08 Apr 2021

Venue: Online | Webex

This event, organized within the framework of the Geneva Environment Network, presented environmental and developmental challenges faced by the Mediterranean region. In the run-up to the 22nd meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention) in December 2021, this event also discussed the opportunity for the Contracting Parties to "flick the green switch” for a sustainable, resilient and inclusive future in the basin.

The Mediterranean: a region at the crossroads

Two recent reports sponsored by the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan – Barcelona Convention (UNEP/MAP) system — the State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED), produced by Plan Bleu, and the First Mediterranean Assessment Report (MAR 1) released by the network of Mediterranean Experts on Climate and environmental Change (MedECC) — shed new light on the hefty toll that the global triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is taking on Mediterranean ecosystems.

According to the ‘twin reports’, the Mediterranean region is not on track to achieve the SDGs, confirming the urgency of a green renaissance in the post-COVID era. But a recent analysis of spending by the world’s leading economies, led by the University of Oxford and UNEP, concluded that only 18% of announced recovery spending can be considered green.

The panel discussion, which included a Q&A session, offered insights into the levers of transformative change that decision-makers can use to make peace with nature in the Mediterranean. As it prepares for the 22nd Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (COP 22) (December 2021, Antalya, Turkey), UNEP/MAP presented examples of its work on setting the green renaissance in motion.


By intervention order

Gaetano LEONE

Coordinator, UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat

H.E. Amb. Sadık ARSLAN

Permanent Representative of Turkey to the United Nations Office at Geneva and other international organizations in Switzerland


Deputy Director, Plan Bleu


Coordinator, Corporate Department, IUCN Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation


UNEP Young Champion of the Earth 2020 (Europe Winner)


Director, Europe Office, UNEP (moderator)


Welcome and Introduction

Making Peace with Nature | Bruno POZZI, UNEP

We must make peace with nature: our development cannot be one that keeps ignoring nature, its value and the benefits it provides to our economic development and societies. Nature was a central theme at the fifth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), where we witnessed a call for decisive action to protect and restore nature, and apply nature-based solutions in order to achieve the SDGs and build back better in a post-pandemic world. The recently launched UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration is the latest call for action by the UN family. It sets a dynamic strategy of empowering, investing and setting incentives to set the world on track for sustainability.

Nature and the solutions it provides are a priority area, especially in the Mediterranean region, which has historically featured one of the most human dominated landscape in the world. Applying nature-based solutions to ensure ecological connectivity, to restore depleted ecosystems and build resilience to climate change is crucial. The Mediterranean basin is one of the hotspots for biodiversity in the world. However, its ecosystems are threatened by pollution and ecosystem degradation, which often start kilometres away from the river deltas that make the Mediterranean Sea.

They activities undertaken under the Barcelona Convention and Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) are therefore indispensable to protect both the land-based and marine environments of the Mediterranean Sea. The UNEP Europe Office is proud to support these activities and give them an echo in International Geneva, where many other stakeholders are also convinced that nature is an ally to combat climate change, to prevent further zoonoses outbreak, to secure lives supporting ecosystem, and to support societal transition from a linear to circular economy with less pollution.

A Region at a Crossroads – Towards a Green Renaissance in the Mediterranean

The Barcelona Convention System’s Response to the Environmental Crisis | Gaetano LEONE, UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention

Taking the pulse of the Mediterranean through rigorous monitoring has been one of the core functions of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention since its beginning almost five decades ago. With more than 512 million inhabitants, the region is experiencing acute symptoms of the triple planetary crisis of biodiversity loss, climate change and pollution. These symptoms are now compounded by the pandemic, which presents great challenges but also opportunities.

The figures reveal many worrying trends. Around 730 tons of plastic waste arrive the sea everyday. In 2016, more than 220’000 people died prematurely due to air pollution. Experts have recorded 1’000 non-indigenous invasive species. Crop productivity is expected to decrease by 20% by 2080 in the region. The Mediterranean is also a hotspot for climate change, with warming occurring 20% faster than the global average. Science has spoken and its findings confirm the urgency of taking action to address these crises.

