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Source: Small Island Developing States

The Barcelona Convention, adopted in 1976 and amended in 1995, as the legally-binding component of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), is the first regional seas convention under the auspices of UN Environment Programme (UNEP), providing for the protection of the marine and coastal environment of the Mediterranean. In line with the commitment of the Convention’s 22 Contracting Parties[i] to protect the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal areas and contribute towards its sustainable development, it addresses marine litter and plastic pollution, social and economic development, natural and cultural heritage, and the quality of life of those dependent on the Sea and its resources. Through a partnership of UNEP and the European Commission (EC), and with the leadership of its Contracting Parties, the Convention shows the breadth of what can be achieved through the single entry point of marine conservation.

The collaboration between UNEP and the EC has supported progress towards many of the Convention’s objectives and helped countries pursue an array of development priorities. The partnership has helped the implementation of the Convention and its seven Protocols as a far-reaching framework for addressing pollution, including plastics, green economy, sustainable energy, and sustainable consumption and production (SCP), in addition to regional seas governance and conservation. Contracting Parties to the Convention are taking advantage of the links between development challenges, like circular economy and ocean pollution, to achieve their obligations under the Barcelona Convention and, more recently, the 2030 Agenda.

Bridging Development Challenges

Through the Convention and under the EC-UNEP collaboration, SCP has come sharply into focus as a crosscutting development priority with serious implications for marine and coastal environment. To support the transition to a circular, greener economy, the UNEP/MAP coordinated the policy component of the first phase of the SwitchMed Programme. This is a project, implemented by UNEP/MAP and its SCP Regional Activity Centre (SCP/RAC), UNEP Economy Division and the Un Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), assisting countries with the literal switch to sustainable patterns of consumption and production. It supports communities by giving businesses and individuals the tools and connections to grow social and eco-innovations.

With support from the SwitchMed Programme, the Regional Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production in the Mediterranean was developed and adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention in 2016. Eight southern Mediterranean countries covered by the SwitchMed programme have adopted national SCP action plans. Twenty demonstration projects in the areas identified by these action plans have been implemented. The regional focus on resource efficiency and clean production has yielded tangible benefits including: the savings of 3.6 million in m³ of water, 707 GWh of energy, 33,600 tons of raw material and avoidance of 197,525 tons of CO2 emissions and 3,400 tons of solid waste. Also, 2,300 entrepreneurs were trained and 200 of those managed to launch their sustainable businesses, contributing to more than 1,000 jobs. Technical and communication outputs on these projects and their outcomes informed key global and regional events and fora, including the 2018 Our Ocean meeting and the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4).

The EU-UNEP collaboration has also supported monitoring and reporting on the state of the Mediterranean marine and coastal environment. The ambitious product of this process, the Integrated Monitoring and Assessment Programme (IMAP), was adopted in 2016 as part of the Ecosystem Approach (EcAp) roadmap implementation. It enabled, for the first time, a quantitative, integrated analysis of the state of the marine and coastal environment (2017 Mediterranean Quality Status Report), covering pollution and marine litter, biodiversity, non-indigenous species, coasts and hydrography – all based on common regional indicators, with the overall objective of achieving/ maintaining Good Environmental Status (GES) and associated targets. In that framework, the EU-UNEP collaboration has also supported the implementation of IMAP at country level, with the development of IMAP-compatible national monitoring and assessment programmes.

Other key partnership outcomes included the development of a quality assurance programme for oil and hazardous and noxious substances pollution from ships. As a result, offshore data reporting and collection are happening in line with the IMAP. Further, the Conference of the Parties to the Barcelona Convention adopted the Offshore Action Plan and the first Meeting of the Barcelona Convention Offshore Oil and Gas Group (OFOG) Sub-Group on Environmental Impact of Offshore Monitoring Programmes convened in Greece, in April 2017.

The Barcelona Convention’s Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management is the first ever legally binding instrument on marine litter reduction and prevention at the regional level, providing for a series of measures and obligations on waste management, illegal dumping, prevention, SCP, monitoring and the enforcement of national legislation, with timetables for their implementation. Most of the legally binding measures in the Plan have an implementation deadline of 2020. The evaluation of their progress which is underway by UNEP/MAP will provide a clear picture of targets achieved as well as those obligations for which further support is needed. We do know that the Regional Plan is significantly reducing marine litter in the Mediterranean region. This and many other outcomes will be discussed in detail at the upcoming COP 21 in Naples, Italy, in December 2019.

Looking Forward

In 2018, at a high-level meeting, EC Commissioner Vella and the Executive Director of UNEP signed a second joint UNEP-EC ‘Road Map on Healthy, Productive and Resilient Oceans.’ The Road Map reaffirmed commitments and strengthened efforts to protect the world’s oceans from the rising threats of pollution, marine litter and overfishing. Its milestones included:

  • Setting objectives and related indicators for ocean-related Sustainable Development Goals;
  • Reinforcing cooperation through the Regional Seas programmes;
  • Supporting healthy marine and coastal ecosystems including sustainable fisheries; and
  • Addressing land-based sources of marine pollution.

In concert, ocean and marine litter panel debates in the European Parliament were organized for 28 February 2018 and 5 September 2018.

The Road Map also offered a framework for promoting a coalition of aquariums coming together to fight marine plastic pollution. The coalition, led by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), UNEP and the EC launched at the fifth (2018) edition of the Our Ocean Conference. To date, approximately 200 aquariums have signed on to the coalition, and the EC intends to hand over the Alliance to UNEP at the 2019 Our Oceans conference in Norway.

The Barcelona Convention has played a pioneering role in the family of Regional Seas Conventions. A strategic tool serving the Mediterranean communities, the Convention provides an excellent example from which to extract lessons learned. European Union-funded projects have bolstered such results, yielding outcomes with high replication potential for other regional seas agreements, especially the Nairobi and Abidjan Conventions.

Going forward, the European Union, serving as a Contracting Party to the Convention and key partner, can continue to leverage UNEP-led project achievements through the Barcelona Convention. Outcomes lend to sharing and the further application of what is working to reduce marine pollution and augment the region’s sustainable development.

[i] Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, the European Union, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Slovenia, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey

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