The ambitious multi-billion euro initiative aimed at scouring the seas of plastics and litter, and backed and funded by three of Europe’s biggest and most influential lending institutions, highlights what some observers see as an example of the continent’s renewed desire to start competing in the international game of soft financial diplomacy.
The Clean Oceans Initiative (COI), launched on October 12, is the joint brainchild of the European Investment Bank, KfW and Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the international lending arms of the German and French governments.
A five year project running to 2023, it will at first channel €2bn ($2.3bn) of capital into long term financing projects that aim to rid the oceans of plastics and clean up wastewater discharge.
But this is just the start. The three institutions aim to suck in private capital from corporations, commercial banks and institutional investors, quadrupling the size of the initiative to €8bn. The COI highlights how much influence Europe can have on global issues — including those that potentially imperil life on Earth — when it pools its knowledge and resources and puts its collective mind to work.
“These are Europe’s three big long term financing agencies,” EIB director-general and deputy head of operations Luca Lazzaroli told GlobalMarkets. “It is a prime example of how powerful we can be when we co-ordinate our voice, resources and power on the global stage. And the aim is to perpetuate this programme — these are challenges that require a collective response, and which are not going to go away. Hopefully in 10 years’ time, we will look back to this as a time of great European engagement at a key moment in our species’ history.”
The launch comes at a time when many believe that China, through programmes like its vast Belt and Road Initiative, which spans the entire Afro-Eurasian landmass, is comprehensively winning the game of financial soft diplomacy.
Lazzaroli said landmark projects would include the collection, pre-treatment and recycling of plastic waste, as well as improved waste management in ports and harbours. He said the key focus would be in areas such as Asia and northern Africa, where the likes of KfW are already busy working to help clean up the Nile, the world’s longest river.
The aim is to fuse finance from the public and non-state sectors with best-in-class thinking and ideas from universities and private sector companies, to put the latest clean water and clean ocean innovations to work across the emerging world.
AFD chief executive officer Rémy Rioux said collaboration between local authorities, civil society, governments and the private sector was “essential” to finding “new and courageous” ways to keep the seas free from pollution and irreversible degradation. EIB president Werner Hoyer described the pan-European partnership as a “quantum leap” in securing the long term viability and sustainability of healthy oceans.
The chief executive of KfW, Günther Bräunig, said pooling Europe’s resources was key to meeting broader global goals, including the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set out by the UN, and the commitments under the 2015 Paris climate change accords.
Executives at leading development agencies attending the annual Bretton Woods meetings in Bali were keen to point to the vast benefits a clean oceanic system provides, not just to animal and vegetable health, but also to the global economy as a whole. More than 3bn people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods, and the value of the marine industry worldwide is estimated at €2.6tr a year, or about 5% of global GDP.