This science is now encapsulated in the “twin reports”: the State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED), produced by Plan Bleu, and the First Mediterranean Assessment Report (MAR 1) released by the network of Mediterranean Experts on Climate and environmental Change (MedECC). As the most comprehensive regional assessment of its kind in a decade, the SoED shows that the Mediterranean is not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030 and warns that relentless pressure on ecosystems from economic sectors will lead to irreversible environmental damage. Meanwhile, the MAR 1 report points to far-reaching environmental and socio-economic impacts of climate change in the region.

In a midst of the pandemic, both reports provide timely evidence to support a One Health approach, whereby healthy ecosystems underpin human health. The message is extremely clear: the Mediterranean is on a collision course with nature. Humanity is facing an existential threat. The scale of the environmental crisis is worsening rapidly and demands an adequate response. Therefore, a green renaissance in the Mediterranean is needed to drive a post-COVID era that sees the Mediterranean economy take off on more sustainable and resilient grounds.

The full implementation of the obligations by the contracting Parties of the Convention and the participation of stakeholders constitute a crucial building block for this green renaissance that we wish to see in the region. Enforcement is one of our absolute priorities after almost five decades of maturing one of the most complete regulatory and institutional set-ups in any regional sea around the world. This normative buildup has now outpaced enforcement and compliance at the national level. It is now time to start looking at how we can launch a national recovery taking advantage of the opportunities the enforcement of and compliance with the Barcelona Convention offer. We also have a Mediterranean strategy for Sustainable Development, which provides a blueprint for green action aligned with the UN 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

The Renaissance was a period in European history marking the transition from the Middle Age to Modernity through great social, economic and cultural changes. Similarly today, in the midst of a big crisis, Mediterranean countries stand at a crossroads. As we start the countdown to a post-COVID era, decision-makers are facing a momentus dilemma. The case for recovering better and greener is compelling. In theory, all the ingredients are in place, as we have a robust science foundation, green technology, financial flows, public awareness and engagement, regional solidarity, and a history of leadership in the region.

We are doing everything we can to put the green renaissance on the Mediterranean agenda, notably through next Conference of the Parties (COP22) in December 2021, generously hosted by Turkey. We will submit a raft of new anti-pollution pro-sustainability regional plans and decisions for adoption. The delegates will also review and approve the UNEP-MAP medium-term strategy until 2027. COP22 can serve as a regional forum for a high-level policy dialogue on flicking the green switch for a sustainable and resilient future in the Mediterranean.

From Napoli to Antalya: Stepping up Multilateralism for a Resilient Future for All | H.E. Amb. Sadik ARSLAN

If we fail to make peace with nature, all the other efforts will be void and we will not be able to deliver our responsibilities and sense of justice to future generations. The Mediterranean is not an ordinary water body; it is the common cradle of our civilizations, science, innovation, art and culture. A renaissance is certainly needed, because the way we consume, waste, make use of energy resources has to be changed. The current state of our economic affairs is not sustainable. The Mediterranean basin is the right place to make some exemplary practices.

Turkey is fully committed to the conservation and sustainable use of seas and marine resources, and preservation of the Mediterranean marine and coastal environments. Fostering plans to achieve sustainable development is of particular importance. The Mediterranean region is facing important environmental challenges and disasters, which will intensify in the future. Coping with these challenges requires shared understand and joint action. Turkey is contributing to the international endeavors through multilateral mechanisms such as the Barcelona Convention, and is proud of the work that has been done by UNEP-MAP and the contracting Parties.

Within the Barcelona Convention, we have been very active to further the synergies to protect the Mediterranean environment since 2002. In 2013, Turkey hosted the COP18 in Istanbul and in 2016, Istanbul Environment Friendly City Award was initiated to recognize the efforts of local authorities toward sustainable development in the Mediterranean. The Naples ministerial declaration – the output of the COP21 – provides a significant political will for the steps to take in the areas of climate change, biodiversity and marine litter. Among the achievements, the integration of planning and management approaches regarding marine and coastal areas is a landmark output.

Turkey will be hosting the COP22 on 7-10 December 2021 in Antalya. During the conference, we aim at further enhancing the efforts made until now and strengthening the commitment under the framework of the convention. Concerning our plans beyond COP22, Turkey aims at promoting circular economy for social and economic development, increasing marine protected area and managing them efficiently, and enhancing climate resilience in the Mediterranean. In this process, we are happy to receive inputs from all stakeholders. With your contributions, we can set an agenda and become more efficient in our common efforts.

