A healthy Mediterranean for a sustainable future

COP21 / A healthy Mediterranean for a sustainable future

COP 21 Ministerial session - Statement by Mr. Gaetano Leone, UNEP/MAP Coordinator

President of the Bureau of the Contracting Parties, Your Excellency Sergio Costa, Minister of Environment of Italy, Excellencies, Assistant Secretary-General Joyce Msuya, Deputy Executive Director Of UNEP, Distinguished delegates, Heads of MAP Components, Representatives of media, Colleagues, Guests,

It is a privilege and an honor to welcome you to the High-Level segment of the 21st Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols. It is a dream some true for me that this meeting happens in the city where I was born, a city that has welcomed this COP wholeheartedly. On behalf of the UNEP/MAP Secretariat, I express our heartfelt gratitude to Italy for hosting us in such a historic and meaningful venue.

A few days ago, Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP Inger Anderson, said that “We need to close the commitment gap between what we say we will do and what we need to do”. This was on the occasion of the launch of UNEP’s 2019 Emission Gap Report – and it applies also to our own action in the context of the Barcelona Convention. The Emission Gap Report shows that if we do nothing beyond our current, inadequate commitments to curb emissions and halt climate change, temperatures can be expected to rise 3.2°C above pre-industrial levels, with devastating effect.

More alarming news were delivered earlier this year by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which reported on research showing that nature is declining at unprecedented rates; and by the IPCC with its Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate (SROCC), describing how warming and changes in ocean chemistry are significantly impacting marine ecosystems and the people that depend on them.

The urgency of these issues is only increasing. At the same time, the 2019 SDG Report on the progress made in the implementation of the universally agreed 17 Goals, makes it abundantly clear that we still need a deeper, faster and more ambitious response to bring about the necessary transformation, “leaving no one behind”.

UNEP Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya just reminded us that we are in the middle of an unfolding global environmental crisis. The Mediterranean Sea and coastal area are not immune from escalating problems and multiple threats. The UNEP/MAP State of the Environment and Development Report presented yesterday to this COP, describes mounting pressures on our basin, deriving from population growth, climate change, agriculture and fisheries, other economic activities such as tourism, extractive industries, and transport, with significant noxious emissions that impact health and livelihoods of coastal populations. Sea-level rise, although estimated at lower levels so far, may exceed 1 meter by the end of next century; marine litter is found in the Mediterranean at levels of concentration that are among the highest in the world; the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions have the lowest percentage of sustainable fish stocks worldwide, with the majority of assessed stocks being fished at biologically unsustainable levels.

All of these challenges are exacerbated by the unique conditions of the Mediterranean region. They need to be addressed using all the capacity that we have at local, national, and regional levels for the governance and protection of ecosystems. The MAP-Barcelona Convention system continues to have a key role in providing responses, through the implementation of our mandate, through increasing links and interactions with on-going global and regional processes, and through the enforcement of significant commitments taken in more than four decades of working together.

The last two years of our work on the protection of the marine environment and coastal areas as a contribution to the sustainable development of the region, have been demanding, but fruitful. We have continued to offer a platform for dialogue and collaboration in a region that is complex and very diverse:  we have progressed with the ratification and reporting levels of the Barcelona Convention instruments; increased efficiency and coordination in the delivery of our mandate; and enhanced integration of responses, which is a unique advantage of Regional Sea Conventions whose mandate encompasses all aspects of marine and coastal ecosystems, including socio-economic ones.

We also provided technical support to national and local actors; mobilized robust financial resources that provide us with the stability and the means to increase our ambitions; reached out to new and old stakeholders in delivering action; formalized cooperation with multilateral agreements and inter-governmental organizations; raised the visibility and recognition of our work at national, regional and global level; and established a sound basis for the next biennium, when we shall be called to develop together strategies and implementation options for the medium term. I will make a more detailed presentation on the progress of our work during the biennium in a short while.

Distinguished delegates,

We owe a lot of our success of the past biennium to the commitment and support of the Contracting Parties. Notwithstanding this success, conditions around the Mediterranean region and ecosystems continue to be degraded, and immediate and concerted action is required. The achievements of the MAP-Barcelona Convention system achievements depend on the engagement in primis of Contracting Parties, but also of stakeholders and partners – who are more and more numerous and committed to support our mandate through implementation of concrete actions.

