By RAF CASERT
BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union and its private sector will commit about 1 billion euros ($1.18 billion) to better protect marine life during the global Our Ocean conference this week.
EU Environment Commissioner Karmenu Vella told the Associated Press that figure from the EU, its 28 member states and the private sector could be a conservative estimate, saying "it might be even a bit over."
The Our Ocean conference has turned into an annual marine governance event and has accumulated some 8.7 billion euros ($10.2 billion) since it started in 2014. Vella said "we are keeping up the pace with the previous three conferences."
Vella is also looking for donations from the United States. Many private companies contribute to the 2-day event, which starts Thursday in Malta.
Two of its previous annual meetings have been held in the United States, and then-Secretary of State John Kerry took a special interest in it. It's not clear to what extent President Donald Trump's Republican administration will be committed to the meeting's environmental cause.
Vella remained upbeat, saying "so far, the United States is still on board, very much on board."
"The U.S. will be coming round to Malta with commitments as well," he said. "The only question is the amount of support they will be giving."
The conference focuses on funding and leading projects as varied at combating plastics pollution to countering illegal fishing and looking at the effects of climate change.
Its mission is urgent, Vella said, pointing to the rapid decay of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
"Scientists were thinking that they would start feeling the negative impact of climate change and temperatures rising by 2050," Vella said. "We are still even before 2020 and we have already declared the Great Barrier Reef dead. So things are moving faster than we were hoping."
Read the Top 8
Sign up for the Top 8, a roundup of the day's top stories delivered directly to your inbox Monday through Friday.