Turkey is also deploying national efforts on the issues covered by Barcelona Convention. We provide legislation and good practices to address environmental problems in line with the sustainable development principles. Turkey makes great efforts to increase the number protected areas, restore and sustainably use ecosystems. We also initiated a blue card system against pollution to track sea vessels waste in our region. In 2020, 486 beaches and 22 marinas in Turkey were awarded with the blue flag.

Our recently adopted zero waste approach allowed us to decrease plastic bag waste by 80% over the past two years. Public awareness is growing every day and hopefully our efforts will bear even more fruits in the future. On biodiversity, Turkey has made significant investment to increase its forested areas and taken steps to protect its genes resources with the Ancestral Seed Project. We highly value preserving biodiversity at the regional and global level, which is also why we will host the 16th Conference of the Parties of the UN Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD COP16).

Finally, Turkey is participating to the efforts of the Union for the Mediterranean in the field of blue economy, with projects aiming at economic growth through sustainable use of marine resources while preserving the nature. We are participating to the efforts of the Union for the Mediterranean in that field. To conclude, Turkey is glad to see that Barcelona Convention and UNEP/MAP are setting a sound base for the parties and a good example for other regions, as the world leading regional sea program. As the host country of COP22, Turkey will do its utmost to further promote these efforts.

Levers of Action from the State of the Environment and Development Report | Lina TODE, Plan Bleu

We are experiencing a systemic problem, where everything is linked. There is no such thing as a single linear relationship between the different subsystems, sectors or habitats, and no single guilty sector. Everything needs to be changed, and we need to go back to the root causes of this systemic crisis. The main driver of change in the planet’s recent history are human activities, which are driven by our basis needs but also our prevalent values and aspirations. In our current society, the latter include systemic incoherence with sustainability, as our values translate into unsustainable consumption and production patterns. Therefore, the most efficient lever of action for a green renaissance is our collective mindset.

The SoED report clearly shows how the Mediterranean accumulates unique and vulnerable resources that are increasingly under pressure. The region is a biodiversity hotspot with the highest rate of endemic species in the world, and a cultural hotspot with 191 Unesco World Heritage Sites. At the same time, population concentration is a growing pressure, with 70% of the Mediterranean population living in cities and one third in the coastal zones. This situation is further exacerbated by intense tourist flows. The Mediterranean is also one of the world busiest shipping lanes, facing issues of air and water pollution, underwater noise, etc.

Climate change further exacerbates this situation and its effects are already visible today. The MAR 1 report, developed in close coordination with the SoED report, shows that the air in the Mediterranean has already warmed by 1.5°C, while seawater temperature has increased by 0.4°C. By the end of the century, the sea level would rise up to 2.5m, putting at risk more than 20 million people. Many coastal cultural heritage sites are at risk of flooding and erosion due to sea level rise.

Despite these alarming statements, the mobilization of stakeholders made it possible to achieve progress in certain areas, for example for bathing water quality or accidents at sea involving oil and hazardous substances. However, these areas of progress have not been sufficient to reduce pressures and degradation in the Mediterranean, and to enhance populations’ resilience to climate change. We are not on track to achieve the SDGs by 2030.

The Mediterranean needs a fundamental reorganization of the Mediterranean system overall with profound changes of behaviors at all levels in all areas. The flicking of the green switch must be mainstreamed into collective and individual decision. We need to completely abandon the unsustainable development paths and organized a systemic switch. Half-heartened decisions and policies will not have their place in resolving the challenges ahead. To achieve these profound changes, the SoED report identified ten levers of action.

The UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system can play a major role in fostering sustainability transition. However, this requires an urgent step up from planning and commitment to widespread implementation and effective enforcement. The latter is currently lagging far behind the ambition of commonly-agreed and well-informed measures. Reducing this huge implementation gap is one of the main lever of action for decision-makers.

