Article by Gaetano Leone, Coordinator, UN Environment Programme / Mediterranean Action Plan - Barcelona Convention Secretariat
Words matter, especially when they are committed to paper at the intergovernmental meeting of ministers and senior officials representing 21 Mediterranean countries and the European Union.
The 21st Meeting of the Contracting Parties (COP 21) to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols adopted a host of decisions aiming to address the plight of Mediterranean ecosystems found to be reeling under the combined pressure of the unsustainable pursuit of growth and climate change. Negotiating and adopting decisions is in itself an ambitious process, but this time the Contracting Parties went further in expressing their concern about the ever more evident environmental degradation patterns in the Mediterranean, and in voicing commitment to reverse the trend.
A remarkable consensus emerged in Castel dell’Ovo, the imposing seaside medieval castle that hosted COP 21, when the text of the Naples Ministerial Declaration was tabled for adoption. The strong-worded language bears witness to the commitment on the part of the Contracting Parties, signaling a reinvigorated collective resolve to treat the ailments of Mare Nostrum.
In addition to the 14 Decisions adopted at COP 21, which included a groundbreaking proposal of a roadmap for the possible designation of the Mediterranean as an emission control area for sulfur oxides, the Naples Ministerial Declaration brought a broader political impetus in support of the mandate of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP), particularly in achieving good environmental status and shoring up sustainable development in the Mediterranean region.
“We commit to take concrete action to enhance the level of safeguard of the Mediterranean Sea including its coastal region, and its good environmental status, as a place of peace, dialogue and solidarity, as a bridge between civilizations and as a model for environmental protection in the context of sustainable development and multilateral cooperation, for the benefit of present and future generations,” the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention pledge in the Declaration.
The Declaration notably describes 2020 as a “critical turning point for the conservation and sustainable management of the Mediterranean Sea and coast” and underscores the “need for a systemic change supported by forward-looking and innovative strategies, policies, and behaviors”.
Noting the importance of the four priority areas for action identified at COP21, namely marine litter; biodiversity and marine protected areas; the blue economy; and climate change, the Contracting Parties agree in the Declaration to integrate them into the 2022-2027 Medium Term Strategy of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system.
But the Declaration is not a mere expression of intent. It effectively provides pointers for action, for instance by calling for the full implementation of the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean (in the Framework of Article 15 of the Land Based Sources Protocol) and by stressing the urgency to prevent and significantly reduce plastic leakage in the Mediterranean Sea by 2025. On biodiversity, the text includes a time-bound target: achieving at least 10% of coverage of the Mediterranean region with Marine Protected Areas by the end of 2020.
The community of stakeholders complementing and supporting the work of the MAP-Barcelona Convention system must seize this moment of high political commitment to demand swifter progress on all fronts, notably on enforcement of existing legally-binding instruments and on Protocols that have not yet come into force, sometimes because just one ratification is missing.
MAP Partners among the vibrant Mediterranean civil society have an important role to play in turning commitments into action. Public awareness and media scrutiny can also ensure that the enthusiasm and willingness to do the right thing do not wane.
In 2020—hailed as the super year for biodiversity and for the oceans—the Mediterranean Action Plan will need all the support it can get to make progress on implementation and enforcement. The comprehensive legal framework offered by the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols needs to be translated into action on the ground and at sea.
The investment that must be made in climate change adaptation offers opportunities for more sustainable and resilient pathways to growth. Unlocking the potential of the blue economy without further straining the Mediterranean ecosystems will also be crucial. Let us make the Naples Ministerial Declaration a manifesto for a new deal for the Mediterranean Sea and Coastal region.