I am grateful and excited for the increasing financial backing that we have received through voluntary bilateral contributions such as the one from the EU and Italy; major programmatic support from the GEF, which has been with us in the Mediterranean for more than 20 years, helping us on a trajectory that started with transboundary diagnosis, moved to regional strategies, national action plans and finally large-scale investments in the immediate future; the European Union through the Commission, which has been instrumental in supporting the fundamental process of mainstreaming the ecosystems approach in the work of the MAP-Barcelona Convention system, including the ecosystem-based monitoring and assessment of the marine environment, the implementation of the Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean, as well as in areas of biodiversity restoration and sustainable management of Marine Protected Areas, blue economy, sustainable tourism, and reporting of good quality data; foundations such as MAVA for Nature, putting at our disposal significant resources for marine biodiversity conservation work; IMO for its long-standing technical and financial support through the Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme; and the UfM and our partnership on a number of activities. All of us in this entire system owe these partners much gratitude.


We will be as successful as you want us to be. Our relevance, the impact of what the system does, our very future depends on your ambitions, your sense of urgency, your commitment, and your support.

This is possibly my last Barcelona Convention COP as Coordinator. I am grateful to you for the trust and for having guided and supported me in my efforts to stabilize and bring the MAP-Barcelona Convention system back to the place that it deserves on the international stage –I am proud of the progress made since 2014, and of the great work of my colleagues at the Secretariat and MAP Components. Together, we have delivered. The MAP-Barcelona Convention system is a unique, and fruitful undertaking at the global level.

As we have successfully turned the mid-point of the 6 years covered by the current Medium-Term Strategy, we now look towards the future. A future that is shaped by rapidly mounting and difficult-to-predict environmental, social, and inter-generational challenges that require open-minded, innovative and inclusive solutions. Powerful young voices clamor for us to do more, and better. The love and respect that we have for this incredible region, that is our home, press on us to leave our business-as-usual comfort zones.

Opportunities in the region are enormous: resources, education, creativity, leadership. The most advanced technologies, knowledge and wealth are accessible here, and we have the duty to engage them.

The key question is how MAP can harness the current heightened awareness of environmental issues and use it to engage the resources for significant shifts towards a more sustainable future. Engaged resources, deeper participation and guidance from Contracting Parties, linked with more robust scientific support, stronger enforcement and compliance, and your backing in global regional and national frameworks are paramount to deliver our mandate.

What is needed now is more decisive and incisive action. This is the one commitment we are after; action by the Secretariat and the Components, action by our partners; most importantly, action by the Parties.

In closing, I emphasize that building on our momentum, we have a window of opportunity to bring real change to our region, not just to the organization. The timing is right, to bolster the convening role of UNEP/MAP and to demonstrate our collective commitment towards achieving healthy and resilient marine and coastal ecosystems in the Mediterranean. Next year is said to be a “super-year” for oceans. The MAP-Barcelona Convention system must be part of the global processes, which are backed by a historic groundswell of public support for action on environmental challenges. A strong and fit-for-purpose MAP system – both supporting and supported by Contracting Parties – will be essential in helping the world deliver on its commitments. Let me assure you that the MAP Secretariat and Components are fully engaged in making this vision a reality. We count on your engagement.

Thank you. Chokran. Merci. Gracias. Grazie.


COP 21 Ministerial session - Speech by the UNEP Deputy Executive Director, Ms Joyce Msuya

H.E. Mr. Sergio Costa, Minister of Environment, Land and Sea of Italy

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to speak to you all today, and to open this important meeting – here in this impressive setting, among so many respected colleagues, and in this historic city on the Mediterranean coast.

I’d like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Government of Italy for the leadership and support they have so consistently demonstrated, not only on marine and coastal issues – our focus here – but on the health of our planet as a whole. Indeed,  this Conference of the Parties comes right on the heels of a very successful Meeting of the Parties of the Ozone Convention, which took place in Rome just last month. Italy’s wholehearted commitment to our global environment is firm and unwavering, and should serve as an inspiration to us all.

As we gather here today, we are in the midst of an accelerating global climate emergency which is having profound impacts on our marine ecosystems.

