Young people have great ideas but often they need to be informed that EU research funding is available, according to Pierre-Yves Cousteau, the president of Cousteau Divers and son of the marine conservationist Jacques Cousteau.
What do you think is the main priority for the EU in marine conservation?
‘The main priority should be to meet the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity. They were set at the (1992) Rio Conference, where it was decided to establish 10 % of the oceans as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). We were supposed to have this 10 % by 2012. Now we’re ending 2014 and less than 2 % of the world’s oceans are protected. Europe can really help lead the way by actually implementing what we are supposed to be doing, what we were supposed to have done by 2012.
‘I gave a TEDx talk a few years ago where I was saying “why don’t we protect all of the Mediterranean, make it one big marine protected area and have specific fishing zones within that area”. That would help the oceans recover very quickly.’
Are you aware of any nature-based solutions to Europe’s problems?
‘Creating reserves on land and in the sea is a nature-based solution. We’re letting nature do what it does best, which is sequestering carbon, producing resources for us to consume.
‘It’s so important to empower the youth. They still have the time, the creativity and the energy to come up with solutions and carry them through.’
‘Creating sanctuaries for me is the most obvious and easy-to-implement nature-based solution.
‘The solution that I’m proposing in my talk today is going to be about empowering young entrepreneurs. A lot of young people in Europe today are very passionate about the environment. They want to help protect it. But they don’t always know how. We need to show them before they switch over to the mindset which most of us have today, which is, we can’t do anything about this.
‘Europe has real potential in empowering young entrepreneurs to find solutions, innovative solutions and to weave them into the economy so that they can gain enough scale. To reduce carbon emissions, to reduce pollution, to reduce waste, to create marine protected areas.’
Some researchers have recently been developing biofuels from microbes. Would that be a good example?
‘Absolutely. I was recently involved in several business plan competitions and I could see the innovation coming from young people who have big ideas, new technologies. The solutions to our problems are here in our societies, they exist, they just haven’t gained the scale required.’
What would be the main initiatives that the European institutions could take to address these problems in the future?
‘Putting money into young entrepreneurs. There’s already quite a bit of money there with Horizon 2020. This is one way of addressing it, but now we have to look at the next step – because that’s already been done and that’s fantastic. There’s still a lot of roadblocks that hinder the adoption of these technologies.
‘There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of making these funds and these opportunities known to young people at universities. Letting them know that if they have a project there is funding available to let them launch this project. There’s something to be done in terms of communication, in terms of outreach to these young entrepreneurs and also we need to streamline the process, removing the barriers and making it easier to access these grants.’
What are the obstacles facing entrepreneurs?
‘We live in a society that’s basically a dictatorship of materialism. A lot of the economic realities that we face today are very depressing. People have a hard time making ends meet and when you’re in that situation you don’t have the time to come up with innovative solutions, you don’t have time to think about the environment. You have to push that to the second or the third priority.
‘That’s why it’s so important to empower the youth. Because they haven’t yet been tangled up in that web of materialism, that business-as-usual society. They still have the time, the creativity and the energy to come up with solutions and to carry them through all the obstacles that are along their path.’
Most people have heard about his famous father, but Pierre-Yves Cousteau, born in 1982, is a great marine conservationist in his own right. He is the president of Cousteau Divers, a diving programme which is currently collecting data about the Mediterranean Sea using citizen divers and participative science.
He was a special advisor to the outgoing EU Commissioner for Maritime and Fisheries Maria Damanaki and has studied biochemistry, space studies and economics, and worked as a young graduate trainee for the European Space Agency.
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