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Introduction

The European Union counts 7 Outermost Regions (ORs) as integral elements of its territory and is closely associated with 21 Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs). These entities form a unique network distributed across the world’s oceans.

The ORs and OCTs harbour an extraordinary wealth of biological diversity, which represents a globally important natural heritage and is at the same time an essential dimension of their social, cultural and economic potential. This heritage has for a long time faced a number of severe threats including the destruction of habitats, the rapid spread of non-indigenous species and the pollution of the natural environment. These threats are now further compounded by the effects of climate change to which the ORs and OCTs tend to be particularly vulnerable.

In this context, the ORs and OCTs deserve the attention of the entire European Union. They are inhabited by European citizens and are located in areas of global ecological importance. Moreover, many of them neighbour countries   ACP countries and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) - with which the Union closely cooperates and which face many of the same ecological challenges.

The ORs and OCTs therefore provide the European Union with an opportunity to both develop its sustainable development policies and to reinforce its global and regional contribution to environmental issues. With the support of Europe, the ORs and OCTs can become centres of excellence in research on sustainable development, the sustainable conservation of biodiversity, the development of renewable energy sources and the adaptation to climate change.

Building on existing policies and commitments, the overall objective of this conference is to initiate a process leading to a new dimension in European Union environment policy, based around the ORs and OCTs and their cooperation with the neighbouring ACP countries and SIDS.

Along with a number of representatives from Reunion Island, the conference will welcome around 350 participants from around Europe and the world. These will include politicians, experts and members of civil society representing European, national, regional and local levels. The conference will close with a high-level day during which ministers and other decision-makers will come together in order to make political commitments.

The conference will take place on Reunion Island, a French Outermost Region in the West Indian Ocean. The plenary sessions will be held at the Théâtre de Champ Fleuri in Saint-Denis.