Make European Union Overseas the centre for action on biodiversity and climate change

International conference tackles biodiversity loss and climate change in European Union (EU) overseas entities and neighbouring regions.

Porte d'Enfer, Guadeloupe

Over 250 high-level representatives and experts from more than 40 countries, territories and independent states have adopted the ‘Message from Guadeloupe’, a five-year roadmap, to counter biodiversity loss and climate change impacts in the EU’s overseas regions and territories.

This Message sets five strategic priorities: building resilience to climate change, tackling biodiversity loss, developing a green and blue economy, advancing research and facilitating access to resources.

The conference, which was co-organized by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the European Commission (EC), the French Government, Guadeloupe Regional Council, the government of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), the Association of Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTA) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), closed on 25 October 2014 on Guadeloupe Island in the Caribbean.

The Message from Guadeloupe emphasises, amongst other things, the need for overseas entities to build their resilience to climate change and speed up energy transition. The document outlines concrete actions to support their energy autonomy, and to contribute to the overall EU target to cut carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. The Message also acknowledges the need for Europe and its overseas entities to invest in nature-based solutions, which are often the most cost-efficient solutions, to ensure sustainable development, adapt to climate change and halt biodiversity loss, notably by stopping the overexploitation of resources.

Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, Executive Secretary of the Convention on Biological Diversity, emphasised that overseas entities need to take a leadership role in achieving the international biodiversity targets, and encouraged the implementation of the actions agreed upon in the Message. Georges Pau-Langevin, Minister for Overseas France, congratulated participants for the quality of their work and for the dynamic process started. She assured her total support to carry on the Message from Guadeloupe and to further improve the engagement process.

EU Outermost Regions (ORs) and Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) harbour more than 70% of the EU’s biodiversity within very diverse ecosystems. In addition, the combined waters of the EU and its overseas entities make up the world’s largest marine domain, with areas located in every ocean. The Message calls for a political vision on protecting maritime areas, which is still missing despite the international importance of this marine domain for ocean governance.

The French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, Ségolène Royal, committed France to a number of concrete actions to counter biodiversity loss in its overseas entities: France will put in place an access and benefit-sharing framework, foster the protection of key ecosystems such as mangroves and coral reefs, and support the creation of new wetlands and marine protected areas in Martinique, French Guiana and French Polynesia in order to meet the ambitious national target of protecting 20% of its seas by 2020.

Victorin Lurel, President of the Regional Council of Guadeloupe which hosted the conference, illustrated the leadership role of Guadeloupe in renewable energy deployment and indicated that reaching a share of 50% renewable energy by 2020 in the EU Overseas was achievable.

Building on the BEST (voluntary scheme for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories of European overseas) preparatory action, which was initiated as a response to the call of the Message from Reunion Island in 2008 for a voluntary scheme for promotion and actions in conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services in EU overseas entities, the Message from Guadeloupe promotes BEST as a sustainable partnership of all stakeholders through a dedicated financial and representative governance structure. High level participants from the European Commission, the French government and the Regional Council of Guadeloupe also expressed their support for BEST. Kedrick Pickering, Deputy Premier of the British Virgin Islands, underpinned this by adding that “the BEST partnership can be a powerful tool to increase access to financing by us all at various levels”.  

“The Message from Guadeloupe demonstrates a high level of ambition and a way forward for the implementation of concrete goals, which we expect will ultimately lead to the EU’s overseas entities reaching, - and even leading - the implementation of the Aichi international biodiversity targets by 2020,” said Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Director General of IUCN.

“The adoption of the Message of Guadeloupe is of particular importance to EU Overseas entities and their neighbouring countries as they are especially vulnerable in the face of climate change,” said Nicolas Hulot, Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet. “The upcoming IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney will also help us emphasise the critical link between biodiversity and climate change and demonstrate how important healthy and robust ecosystems are to make us more resilient to the changes ahead. In the end, we, the inhabitants of this earth, are all islanders and we cannot escape the laws of nature.”

Most EU Overseas entities are islands and as such are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, facing rising sea levels, ocean warming and acidification, as well as more frequent and violent storms and severe droughts.

“Nature’s solutions are at our fingertips, yet we often ignore them. If climate change adaptation policies and programmes are to be effective, they must integrate efforts to sustain and restore ecosystem functions and promote human rights under changing climate conditions,” said Luc Bas, Director of IUCN's European Union Representative Office.

Overseas entities have a worldwide reach that is important to effective conservation actions. Located in every ocean of the world, they are exceptionally well placed for driving regional integration and collaboration on conservation action. Moreover, they are of economic importance, harbouring highly-valued ecosystems like coral reefs and polar seas rich in fish stocks.

“With their diverse regional anchorages, overseas entities play a crucial intermediary role for developing regional partnerships with real leverage effects in terms of nature-based and cost efficient solutions for biodiversity conservation and sustainable development,” said Carole Martinez, IUCN Programme Coordinator of the Regional Seas, EU Outermost Regions & Overseas Countries & Territories. “Involving them at the international level is paramount to ensuring effectiveness in defining and implementing conservation measures”.

A technical report, assessing the progress made since the 2008 Message from Reunion Island, was presented during the conference and helped to guide workshop discussions on the adoption of the Message during the political segment of the conference. The assessment identified gaps including access to funding and the need to include sustainability criteria into policy frameworks, but also highlighted achievements such as the launch of the IUCN EU Overseas Roundtable in 2010 and the creation of the world’s largest marine protected area in New Caledonia in April 2014.

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