Protect the environment, protect our future: how we need to put climate action at the heart of regional development
By the UfM Deputy Secretary General Water, Environment and Blue Economy, Isidro González.
Published in ABC 23 April 2021.
This week, after negotiations that went on into the early hours of the morning, the EU reached an agreement on the new European Climate Law. This legislation makes the political goal of becoming a climate-neutral continent by 2050 into a legal commitment, and aims to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
This is the first climate law of this magnitude in the world, and undoubtedly an achievement in many respects. But pollution does not stop at EU borders: just as it is not the EU alone who stands to suffer from climate change, it will not be the EU alone who benefits from mitigation, and it cannot be the EU alone who takes action.
One of the features of the new EU Green Deal is the establishment of a Scientific Committee on Climate Change at the European Level, to ensure that political discussions are grounded in the latest scientific evidence. This was something that was previously lacking in the Mediterranean region. As a region formed at the intersection of three different continents, scientific research had failed to address the area as a unified whole, and there were critical data gaps, particularly concerning southern Mediterranean countries, which in turn are particularly vulnerable to the harsh effects of climate change.
To rectify this imbalance, the MedECC scientific network, supported by the UfM, produced the first-ever report on the threats posed by climate change to the Mediterranean region specifically. This report serves today as a best practice example of regional scientific cooperation, with more than 80 scientists from across the Mediterranean joining together to produce it. Its conclusions were dramatic: this region is warming 20% faster than the rest of the world.
The next step in the UfM’s priorities is to bridge the gaps between scientific data, political visions, and actual work on the ground. To translate policy into tangible action, we need coordinated processes for integration and inclusive participation, measurable goals and realistic timeframes. We need governance frameworks that strengthen the participation of all stakeholders, including civil society, industry and education institutions, and approaches that integrate the environmental, economic and social dimensions of land, coastal and marine ecosystems.
MedECC’s report provides a solid scientific basis for the commitments of the next Ministerial Meeting on Environment and Climate Change, to be held this year in Egypt, and has already been used in the elaboration of the UfM’s Sustainable Blue Economy Agenda, to which all 42 Member States have committed. These meetings are laying the foundation for a Mediterranean roadmap to bring national climate action to the regional level, and further to the international level at the next COP.
Securing a stable and sustainable future for our youth is always at the center of the UfM’s agenda, and we can harness climate action and environmental restoration both to ensure the physical safety of our region and to create new jobs and sustainable employment opportunities. The Blue Economy Agenda brings together the economic potential of the Mediterranean Sea – from traditional maritime sectors like aquaculture, fishing, tourism, and navigation, to emerging sectors such as blue biotechnologies and renewable marine energy sources – with the need to integrate environmental sustainability into the way we harness these opportunities.
We are already making progress towards restoring and protecting the Mediterranean. Resolute efforts have been made to put in place more preventative, circular and sustainable processes of production and consumption throughout the region: water scarcity has spurred wastewater reuse, and awareness of plastic pollution has resulted in regulations that restrict single-use plastics, like plastic bags. Pollution control ambitions have been given higher priority on national and regional political agendas; efforts have been directed towards raising awareness of environmental issues and building capacity to respond to them.
In addition, Member States reaffirmed their commitment to the regional marine litter management plan and to achieving the collection and recycling of 100% of plastic waste. One project, supported by the UfM and addressing the issue of plastic in the Mediterranean Sea, is Plastic Busters, which tackles the entire management cycle of marine litter, from monitoring and assessment to prevention and mitigation. The project has already studied the pollution impact on marine wildlife in the Pelagos Sanctuary, the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, the National Marine Park of Zakynthos and the Cabrera Archipelago National Maritime-Terrestrial Park. Having seen success in these pilot areas, this project is a perfect example of action that should be scaled up to the regional level.
We need systemic change to allow us to live in harmony with nature. “Building back better” from the COVID-19 pandemic must include a focus on nature and biodiversity, renewable resources and the transition to green, carbon-neutral societies, in order to ensure a resilient and sustainable future. Given the interdependence of all life on this planet, from land to ocean, we cannot ignore that our relentless encroachment upon and degradation of natural ecosystems is in turn endangering human health. It is essential that we continue to work together to encourage better data and scientific knowledge of climate and environmental issues; that we translate this knowledge into legislation; and that we put this legislation into action to achieve tangible results.
Isidro González is Deputy Secretary General Water, Environment and Blue Economy