Another important lever of action is foresight, as flicking the switch comes with a high number of uncertainties and we currently only have a vague idea of what a new green state could be. While it is expressed in the SDGs and the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development, the narrative of what life would be like is still missing. This is a crucial missing element as we need to have a representation of the goal to figure out how to get there, and national decision-makers will have to deal with trade-offs. Therefore, we are now working on a foresight exercise (MED2050) at the regional and local level with the aim to come up with alternative shared narratives about the future.

Plan Bleu and the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system are looking forward to further working together with our contracting Parties on flicking the switch and stepping up to our shared responsibility to preserve and sustainably develop our common heritage for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations.

Proposal for an Emission Control Area for SOx in the Mediterranean under the Barcelona Convention | Gaetano LEONE

The Mediterranean Sea is one of the busiest seas in the world and an important shipping route. In 2019, around 24% of global fleet of ships and more than 17% of worldwide cruises passed in the Mediterranean. Therefore, UNEP/MAP is working on a roadmap for the designation of the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides (SECA) that will be examined by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention at COP 22 in December.

There us a need to invest in sustainability by transforming key economic sectors which are identified as drivers of environmental degradation, such as maritime transport. This includes paying a green premium, which corresponds to the cost of decoupling growth from pollution. This cost is quickly offset by the extraordinary benefits it offers in terms of public health and healthier ecosystems.

For several years, we have been preparing with our contracting Parties and partners the possible designation of the Mediterranean as a SECA. Feasibility studies shows clear benefits: by capping the content of sulphur oxides (SOx) in fuel oil burned by ships at one fifth of the current legal limit, such as designation would lead to a 75% decrease of SOx emissions in the region. Such a reduction is of magnitude that would really matter, especially in populous coastal zones. Cleaner air would mean better health, as exposure to these pollutants is linked with higher risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular illnesses, asthma, etc. It would also bring significant benefits to the environment – as SOx can cause acid rain which exacerbate ocean acidification – and increase visibility both in land and at sea.

We realize that such a process is very political, with financial and technological implications that may exacerbate the inequalities in the region. Yet, we work on this process jointly with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the Mediterranean Regional Centre for Emergency Action against Accidental Pollution (REMPEC). The Parties are sensible to these discussions, and we hope to have them on board in December at COP22. Either way, the trend toward capping such emissions is clear: it’s happening at the global level and populations, especially in coastal areas and port cities, are calling for it. Thus, we do hope that Antalya will lead us to such a designation.

Priorities for Biodiversity Conservation in the Mediterranean | Lourdes LAZARO MARÍN, IUCN

Biodiversity knowledge of the marine environment is still an unknown field, particularly the Eastern Mediterranean and North Africa as well as offshore environments, and deep-sea ocean. However, we do know that the Mediterranean is a biodiversity hot spot that that it is threatened. According to the IUCN Red list, at least 90 marine species are threatened with extinction, due to multiple factors including interaction with fisheries, degradation of habitat and marine waters, coastal development activities, climate change, and other anthropogenic pressures.

This figure is even more worrying when we consider that we do not have enough information about at least 23% of marine species to define their conservation status. We need to foster more scientific research to fill these gaps. For some of these species, we already have management measures in place, but we need to implement action plans effectively in many more cases. Scientific evidence is an essential component for management decisions.

Marine protected areas (MPA) play a key role in preserving species. While we have the ambition to increase the number of MPA, currently only 10% of those sites implement properly management plans. It is urgent to consolidate the network of MPA and build on other effective area-based conservation measures, with adequate management plans, financial resources and skilled staff. We also need to look after our coastal ecosystems – wetlands, deltas, estuaries, etc – that provide important services to our societies. The Paris Agreement recognizes the role of these ecosystems to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, with important co-benefits for people and biodiversity. Climate change also has dramatic impact on the Mediterranean biodiversity through temperature rise and ocean acidification.

IUCN is promoting a range of measures to promote and conserve marine and coastal ecosystems. Our goal is to help decision-makers adopt nature-positive policies and measures guided by tools such as the IUCN Global Standard for Nature-based Solutions or the IUCN Green List for Protected and Conserved Areas. In order to achieve this goal, we need to work with stakeholders in the private and improve coordination within national governmental institutions. We also need to redouble efforts to improve waste collection and management, to reduce global rate of plastic production, and eliminating single-use plastic products.

