary boundaries and reaping the benefits of circular economy to fight climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, while stressing the potential for circular economy to support economic recovery and build back better. The visit showed that the US is now stepping up efforts to move towards a circular economy with its 10-year Vision “Building a Circular Economy for all” that addresses many issues where the EU experience from the Circular Economy Action Plan could be of interest.
- On biodiversity, further positive US engagement on an ambitious post-2020 global biodiversity framework to halt and reverse biodiversity loss to be agreed at the fifteenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) later in the year. EU and US discussed options for common outreach to third parties, reaching a shared understanding on Nature-Based Solutions, biodiversity/climate link and the need to increase US financial support for biodiversity. Both the EU and the US have set a target of protecting at least 30% of their land and sea areas by 2030. In discussions with his counterparts, the Commissioner explored further areas of action, such as nature restoration, environmental protection in the Arctic, the geopolitical ramifications of ocean and environmental protection, adopting nature-positive agricultural practices and ending harmful subsidies.
- On ocean, EU and US reaffirmed their commitment to work together on sustainable fisheries, fighting against IUU fishing and for better ocean governance, including the geopolitical implications of current gaps and the important negotiations for an agreement on the protection of marine Biodiversity Beyond areas of National Jurisdiction (BBNJ). They also agreed to work together on the link between the ocean and climate in international biodiversity and climate negotiations.
- On deforestation, Commissioner Sinkevičius received encouraging signs from Congress about the importance and the ambition of the recent EU proposal on deforestation. Commissioner explored US willingness to take similar action, as both the current FOREST Act in Congress and the new Global Forest Strategy of the US focus on illegal deforestation alone, which accounts for only 10 % of global deforestation and forest degradation.
- On polar issues, the Commissioner continued to encourage the US to step up international outreach on Antarctica Marine Protected Areas following the EU-US co-sponsorship in the context of the Convention on the Conservation of Atlantic Marine Resources. He explained the EU’s ambitious goals under the updated EU Arctic policy, including stopping the exploration and use of hydrocarbons, and expressed his wish for a coordinated and mutually supportive EU-US approach for the Arctic – in view of the forthcoming US Strategy for the region.
- On sustainable finance, the Commissioner emphasised the role of multilateral development banks and international financial institutions and discussed the need to increase green finance, in particular biodiversity finance, with many of his interlocutors, including the President of the World Bank, David Malpass, and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva.
This visit to the US was the first by Commissioner Sinkevičius and offered a high-level opportunity to agree the direction and priorities of EU-US cooperation on planetary challenges for the duration of the Biden Administration. The two leg mission (Washington and New York) covered both bilateral (US) and multilateral (UN etc.) engagements, with a range of stakeholders from administration officials, Congress Members, NGOs, representatives of the financial and banking sector, philanthropists and researchers.
The visit demonstrates the priority attached by the Commission to strengthening relations with the United States. The European Union and the US are two of the most active players on the global stage and the transatlantic economy is the largest and wealthiest market in the world. Taken together, the economies of both territories account for more than 40% of world GDP and more than 40% of global trade in goods and services.
Press speech by Commissioner Sinkevičius, delivered during his official visit to the United States
- Publication date
- 4 February 2022
- Directorate-General for Environment