Reconciling pursuit of growth, creation of jobs with protection of nature

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 October, 2023 at 11:31 am by Andre Camilleri

Vanya Walker-Leigh met TATJANA HEMA, coordinator of the UN Environment Programme Mediterranean action plan

What are the leading decisions you would like to see emerge from the 23rd COP meeting in Portoroz to be held in Slovenia on 5-8 December of the 22 Barcelona Convention Contracting Parties from around the sea?

The COP’s theme is Green transition in the Mediterranean: From decisions into actions and its agenda echoes the Contracting Parties’ ambition for healthier marine and coastal ecosystems underpinning sustainable development around the Mediterranean. Key agenda topics will include:

  1. Accelerating the implementation of the Mediterranean countries’ commitments to the protection of biodiversity, including through conservation and the set-up of protected areas – COP 23 will consider decisions to add new species to the Annexes II and III to the Convention’s Specially Protected Areas and Biodiversity (SPA/BD) Protocol and to strengthen the network of Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs). This will also contribute to the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) adopted at the COP 15 meeting last December in Canada of the Contracting Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. SAP BIO or the Strategic Action Programme for the Conservation of Biodiversity and Sustainable Management of Natural Resources in the Mediterranean, is the blueprint Convention Parties have adopted to achieve the Mediterranean commitment to marine and coastal biodiversity conservation while keeping these efforts connected to the GBF targets.
  2. Curbing pollution and ingraining sustainability in the blue economy – The COP 23 agenda will include the adoption of three new Regional Plans on agriculture, aquaculture and urban stormwater management. They include measures that, if implemented, will allow the Contracting Parties to meet their obligations under the Convention’s Land-Based Sources (LBS) Protocol. I also look forward to the adoption of a decision on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), to ensure that the thriving blue economy we all want to see in our region does not come at the expense of marine and coastal ecosystems.
  3. Preparing the 2024-2025 biennium, the halfway point in the implementation of the ambitious UNEP/MAP Medium-Term Strategy (2022-2027) for the Mediterranean region – COP 23 willexamine an ambitious proposal on the UNEP/MAP programme of Work and Budget for the next two years aimed to strengthen the UNEP/MAP means of implementation and match the Contracting Parties’ high level ambition already displayed in successive ministerial declarations. COP 23 is expected to adopt the ambitious Portoroz Ministerial Declaration and mandate important updates to key documents regarding the Ecosystem Approach guiding our collective work, the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP), the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development and the Regional Climate Change Adaptation Framework for the Mediterranean Marine and Coastal Areas.
  4. Enhancing implementation and compliance – We need a new push for compliance with the obligations arising from the Convention and its Protocols. COP 23 will consider an ambitious work plan for the Compliance Committee established under the Convention, and a final proposal regulating the compliance procedures and mechanisms. Strengthening the compliance procedures and mechanisms would allow for the effective operation of the Compliance Committee – an important body critical to the promotion and facilitation of compliance with obligations, especially at national level where gaps persist.
  5. Review ofthe outcome of major regional exercises: the 2023Mediterranean Quality Status Report (2023 MED QSR) andMED 2050, a foresight study – The 2023 MED QSR provides comprehensive and, to the extent possible, quantifiable assessments based on nationally sourced data covering all the Ecological Objectives adopted by the Contracting Parties as part of the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP) and the Ecosystem Approach. The 2023 MED QSR aims at ensuring that environmental and development policies in the Mediterranean region are grounded in evidence.

MED 2050, the foresight study conducted by our Plan Bleu Activity Centre offers insights into several possible visions of the Mediterranean future by 2050 (with an intermediate step at 2030), facilitating policymakers’ visibility and support in identifying no-regret options for putting the region on a path to sustainability and resilience.

COP 23 will also consider the Summary for Policymakers of the Special Report on Climate and Environmental Coastal Risks by the Mediterranean Experts on Climate and Environmental Change (MedECC) – a science-policy interface supported by UNEP/MAP, the Union for the Mediterranean and other partners.

What are the key points of the UNEP MAP Mediterranean Quality Status Report and proposed follow-up actions to be submitted to COP 23 for approval and publication?

The 2023 MED QSR is the most comprehensive and authoritative assessment of the state of the Mediterranean Sea and coast and updates its previous 2017 version. Its main findings indicate a significant loss of marine habitat and widespread damage to the seabed observed at a depth reaching 1,000m, mainly caused by trawling. While observation indicators show an improvement for marine turtles and monk seals, most dolphins and whales continue to face threats. The situation of marine species and endemic birds are also a cause for concern in certain areas.

