Med News 03/2020


 EDITORIAL l UNEP/MAP Coordinator Gaetano Leone

Moment of truth

A disruptive pandemic has revealed the centrality of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system to a resilient and sustainable future in the Mediterranean

When it saw the light of day more than four decades ago, the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) marked a watershed moment. Under the auspices of UNEP, an unprecedented coalition of riparian countries started building what would become the most comprehensive legal framework to have ever been set up in a regional sea context.

We have gone a long way since and we are still pressing for more. The Barcelona Convention and its Protocols have gradually filled what had been an abyssal regional regulatory void in the Mediterranean. This endeavor continues thanks to the  commitment of the riparian countries and the European Union. 

Several thematic strategies and regional action plans under the Barcelona Convention are being updated and new projects (demonstrative field interventions to shore up Contracting Parties’ efforts) launched.

The recently inaugurated MedProgramme funded by GEF and featuring contributions from two regional development banks will step up efforts towards a cleaner Mediterranean

The next Medium-Term Strategy (2022-2027) of UNEP/MAP will concentrate our expertise and resources on accelerating the fulfillment of our vision: healthy and productive marine and coastal ecosystems in the context of sustainable development, acknowledging the need to build back greener as the region recovers from COVID-19.

“We urgently need to step up ambition and action on the three planetary crises of climate change, nature loss and pollution to head off further pandemics and other, potentially far graver, shocks, the UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen recently said.  

The Mediterranean is a region where the symptoms of the triple planetary crisis are taking acute forms. The science–as encapsulated in the findings of the recently released State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED), and the First Assessment Report (MAR 1) of the network of Mediterranean Experts on Climate and environmental Change (MedECC)—has spoken: the Mediterranean is facing the prospect of irreversible damage if urgent action is not taken to halt current trajectories.

There has been a lot of talk about recovering greener. SoED puts evidence at the fingertips of decision-makers, notably on how business-as-usual has affected natural systems and societies in the Mediterranean, and thus can help them walk the talk. MAR1 illustrates the need for smart climate action that makes our region more resilient to future shocks.

Despite the doom and gloom of this moment, we stand a chance to see a new policy doctrine that protects ecosystems while delivering on the promise that the 2030 Agenda constitutes. There is no need for miracles or magic wands. A bold transformation is needed to reengineer our relationship with the Mediterranean Sea and Coast.

As colossal sums flow towards recovery, green paths must be prioritized in all sectors, including renewable energy, integrated water resource management, sustainable agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, alternative tourism, and low-emission shipping, to name but a few.

Mediterranean countries could have chosen those green paths years ago. But perhaps the pandemic is the jolt that will nudge the region into action. A new push for compliance with existing obligations under the Convention and its seven Protocols, including regional plans and regulatory measures, will set the scene for and catalyze sustainability-driven national policies.

Since the early days of the pandemic, we have devised a strategic response in support of action by the Contracting Parties, and we identified practical ways in which the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system can support a green renaissance.

Let me quote Ms. Andersen again: “2021 could be a make or break year”. This is the moment of truth. All the ingredients of success are in place: knowledge, technology, awareness, a generally favorable public opinion and a vibrant civil society (that is more connected than ever) as well as a pro-sustainability legal and implementation framework that the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system has given to the Mediterranean through a multilateral process spanning more than four decades.

By embarking on national policies that invest in sustainability and resilience, decision-makers can bring about a green renaissance in the entire region. But for that to happen, we will need all hands on deck. Turning words into deeds will be crucial, and policy forums, such as those offered by our partners in the Union for the Mediterranean and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, could facilitate a a greater integration of the legal instruments and implementation tools offered by the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system.

Avoiding unnecessary institutional overlaps and fostering cooperation in our region must prevail because in Mare Nostrum we are all in this together.