Barcelona – “We must take action today if we want to achieve a positive impact on the environment and the security of people’s lives tomorrow. The time is now to invest in our Mediterranean future, and it is essential for civil society to be an integral part of that process.”
Mustapha Derdabi of Morocco’s Association for Environmental Protection of Wilaya de Tétouan summed up the concerns of many around the table, speaking at an unprecedented meeting at the Union for the Mediterranean Secretariat in Barcelona, Spain, with WWF and a range of environmental civil society groups from across the Mediterranean.
Global conservation organisation WWF and the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) Secretariat together gathered the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) this week to define and agree on the need for civil society to be a stronger voice in policy-making and projects on nature and the environment.
The civil society representatives – from Albania, Croatia, Egypt, France, Italy, Lebanon, Montenegro, Morocco, Tunisia and elsewhere around the Mediterranean and EU – discussed the need to strengthen and improve NGO participation in UfM policies and processes.
“Coordination and collaboration among environmental NGOs across the Mediterranean has massive potential to bring about positive change on a regional and even global level. Civil society can contribute significantly to capturing this potential within the Union for the Mediterranean”, said Wael Hmaidan of IndyACT, an activist group based in Lebanon and working across the Arab and European regions.
The Mediterranean is one of the richest regions in the world in terms of environment and natural resources, but also one of the most vulnerable.
Dwindling water resources, habitat degradation, the risks of a changing climate and the need to develop renewable and sustainable energies were seen as particularly pressing environmental concerns – acknowledged as issues that have a direct impact on the stability and security of daily life across the Mediterranean, and in which civil society can and should play a valuable role.
“It is exciting to follow the rapid evolution of this region – and it is essential to keep civil society and NGOs involved, especially in getting nature and the environment higher on the UfM agenda. Regional representation and building capacity of civil society across the Mediterranean, as well as a transparent process of engagement, will be key to achieving positive steps forward,” said Paloma Agrasot, manager of WWF’s European Neighbourhood Programme.
Discussion touched on the so-called Arab Spring, the political awakening and revolutions that have swept this year across the Middle East and North Africa region – highlighting the key role of civil society in bringing about positive change and translating the needs of local populations into clearly communicated demands.
The Arab Spring has revived the attention of institutions on the pivotal role of civil society in bringing about real and far-reaching change. Building the capacity of environmental civil society groups around the Mediterranean is a key need in empowering and encouraging NGO involvement and representation.
“Moving closer to democracy does not inevitably entail the successful involvement of civil society in decisions and policy-making,” said Michal Sagive of Friends of the Earth Middle East. “We need to keep pushing for NGO participation, and to empower civil society through training and capacity-building.”
WWF has called for more UfM attention on the natural and biological assets of the Mediterranean – and on the region’s struggle with ecological scarcity. The marine environment and fisheries, for example, are still not considered a priority among top environmental issues facing the Mediterranean – yet these resources are of high socioeconomic as well as ecological value.
Spanish Member of the EU Parliament Raül Romeva i Rueda, Vice President of the European Greens, joined the discussions and stressed the need for civil society to collaborate Mediterranean-wide.
“Mediterranean countries share a range of major common threats and risks to the stability of their environment and wellbeing. We have much to gain by facing these challenges together, and by getting civil society involved in the conversation on all environmental questions – including urgent fisheries and marine issues that so often remain submerged,” said Romeva.
“The voice of civil society has been expressed loud and clear these days in Barcelona,” said Dr Rafiq Husseini, Deputy Secretary General for Water and the Environment at the UfM Secretariat. “Those involved in the Union for the Mediterranean process should encourage this voice and continue to engage environmental civil society groups more and more in decisions and policies that have such a direct impact on the lives of citizens around the Mediterranean.”