Our scientists, issue regular warnings about these changes. We know from the IPCC’s recent report on the world’s oceans and cryosphere that sea levels are now rising at more than double the pace we saw in the 20th century, and that we could see a rise of more than a meter by 2100 if we don’t take urgent action. We also know that, since the 1980s, the world’s oceans have absorbed up to 30% of all of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions, and their acid levels have surged as a result, destroying delicate marine life.

And here in the Mediterranean – as in all of the world’s regions – we see hard evidence of the unfolding crisis. Despite decades of efforts, the Mediterranean remains one of the world’s most polluted ocean basins. One recent study concluded that about  62 million individual pieces of marine litter are probably floating around, right now, in the waters of the Mediterranean. All of that garbage is not just unsightly, of course – it also puts real and immediate pressures on the region’s wildlife and plants, people and their livelihoods.

Ladies and gentlemen, the science is undisputed and every day, somewhere on this earth, we are feeling the impact of the extreme weather events that are a result of climate inertia. I have just arrived from East Africa which is reeling from unprecedented floods. And as world leaders kick-off the COP 25 Climate meeting in Madrid, the urgency of cooperation and action has never been more critical.

And it is this principle, ladies and gentlemen, that has guided UNEP’s work here in the region since 1975, just three years after UNEP’s founding. It was in 1975 that 16 countries and the European Community adopted the Mediterranean Action Plan, the first-ever Regional Seas Programme under UNEP's umbrella. Over the past four decades – here in the Mediterranean, and later in regional seas around the globe – we have taken on a huge array of pressing challenges: from marine litter and plastic pollution, to the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the safeguarding of the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea and its resources. These regional structures have achieved so much, and they are now proving critical to our efforts to achieve SDG 14, a better life under water, in the regions and around the globe.

For forceful evidence of the strength of this Convention, we have only to look at its remarkably solid funding situation: to date, nearly 93% of this year’s assessed contributions of Contracting Parties to the Mediterranean Trust Fund have already been received. This financial commitment demonstrates that Contracting Parties believe in this instrument, what it has achieved, and what achievements are still to come.

And so here we are at COP21. This meeting is about taking stock of where we are today with the Convention, assessing what we have achieved, what lessons we have learned, and then setting our course for the future. And indeed, this work has already begun: MAP’s proposed new Programme of Work and Budget and the forward-looking Naples Ministerial Declaration – will guide the work of the Mediterranean Action Plan and the Barcelona Convention over the next two years and beyond.

COP21 comes at the end of a biennium of amplified impact and recognition of the UNEP/MAP and Barcelona Convention system, as well as an increased interaction with other UN bodies and offices. We saw strong interaction with partners and funders, including GEF, the European Commission and the Government of Italy. Just one powerful example of the projects made possible by these collaborations is GEF Mediterranean Sea Programme, which is working to enhance environmental security in the region.

This COP also comes at the close of a landmark year for marine conservation. Already in 2019, we have seen the launch of the Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere, the Secretary-General’s historic Climate Action Summit, as well as the UNFCCC’s first “Blue COP,” which began just this week in Madrid.

It is your job here to carry forward this momentum, and then to spread the word at the global level – at other COPs, as well as at the UN Ocean Conference next year – about the immense importance and huge potential of working collaboratively in the regions. Because progress here in the regions can serve as a powerful driving force towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for the world as a whole.

At the same time, I call upon you – the parties that have believed in this initiative for nearly half a century – to scale up your support. You can do this by committing new resources, strengthening national plans, ensuring universal ratification of pending protocols, and delivering the commitments that you have made in the context of global and regional frameworks. And finally, our actions are only as good as the science, and now perhaps more than ever before in history, we need to invest in the science and data that will help us asses our progress and update the Barcelona Convention process.

The next biennium of the Medium-Term Strategy gives us a chance to raise our ambition, to set bold new goals, and to demonstrate our wholehearted support for the Mediterranean Action Plan and what it’s able to achieve.

To demonstrate the importance of our seas as the lifelines of millions.

To demonstrate the importance of regional action for our planet’s shared resources.

And to demonstrate that at this time of climate emergency, WE CAN together overcome our common challenges, protecting both people and planet, and ensuring the prosperity of future generations.

Thank you.