Dear Mr Minister,
Dear volunteers and activists,
It is a pleasure to welcome you here for the launch of our campaign Today for Environment.
As some of you might know, I am a keen hiker. I spend many of my week-ends discovering the rich natural landscape and biodiversity of Albania.
Your country's major assets are its beautiful coastline, its pristine rivers and its forested mountains. And as we can see around us today in the Museum, Albania holds a remarkable number of the fauna and flora which can be found in Europe.
These natural resources are also the basis for a tourism model that supports Albania's sustainable development. They have to be cherished and preserved.
Unfortunately, these assets are under great threat from littering.
Less than 60% of the waste generated in Albanian is collected. The beaches and the rivers are tainted by waste, in particular plastic. Even mountains and forests are not spared from piles of used objects, such as bags and bottles.
This makes an ugly scene for tourism, but it also creates issues for the health of Albanian citizens.
Plastics has become one of the most pressing environmental and economic challenges of our times. Plastic waste is choking our oceans and killing wildlife. Microplastics are found in the air, as well as in our drinking water and in our food.
The United Nations estimates that before 2050 there will be more plastic waste than fish in our seas. Humanity needs to act now on addressing its addiction to plastic.
The European Union has understood the scale of the issue and adopted a ground-breaking plastic strategy – the most comprehensive material-specific strategy in the world, with the objective to have all plastic packaging as reusable or recyclable by 2030.
The Single-Use Plastics Directive adopted by the EU last spring will ban, by 2021, the 10 plastic products most commonly found on beaches. It will also stimulate the production of sustainable alternatives, making EU industries the world leaders to drive forward the circular economy.
The commitment of the EU to protect the continent's environment is based on a simple truth: the benefits of protecting ecosystems outweigh the costs of their degradation.
Today we are launching the EU campaign to bring this debate and this progress to Albania. For the next two months, we want to raise awareness about the negative impact of plastics on the environment and to encourage people to change their behaviour.
Under the slogan ''Plastic leaves no space for life'', we will focus on products like cotton bud sticks, straws or plastic bottles, which people use for a few minutes, but which might take five hundred years or more to break down.
And beyond plastics, the European Union and its Member States, will also engage with citizens, schools and authorities on making Albania more environmental-friendly. There will be movie screenings, debates and visits, in and outside Tirana. We will also produce videos and infographics to inform citizens about what they can do to protect the environment.
I invite you to participate actively in the campaign using the hashtag todayforenvironment.
The EU and its Member States invest a lot on environmental protection. In the next two months, we will explore and discuss how we have helped and what we could do better. Next year, we will start a Programme on Circular Economy and Green Growth. The EU will support several municipalities reach EU standards in waste management and will push circular economy through grants to eco-friendly business and civil society.
I would like to thank all the EU colleagues who joined us today. It is a clear sign that we are together, working to improve the well-being, everyday life and opportunities for Albanians. Because they deserve it and because it brings the country closer to EU standards. The dedication of the European Union and its Member States to support the country and be by the side of its citizens is unwavering.
But the EU cannot do this alone. Protecting Albania's environment is the responsibility of each of you, from the central authorities, to the municipalities, to the private sector, to the civil society, to any single Albanian citizen.
And I count on the young people in particular to start giving the example to the rest of the community. Be the change that you want to see, and act for a cleaner and more sustainable Albania. It is your country, it is your Albania.