There are numerous human-induced pressures, starting with climate change and pollution. In addition, the presence of non-indigenous species is one of the drivers of biodiversity loss in the Mediterranean; the MED QSR reveals a significant increase, over the last 15-20 years, in the rate of introduction of such species.

We will point to and highlight its recommendations and promote policies and measures that take this region closer to the vision of healthy marine and coastal systems that underpin sustainable development, including the achievement of related targets under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

How does UNEP MAP visualise the implementation of the region’s green transition decided at COP 22 in 2021 under the Antalya Declaration and its interface with the EU’s Green Deal?

At COP 22 in 2021 contracting parties pledged full support to a green recovery of the Mediterranean region so as to secure a sustainable, resilient, inclusive recovery that accelerates progress in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals. UNEP/MAP is building on this important expression of political commitment to sustain the momentum for the green transition.

The EU Green Deal is an important building block of our region’s green transition and is featured in the UNEP/MAP Medium-term Strategy (2022-2027). Collaboration around and across the Mediterranean will be key to achieve an inclusive and effective green transition which is why we are strengthening and broadening our partnerships. The forthcoming COP 23 is expected to adopt memoranda of understanding with like-minded regional institutions as well as an updated UNEP/MAP partnership policy.

Reconciling the pursuit of growth and the creation of jobs with the protection of nature is at the heart of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD), adopted under the auspices of UNEP/MAP within the framework of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development – an inclusive, multi-stakeholder body established under the Barcelona Convention.

How do you view the current EU-south Mediterranean programmes and activities and EU’s support and involvement in the UNEP-MAP Medium-Term Strategy 2022-2027?

In addition to being a Convention Contracting Party to the Barcelona Convention, the EU has set ambitious targets in the framework of its neighbourhood and accession policies. In this context, the EU has provided continued support to the implementation of successive UNEP/MAP medium-term strategies for the past 10 years, including by funding projects in several Mediterranean countries.

Three current EU-funded projects addressing marine protected areas, the Ecosystem Approach and marine litter, will end in February 2024, but we have already secured new conclusive phases that will continue to provide a strong push to the region and to several contracting parties as they strive to achieve Good Environmental Status (GES).

Can the private sector do more to contribute to the region’s sustainable development and contracting parties’ related goals, bring about higher flows of private investment in particular to south Mediterranean nations. And if so how should Mediterranean governments encourage this type of process?

The private sector is an important ally and contributor to the implementation of the region’s sustainable development and the related goals of the contracting parties to the Barcelona Convention. This is particularly evident in its pivotal role in facilitating the transition to a green economy, specifically in catalyzing and executing sustainable business models.

To this end, a set of regional policy measures was adopted two years ago at COP 22, prepared by SCP/RAC-MedWaves, which contributes to several strategic objectives featured in the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development and the Regional Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production in the Mediterranean.

The WeMed award, created with the support of the SwitchMed programme funded by the European Union, is one of the many UNEP/MAP initiatives aimed at strengthening sustainability in business around the Mediterranean. Managed by SCP/RAC-MedWaves, the award was established by a contracting parties’ decision and is a flagship initiative of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development. This shows that there is a consensus among the contracting parties that the Mediterranean region is ready for a transition to more sustainable consumption and production patterns and that the private sector has a leading role in ensuring that transition.

The contracting parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention) are: The EU and EU members Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Spain; non-EU European states Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Montenegro, Monaco; south Mediterranean states Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. The Convention and its five protocols are serviced by the UN Environment Programme’s Mediterranean Action Plan secretariat, based in Athens.

The Convention’s Protocols concern: preventing/combatting pollution from ships; specially protected areas and biological diversity; protection against pollution from continental and seabed exploration; hazardous wastes and integrated coastal zone management

UNEP MAP Activity Centres are:

  • The Mediterranean Pollution Assessment and Control Programme (MED POL) Athens, Greece
  • The Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) Valletta, Malta
  • The Plan Bleu Regional Activity Centre (PB/RAC) Marseille, France
  • The Priority Actions Programme Regional Activity Centre (PAP/RAC) Split, Croatia
  • The Specially Protected Areas Regional Activity Centre (SPA/RAC) Tunis, Tunisia
  • The Regional Activity Centre for Sustainable Consumption and Production (MedWaves) Barcelona, Spain
  • The Regional Activity Centre for Information and Communication (INFO/RAC) Rome, Italy
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