It is time to reinforce our regional institutions and pollical frameworks. At COP22 of the Barcelona Convention, we will be discussing the new post-2021 Strategic Action Programme for the conservation of Biological Diversity (SAP-BIO). This important programme will identify needs, priorities, synergies for the conservation and sustainable use of marine and coastal biodiversity in the Mediterranean. To start reversing the current tendencies, we also need to reinforce the solutions starting at the local level and promote outreach activities aimed at fishermen, marine recreational businesses, sailors, and young people, which can be the champions of this transformative change.

The IUCN World Conservation Congress in September 2021 in Marseille will also be a key milestone for nature conservation and the development of a new global framework for biodiversity. At this meeting, scientists, policy experts, business leaders and professionals from around the globe will discuss how to get nature right and how to achieve the SDGs and the climate change targets. A key topic will be how to ensure that nature is part of the economic recovery to address the impacts of this pandemic. In that regard, IUCN supports a proposal for a Nature-based Recovery initiative which aims to ensure that at least 10% of overall investments in stimulus packages are channeled towards nature, Nature-based Solutions and other interventions that add value to nature. We hope to build together this momentum for transformative action to address one of the major crises of our planet by maintaining nature and ecosystems.

Engaging with Citizens | Lefteris ARAPAKIS, UNEP Young Champion of the Earth

My name is Lefteris Arapakis from Greece and I am the co-founder and director of Enaleia, which in Greek means “together with the fishermen”. Our journey started in 2016: unemployment had exploded, while my father, who is a fisherman, was complaining that he couldn’t find enough personal for the fishing boat. With a friend, we decided to create the first school for professional fishing in the country which has since trained more than 115 unemployed people.

As we embarked on a fishing trip, we were shocked by the amount of plastic that fishermen pull out of the sea together with the fish. We realized there is no use to training more fishermen, if there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050. Therefore, we decided to act upon it in collaboration with local fishermen. However, the plastic we found in the sea was not only coming from Greece. To address the global nature of the problem, we started Mediterranean Cleanup, an initiative to mobilize fishermen all over the Mediterranean to collect plastic. Currently, we work with 21 fishing communities from Greece and Italy, which represents 1’000 professional fishermen, and we are cleaning 4 tons of plastic every week.

Collecting plastic from the sea alone cannot be the answer. Therefore, we also collect used fishing equipment from those communities to prevent it from becoming marine litter. Half of the waste we collect is recycled locally and the other half is sent to upcycling facilities in Europe to create new products, such as new fishing nets or clothes. All of this work was possible thanks to the collaboration with fishermen. Some of the main lessons we learned from engaging with citizens include:

  1. It is crucial to listen to local communities and hear their opinions on what can be done better.
  2. It is important to show citizen what solutions can be implemented locally, rather than just telling them what needs to be done. Leading by example is essential to build trust.
  3. We need to create the necessary incentives for citizens to act and develop long-term win-win partnerships between humans and nature.
  4. Engaging with the younger generation, which is full of drive and motivation, can be extremely fruitful. By mobilizing local young communities, we can create ripple effects that have an actual impact on climate change.

To sum-up, if I – a young person from a small fishing community of Greece – can mobilize the fishermen of the Mediterranean to collect plastic from the sea, then I think everybody can mobilize their own communities to act against climate change. We need to act now.

Discussion | Q&A

Q: Have you thought about the introduction and implementation of the Rights of Nature at the core of your work – as that could help solve a lot of the issues that are affecting the Mediterranean region in one policy?

Lina Tode: The SoED touches upon the Rights of Nature, from the perspective of the increase of environmental legislation in various countries. In many place, civil society is asking for their rights to nature. We also discuss this issue with regards to payment for ecosystem services. In this area, we would like to move things into a new direction and take into account the rights to nature in the socio-economic system of the Mediterranean.

Gaetano Leone: At the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, an important resolution on human rights and the environment was approved. This is a very encouraging sign to continue the work toward the recognition of the right to a healthy environment as a basic human right.

Q: Will UNEP and MAP comment or provide recommendations on the National Recovery Plans, since this is a great opportunity to promote national sustainability plans and linking to SDGs? Can compliance with prior obligations under the Barcelona Convention help Contracting Parties recover better from COVID-19?

