A beacon of hope | New Europe



The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in the Mediterranean region. It has inflicted death and suffering and caused severe economic damage. The macroeconomic shockwaves will likely be followed by a tsunami of social challenges with rising unemployment and widespread loss of income. Most countries will not be able to cope on their own. Regional cooperation and solidarity, especially in the Euro-Med context, will be crucial.

The Union for the Mediterranean is the embodiment of the spirit of Euro-Med solidarity. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process, we are committed to working with our UfM partners to ensure that we build back better in our region for a better future for all. The challenges lying ahead are momentous and time is of the essence.

In the coming weeks and months, stimulus packages and recovery policies will be set in motion to mitigate the economic impact of COVID-19. Choices made today will shape our future. As decision-makers stand at a historic juncture, the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP) is determined to join forces with UfM to advocate a decisive regional push towards sustainability.

UNEP/MAP saw the light of day more than four decades ago to underpin regional action to save the Mediterranean from environmental degradation, enhance marine and coastal resources and ensure their sustainable use with a view to contributing to the sustainable development of the Mediterranean region. Today, the UfM is one of our principal partners in our endeavour to fulfil a vision of healthy and productive ecosystems that underpin sustainable development. Our cooperation is firmly anchored into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The collaboration with the UfM extends to specific themes pertaining to the implementation of the Ecosystem Approach adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention in 2008, including tackling pollution, protecting biological diversity, ensuring integrated coastal zone management, stimulating a sustainable blue economy and addressing climate change.

According to MedECC, a science-policy interface that UNEP/MAP and UfM jointly support, the Mediterranean is warming 20 per cent faster than the global average. The first Mediterranean Assessment Report (MAR 1) to be released by MedECC in 2021 will compile the best available knowledge on climate and environmental change in the region, including impacts and future risks. MAR 1 findings will complement those of the Report on the State of the Environment and Development in the Mediterranean (SoED) to be released by our Regional Activity Centre Plan Bleu later this year.

Although different in nature and scale, climate change and COVID-19 share a common root cause: human activity in relation to the environment. The pandemic, which is a remarkably acute symptom of the relentless human encroachment on wildlife, has given us a frightening glimpse into the massive disruptions that a run-away climate scenario would bring.

There is no silver lining to be found in the COVID-19 crisis. Even the upbeat reports of clear streams and air quality improvements were shattered by the sobering revelation of global carbon dioxide concentrations reaching record levels despite the lockdowns. The solution to our problems is not in crippled economies. It resides in decoupling socio-economic development from environmental degradation in all its forms. We will continue to work with our UfM partners to ensure that COVID-19 does not jeopardize the commitments taken by the Contracting Parties within the framework of the UNEP/MAP—Barcelona Convention system. Recovery must not come at the expense of the environment.

The case for full compliance with the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols has never been stronger. Environmental law is critical to safeguarding the health of ecosystems, which is intrinsically liked to human health and wellbeing.

Traditional fishermen in the Spanish port city of Barbate. EPA-EFE//ROMAN RIOS

By building on complementarities in their respective mandates, UNEP/MAP and the UfM can catalyze concerted regional action to ensure that recovery in the Mediterranean is compatible with sustainable development.

A beacon of hope is cutting through the doom and gloom of the COVID-19 crisis. If we manage to help Mediterranean countries find their way to the harbor of green growth, the 25th anniversary of the Barcelona Process could coincide with the beginning of a green renaissance in Mare Nostrum.


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