EDITORIAL By Gaetano Leone, Coordinator, UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention Secretariat
The last time I wrote for MED-NEWS, our MAP system newsletter, COVID-19 was still rising on the horizon as an unprecedented global threat. We are now beginning to come to terms with the hefty toll that the pandemic has taken through loss of life, human suffering and massive economic disruptions in our region.
Mediterranean countries have taken measures to flatten the curve of infections, including lockdowns for several weeks and, in some cases, months. In Athens, the UNEP/MAP Coordinating Unit has been implementing alternative working modalities since mid-March, with staff working from home to ensure the continuation of activities. Our Regional Activity Centres, depending on the situation in their host countries, also put in place similar arrangements.
Although this was uncharted professional territory for our people and despite crippling travel restrictions, we managed to conduct our business in a surprisingly efficient manner. Important MAP governing body meetings, including the Bureau meeting—the first since COP 21 (Naples, 2-5 December 2019)—and the meeting of the steering committee of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development went well and saw rich discussions and renewed expressions of unfaltering support to the UNEP-MAP Barcelona Convention System.
In our commitment to serving the Contracting Parties under the novel and complex situation created by the coronavirus pandemic, we at the UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention Secretariat took it upon ourselves to draw the outlines of a blueprint for a coordinated and consistent systematic response to the emerging challenges created by COVID-19. The blueprint covers the implications of the medical and humanitarian emergency and provides pointers towards a UNEP/MAP contribution to transformational change for nature and people, and to building back better in the recovery from the pandemic.
In many respects, the forward-looking Naples Ministerial Declaration adopted at COP 21 includes fundamental aspects to be addressed in planning a green recovery: climate change, marine litter, biodiversity conservation and a sustainable blue economy. The State of the Environment and Development (SoED) report, which we plan to launch soon jointly with our Regional Activity Centre Plan Bleu and with support from UNEP, also provides insights into the root causes of the environmental degradation observed in our region’s marine and coastal environment. Evidence of the interactions between environment and development in the Mediterranean will be key to learning from the mistakes of the past and to building back better.
The implementation of the priority actions identified in our COVID-19 response blueprint will be based on partnerships and coordination with the Contracting Parties, the Mediterranean Commission for Sustainable Development, sister United Nations agencies and Environmental Multilateral Agreements and with our MAP Partners, including representatives of the vibrant Mediterranean civil society.
Meanwhile, the implementation of Programme of Work of the 2020-2021 biennium went underway in earnest with the activation of important process, including the implementation of the roadmap for “a proposal for the possible designation of the Med SOx ECA”. We have also initiated important work on updating and developing new legally binding measures under three Regional Plans on wastewater management, sludge management and marine litter management in line with Article 15 of the LBS Protocol of the Barcelona Convention.
One of the highlights of this biennium will be the inception of the USD 43 million “Mediterranean Sea Programme (MedProgramme): Enhancing Environmental Security”, which will take place on 20-22 July 2020 with the participation of the beneficiary countries—Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, Montenegro, Tunisia and Turkey—and UNEP/MAP partners in its implementation. The MedProgramme, for which we are the main executing agency, will constitute a significant UNEP/MAP contribution in the framework of our strategic partnership with the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Following its launch on 10 March 2020, the new IMAP-MPA project funded by the European Union (EU) has seen the adoption of key working documents and action plans relating to its two-pronged aim: strengthening national capacities in integrated monitoring of the Mediterranean Sea and Coast, and enhancing the management of marine protected areas in the region.
We are now in the process of finalizing two additional EU-funded project documents, namely the “EcAp Med III” and “Marine Litter MED II”. The EcAp MED III project will support the implementation of the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP) and generate quality assured data that will feed into the next edition of the Mediterranean Quality Status Report (MED QSR), which will be delivered in 2023, in line with relevant decisions adopted by the Contracting Parties at COP 20 and COP 21.
On a different but closely related track, the Marine Litter MED II project will further strengthen the implementation of Regional Plans on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean. It will support monitoring and assessment, as well as actions in the field in southern Mediterranean countries with the aim of reducing and preventing marine litter in pilot areas.
In relation to marine litter, we will assess the extent to which the widespread use of disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) and anti-COVID-19 chemical disinfectants are resulting in additional heaps of litter and in potentially harmful agents leaking into the marine and coastal environment. Our intention is to rapidly develop responses to this growing challenge that compounds the already serious impact of marine litter in the Mediterranean.
We are determined to support our region by mobilizing the entire arsenal of expertise and knowledge that we have at our disposal within the UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention System. There is no silver lining to be found in the COVID-19 pandemic, but we believe that our region must seize a historic opportunity to recover in a smart, evidence-based fashion. Important elements of our thinking on this important challenge are captured in our recent calls for a Green Renaissance in Mare Nostrum, which you can find in this article that UNEP published on the International Day for Biological Diversity and in my message on behalf of the UNEP/ MAP on World Oceans Day.
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