Gaetano Leone: The colossal sums that are flowing toward recovery must prioritize green paths. National recovery plans are a crucial instrument to make the green renaissance happen. While we are not in a position to identify the ideal national plan, we know that these plans must become the driver of a new relationship with nature and new economic opportunities. UNEP/MAP will be looking at national recovery plans if our counterparts in governments ask us. With or without COVID, our entire work is targeting this green renaissance. In that regard, it’s important to work with a regional integrated approach which goes hand-in-hand with national efforts. While frameworks at the global level tend to have a very thematically focused approach, our regional work is the opportunity to integrate many challenges and sectors.

Q: The dimension of the crises we are facing far outweigh the speed and scale of the responses and solutions we are putting forward. What is THE ONE essential ingredient that is missing in your view to make change possible, urgently?

Lourdes Lazaro Marin: Monitoring is very important in this process, because it facilitates progress and helps to develop insightful policy responses. Therefore, we need to improve monitoring and the way we report back, especially on species conservation and protected areas. Without monitoring, we do not know if we are doing the right things.

Bruno Pozzi: Monitoring is indeed where science comes in and enlighten the decisions. But there must be political and economic transformation decisions, and that is really the call we make to all stakeholders.

Gaetano Leone: Assessment is crucial to tailor responses to the challenges we face. The Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme of the Mediterranean Sea and Coast (IMAP) is an initiative from the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention combining more than ten years of work on mainstreaming the ecosystem approach. IMAP aims to provide homogenous sets of data for the entire Mediterranean. Therefore, we are working with countries to develop national infrastructure to build their own capacity. This initiative is very ambitious, difficult, and expensive but the Parties are on board and we are pushing for it.

Q: What is the role of monitoring, forecasting research and observation infrastructures in the Mediterranean in establishing priorities, in addition to the conservation of biodiversity and climate change?

Gaetano Leone: Finding one missing ingredient is extremely complex. We are not missing awareness, nor scientific evidence. At this moment, what we need most is cooperation among the governments and institutions in the region, but also in a transversal way. We also need vertical cooperation, through all the components of society.


Concluding Remarks | Bruno POZZI, UNEP

The challenge is gigantic, but it can be tackled because we have the necessary scientific evidence and we have translated it into messages to get political and multilateral action and commitment.  This momentum is being built toward COP22 of the Barcelona Convention in December 2021.

By engaging on the economic and social transformation, we can advance our agenda and preserve the unique biodiversity and ecosystems of the Mediterranean, both at sea and at land. Therefore, the message we’ve heard today is one that calls for urgent action to save the Mediterranean for us and future generations. It is a huge challenge indeed, but there is a strong commitment to deliver a positive result and to make it sustainable.

The crucial element is to make peace with nature. We are facing a human-made crisis, and thus we have a responsibility to solve it. And we will solve it by recognizing that we are part of an ecosystem, that economic and social development has to be respectful of and aligned with the limits of these ecosystems, and that continuing with the current levels of pollution, biodiversity loss, and non-action on climate change is a recipe for disaster. Putting human at the center of action and the solution is thus part of the answer.


In addition to the live WebEx transmission, the video is available on this webpage.

“Dig deeper”

As Mediterranean countries continued to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, two seminal reports sponsored by the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system and released in 2020 shed new light on the hefty toll that the global triple crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is taking on Mediterranean ecosystems. Their publication during a global pandemic of zoonotic origin was a fitting coincidence: it provided a timely surge of evidence in favor of the one-health approach and the need to bolster the region’s resilience.

The science has spoken

The two reports, SoED and MAR 1 on “Climate and Environmental Change – Current Situation and Risks for the Future”, show how vulnerable the basin’s ecosystems are to the combined pressure from anthropogenic activities and climate change.

Produced by Plan Bleu, a UNEP/MAP Regional Activity Centre, SoED is the most comprehensive regional assessment of its kind in a decade. It warns that the Mediterranean is not on track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Rising inequality, biodiversity loss, the growing impact of climate change and unrelenting pressure on ecosystems from economic sectors can lead to irreversible environmental damage in the basin. Unless urgent and resolute action is taken to halt current trends, environmental degradation could have serious and lasting consequences for human health and livelihoods in the region.

