08 Jun 2020 Opinion

Marking World Oceans Day in the Mediterranean

Marking World Oceans Day in the Mediterranean: a message from Gaetano Leone, Coordinator, UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention Secretariat

In response to the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, Mediterranean countries are in the process of introducing policy, measures and stimulus packages to support recovery. Millions of jobs are on the line and according to initial estimates, lockdowns aiming to weather the pandemic will have already knocked several percentage points off national income. Yet despite the trail of destruction that COVID-19 is leaving in its wake, the region must seize a historic opportunity to build back better.


Building back better entails revisiting our relationship with nature. In the Mediterranean billions will be injected into economic recovery programmes. Decisions on which sectors these flows will pour into and whether green jobs and renewable energy will be prioritised over the unsustainable business-as-usual will shape our collective future in the region.

The Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols stand at a historic juncture. There are several ways in which the UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention system can help underpin their action to build back better for a green renaissance in Mare Nostrum:

by enhancing knowledge for evidence-based policies

Produced by our Regional Activity Centre Plan Bleu, the Report on the State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED) will be released in the second half of 2020. Decision-makers will find in it insights into the root causes of the environmental degradation observed in the region’s marine and coastal environment. 

Additional knowledge products in the making include the first Mediterranean Assessment Report (MAR1) by the Mediterranean Experts on Climate and environmental Change (MedECC), a science policy interface that UNEP/MAP supports, and the MED 2050 Foresight Study.

by bolstering Monitoring and assessment capacities

UNEP/MAP developed a powerful tool for the production of harmonized environmental data, namely the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP). Adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention in 2016, IMAP is transforming the way environmental data is produced and processed in our region.

Through a set of indicators based on the Ecosystem Approach—the guiding principle of our work—, IMAP enhances monitoring capacity to assess the impact of future development paths on the Mediterranean marine and coastal environment. Based on IMAP, UNEP/MAP will release an enhanced second edition of the Mediterranean Quality Status Report (MED QSR) in 2023. Meanwhile, UNEP/MAP system components, including MED POL, SPA/RAC and PAP/RAC, will continue to support Mediterranean countries in their monitoring, reporting and assessment efforts in important areas such as pollution and marine litter, biodiversity and non-indigenous species, as well as coastal zones and hydrography.

by strengthening adaptation to climate change in coastal zones

The Mediterranean region is home to more than 510 million people with one in three living in the populous coastal areas. The vulnerable Coast must cope with relentless urban pressure coupled with the rising impacts of climate change. Coastal zones are faced with the grim prospect of erosion and the salinization of river deltas and aquifers that underpin livelihoods and food security. According to the soon-to-be-launched SoED report, sea-level rise may vary between 45 centimeters and more than 2 meters by 2100.

Adopted in 2008, the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Protocol of the Barcelona Convention provides an essential legally binding instrument for the protection of coastal zones. In 2016 the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention endorsed the Regional Climate Change Adaptation Framework for the Mediterranean Marine and Coastal Areas developed by UNEP/MAP in order to equip decision-makers with a reliable tool for the identification of the most adequate climate change adaptation options.

The Priority Actions Programme Regional Activity Centre (PAP/RAC), a UNEP/MAP Component, continues to produce a wealth of manuals, guidelines and other tools for the implementation of the ICZM Protocol. PAP/RAC also supports national climate change adaptation strategies that bolster resilience to climate change while tapping into the potential of the blue economy.

by protecting the beleaguered wildlife in the Mediterranean 

One of the lessons learned from COVID-19 is that ecosystem integrity can help regulate diseases by supporting a diversity of species so that it is more difficult for one pathogen to spill over, amplify or dominate. We will continue working on restoring the health of strained ecosystems and on halting the relentless encroachment on the marine and coastal environment.

There can be no healthy Mediterranean without a thriving wildlife. The Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre (SPA/RAC) is aligning the post-2020 Strategic Action Programme for the Conservation of the Biological Diversity in the Mediterranean Region (SAPBIO) with the post-2020 Biodiversity Framework under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Under the SPA/BD Protocol of the Barcelona Convention, the Contracting Parties have established a growing network of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs). Overall, there are 39 SPAMIs among the 1,233 Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and other area-based conservation measures located in the Mediterranean.

by paving the way for a prosperous and regenerative circular economy

Working with Plan Bleu and other components of the UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention system, our Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP/RAC) has built a solid foundation of up-scalable pilots and technical guidelines on the circular economy, sustainable consumption and production, the blue economy and green entrepreneurship in the Mediterranean.

SCP/RAC recently presented a Conceptual Framework to Guide the Development of Sustainable Business Models. The framework is the latest in a wealth of guidelines and tools aimed at replacing the unsustainable “take-make-dispose” linear model with a vibrant circular economy. There is no way around sustainable consumption and production if we are to emerge from COVID-19 with better prospects for a resilient and sustainable future in harmony with nature.

and by working to curb air pollution from ships with environmental and human health benefits

The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC)—a UNEP/MAP Component that benefits from the support of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)—assists the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention in addressing the adverse externalities of the shipping sector.

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world, hosting 20 percent of seaborne trade and over 200 million passengers. Maritime traffic results in adverse impacts such as air quality degradation, oil and chemical pollution, marine litter and the introduction of non-indigenous species.

In a post-COVID-19 world, shipping in the Mediterranean can become safer and more sustainable. REMPEC is laying the groundwork for the implementation of a roadmap for the proposal of a possible designation of the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides (SECA), in line with the terms of Annex VI of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Th establishment of SECA would reduce morbidity linked with air pollution; REMPEC estimates that it would prevent 1,000 premature deaths and more than 2,000 cases of childhood asthma.

Happy World Oceans Day and thank you for your commitment and support to the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system.