Med News 01/2021


 EDITORIAL l UNEP/MAP Coordinator Gaetano Leone

Full steam ahead

I will retire on 30 June 2021 after thirty-three years with the United Nations, including an action-packed seven years as the Coordinator of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat. During these years, I have had the pleasure to work with exceptional and committed individuals and teams representing the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, the Secretariat and our partners, and I will keep fond memories of what was achieved under the banner of environmental multilateralism in this beautiful, but challenging basin.

 I will also be thinking of what more could have been done to address the plight of the Mediterranean Sea and coast. For to me the Mediterranean is much more than a professional assignment. I am sure that many among the readers of this editorial—the last one I sign as the Coordinator of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat—will relate: this semi-closed Sea and its beautiful coasts are at the heart of who we are as Mediterraneans—a defining feature of our identities.

While I am optimistic about the future, I cannot help but harbour concern about what would happen if the unprecedented triple crisis of climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss would be allowed to go unchecked. The answer to the question of how we will emerge, as a region, from the COVID-19 pandemic will have consequences that the next generations, not just the 512 million souls currently living around the rim of the Mediterranean, will have to reckon with in the not too distant future.

On 8 April the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat co-organised with the Geneva Environment Network and our colleagues of the UNEP Europe Office a reflection on making peace with nature and delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Mediterranean. I told fellow panellists and participants that, according to science, the Mediterranean is on a collision course with nature, and that we need a green renaissance: a recovery from COVID-19 that would set the compass of Mediterranean economies towards greater sustainability and resilience. Resilience, as I meant it, refers to our collective ability to withstand shocks of the kind that would dwarf what the coronavirus pandemic has dealt us since early 2020.

The science that I mentioned is encapsulated in the “twin reports” sponsored by the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system: the State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED), produced by Plan Bleu, and the First Mediterranean Assessment Report (MAR 1) released by the network of Mediterranean Experts on Climate and environmental Change (MedECC). Both reports point towards a gathering storm.

Taking the pulse of the Mediterranean through rigorous monitoring has been one of the core functions of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention since its inception forty-five years ago. The system has also done a remarkable job in building a robust legal framework, but compliance and enforcement—or the lack thereof—remain an Achilles’ heel that is turning into a Sword of Damocles hanging over the Mediterranean and its people. Let me be clear: this is not just about technicalities of reporting under Multilateral Environmental Agreements. This is about seeing the gathering storm and steering our collective Ark to safety. We literally are in this together.     

The full implementation of obligations that Mediterranean countries accepted under the Convention and its Protocols constitutes a crucial building block for the green renaissance that we wish to see in the region. Bolstering enforcement at the national level must remain our absolute priority.

The Renaissance was a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Ages to Modernity through great social, economic and cultural change. Today, in the midst of this unprecedented crisis, Mediterranean countries stand at a crossroads. As we start the countdown to a post-COVID era, decision-makers are facing a momentous dilemma, especially in national contexts where economies had been in dire straits even before the novel coronavirus struck. Will it be a rush to resuscitate business-as-usual as soon as epidemiologically possible? Or will countries embark on a bold transformation of their economies?

The case for recovering better and greener is compelling. The green premium that must be paid today to bring about the required transformative change transcending economic sectors will be offset by the benefits economies and societies will reap from healthier ecosystems. Let us not forget that the crisis we are going through now was caused by a disease of zoonotic origin—the ultimate symptom of our dysfunctional relationship with nature.

We are doing everything we can to put the green renaissance on the Mediterranean agenda. As I prepare to leave my post, I am confident that my colleagues in the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat will stay the course. 

The next Conference of the Parties (COP 22) in December 2021, hosted by Turkey, will examine a raft of new anti-pollution, pro-sustainability regional plans and decisions for adoption. The delegates will also review and approve the UNEP-MAP Medium-term Strategy 2022-2027. This conference can serve as a regional forum for a high-level policy dialogue on flicking the green switch in the Mediterranean.

I thank you all for the extraordinary support that you have given me during the past seven years as Coordinator of UNEP/MAP, and for having made it possible to progress together towards a solid and effective MAP system.


Watch the interview that Gaetano Leone, Coordinator, UNEP/Mediterranean Action Plan-Barcelona Convention Secretariat, granted to Casa Mediterráneo (Spain)