Released by MedECC, which is co-sponsored by the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system, MAR 1 has established the facts of the unfolding climate crisis in the basin. The peer-reviewed findings point to far-reaching impacts affecting both natural and socio-economic systems in a basin that is warming 20 per cent faster than the global average.

The science encapsulated in the ‘twin reports’ confirms the urgency of a post-COVID green renaissance in the Mediterranean, which would entail diverting current trajectories towards more sustainable and resilient paths.

A blueprint for a green renaissance

Since spring 2020, the UNEP/MAP – Barcelona Convention Secretariat, together with the six Regional Activity Centres based in Croatia, France, Italy, Malta, Spain and Tunisia, set about determining how the MAP system can support the regional response to the COVID-19 crisis. Two priorities were identified: ensuring that the COVID-induced disruptions do not result in a lax approach to environmental regulations—which would erode hard-won gains under the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols—and advocating for practical ways in which Mediterranean countries can recover in a more sustainable and resilient fashion.

The Mediterranean has one of the most advanced normative frameworks set up under UNEP auspices in the context of the Regional Seas Programme. Since the signing of the Barcelona Convention 45 years ago, a stratification process has all but covered the full spectrum of themes pertaining to marine and coastal environmental management, pollution and conservation in the context of sustainable development. But this normative build-up has outpaced enforcement and compliance at the national level. The recovery from the pandemic offers an opportunity to boost enforcement and compliance at a hitherto unprecedented pace and scale. This is the region’s best chance to rescue Mediterranean ecosystems from their predicament, in line with the recommendations of the recently published “Making Peace with Nature report by UNEP.

The full implementation of obligations by the Contracting Parties and the participation of stakeholders, including civil society organizations, businesses and informed citizens, constitute crucial building blocks for a green renaissance. In addition to greater compliance with and enforcement of the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, the implementation of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD) provides a blueprint for green action aligned with the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement.

The decision-maker’s dilemma

The realization that the region—and the world—will have to learn to live with COVID-19 (because even the richest nations cannot afford indefinite lockdowns and economy-suffocating measures) and the rollout of vaccination programmes in several countries have started the countdown to the post-lockdown era.

As attention begins to shift from short-term rescue measures to recovery, a recent analysis of spending by the world’s leading economies, led by the University of Oxford and UNEP, concluded that only 18% of announced recovery spending can be considered green. The report provides insights that decision-makers in the Mediterranean region can consider in setting the compass towards a greener future.

Mediterranean countries stand at a crossroads. The dilemma that decision-makers face is momentous, especially in national contexts where economies had been in dire straits even before COVID-19 struck. Will it be a rush to resuscitate business-as-usual as soon as epidemiologically possible? Or will countries embark on a bold transformation of their economies?

A watershed moment?

In theory all the ingredients of a green renaissance are in place: the science has spoken, several Mediterranean countries are situated at the cutting-edge of green technology, financial flows are pumping, and regional solidarity is increasingly visible on the agenda. In February 2021 the European Commission announced a new ‘Agenda for the Mediterranean’, which includes a dedicated Economic and Investment Plan to spur the long-term socio-economic recovery in “the mutual interest of the EU and its Southern neighbors”. The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and national recovery plans open a highway to recovery across the region.

Paying the ‘green premium’—the cost of the transformative changes needed in sectors such as tourism, agriculture (including fisheries and aquaculture), industry and transport—will be offset by significant benefits in public health and in healthier, and therefore more productive ecosystems.

Putting the green renaissance on the Mediterranean agenda 

In December 2021, UNEP/MAP will submit a raft of new anti-pollution, pro-sustainability regional plans and decisions for adoption at the 22nd Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (COP 22, Antalya, Turkey), including a potentially groundbreaking roadmap for the designation of the Mediterranean as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides (with immense benefits for coastal populations and ecosystems).

COP 22 of the Barcelona Convention will also adopt the UNEP/MAP Medium-Term Strategy (MTS) 2022-2027, echoing the priorities set by UNEP while also considering the specificities of the Mediterranean. The meeting can serve as a regional forum for a high-level policy dialogue on “flicking the green switch” for a sustainable, resilient and inclusive future in the Mediterranean.