Cooperation for Healthy Mediterranean Marine and Coastal Ecosystems
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The 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the Barcelona Convention convenes this week to take stock of progress in achieving Good Environmental Status in the Mediterranean in the context of sustainable development.

The meeting will not only provide the system with a clear mandate for a new Medium-Term (2022-2027) Strategy, but also push the boundaries on a number of crucial sustainability-oriented commitments that, if fulfilled, would bolster the region’s endeavor to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

COP21 will address, at the highest levels, the issues of marine litter, marine protected areas (MPAs), climate change resilience and the blue economy.

The civilizations of Southern Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa have prospered around the Mediterranean Sea, a shared resource that has linked the region’s diverse cultures and underpinned their economic development. But this prosperity has also led to problems. Stressors such as pollution, single-use plastics, climate change and the unsustainable use of marine resources threaten the health of this ecosystem and the people who depend on it.

This is why, for the last four decades, the Mediterranean Action Plan of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP) has supported the 21 countries[1] of the Mediterranean Sea and the European Union to forge a better path forward through the implementation of the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols. Under the auspices of UNEP, the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention have adopted legally binding measures and strategic commitments to address anthropogenic threats to the Sea and its coastal regions and to capitalize on opportunities for sustainable development in the region.

Since their adoption in 1975 and 1976 the MAP and the Barcelona Convention, respectively, have evolved into an example of regional action and a gateway to greater environmental governance and sustainable development aligned to the outcomes of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and, with the guidance of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD), the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In the framework of MAP/Barcelona Convention, the Mediterranean countries are agreeing to standards and laying pathways to decouple growth from environmental degradation. With its Mediterranean Trust Fund and other support from the European Union, the GEF and other bilateral and multilateral cooperation mechanisms, the MAP/Barcelona Convention is supporting a green transition by fostering political commitment at the highest echelons, and by building awareness – at all levels and across all sectors – of the resources, technology and know-how needed for countries to set the policies that engender sustainable development.

The UNEP/MAP Programme for the Assessment and Control of Marine Pollution in the Mediterranean (MED POL) and the six Regional Activity Centres (RACs) have supported the design, adoption and implementation of the Convention’s seven Protocols addressing: (1) dumping, (2) pollution from ships, (3) land-based pollution, (4) biodiversity and protected areas, (5) pollution from exploration and exploitation off-shore, (6) hazardous wastes, and most recently, (7) integrated coastal zone management (ICZM).

Coastal Management for Sustainable Development and Resilience to Climate Change

The example of the youngest Protocol – the ICZM – shows how UNEP’s normative work translates into action on the ground. The Protocol, which entered into force in 2011, represents a huge milestone for regional seas cooperation and offers a standard-setting model for the collaborative management of marine and coastal resources. It, inter alia, seeks to preserve coastal zones for the benefit of current and future generations, ensures the sustainable use of natural resources and reduces the effects of natural hazards, in particular, climate change. In this regard, it has direct implications for SDGs on industry, innovation and infrastructure (SDG 9), sustainable cities and communities (SDG 11), climate change (SDG 13), life below water (SDG 14), and life on land (SDG 15) – among others. The Protocol is giving rise to coastal management policies that support climate adaptation and resilience building to natural disasters and provide for nature-based solutions to climate change.

Barcelona Convention COP 21

The contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention will meet in December 2019 to take stock of progress in achieving Good Environmental Status in the Mediterranean in the context of sustainable development. This 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols will be an important moment for the Mediterranean region, with the meeting convening at a time of accelerated global action on climate change, sustainable oceans and biodiversity.

COP21 will address, at the highest levels, the issues of marine litter, marine protected areas (MPAs), climate change resilience and the blue economy. The COP’s outcomes will contribute to the global dialogue set to unfold at the UN Climate Change Conference (December 2019); the UN Oceans Conference (June 2020) and the UN Biodiversity Conference (October 2020), which will adopt a post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework.

Specifically, COP21 will discuss the scale-up of efforts to eliminate plastic leakage into the Mediterranean Sea by 2030 and seek to empower a regulatory framework for reducing single-use plastic products as well as microplastics pollution. The COP is expected to give a new mandate to update the Strategic Action Programme for the Conservation of Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean (SAP BIO), which constitutes the strategy and plan for biodiversity protection in the Mediterranean until 2030. The agenda also includes the designation of MPAs in the Mediterranean, and bolstering the current MPAs network, including through a science-policy interface for information exchange and cooperation.

On climate, delegates will address the risks to the coastal and marine environment and those who depend upon it – through governance and policy responses based on scientific evidence, and the implementation and enforcement of the ICZM. Delegates will also seek to foster the transition of the Mediterranean to a more circular and green economy in traditional sectors, such as aquaculture, fisheries, tourism, shipping, and ports, as well as emerging ones, such as blue biotechnologies, marine renewable sources, and services digitalization.

Through its deliberations, COP21 will examine challenges to the sustainable management of the Mediterranean Sea and Coast. It will also consider the region’s successes. For instance, MPAs have doubled in size since 2012, and nine countries have adopted more than 20 pilots on reducing marine litter. Other pilot projects in place in Morocco and Tunisia have reduced citizens’ exposure to dangerous chemicals, and Marine Pollution Contingency Plans have been set up to coordinate emergency response among Mediterranean countries.

Going Forward

COP21 will be a strategic meeting for the UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention System. It will not only provide the system with a clear mandate for a new Medium-Term (2022-2027) Strategy, but also push the boundaries on a number of crucial sustainability-oriented commitments that, if fulfilled, would bolster the region’s endeavor to achieve the 2030 Agenda.

The meeting will look into ways of strengthening collaboration with UN agencies and regional commissions; devise ways to build capacity for and promote sustainable development principles; and enhance the science behind the region’s decision- and policy-making.

More information on the meeting can be found on the SDG Knowledge Hub or on the meeting’s landing page 

[1] Albania, Algeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cyprus, Croatia, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Monaco, Montenegro, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey and the European Union.


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