Blue Economy Can Protect Mediterranean Sea

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By Richard JohnsoPhoto: UNEP | Countries call for blue economy to protect the Mediterranean. n

PARIS - Twenty-two Mediterranean countries and the European Union expect the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Brazil to adopt a strategic policy framework supporting a "blue" economy to safeguard and promote a clean and healthy environment.

The call came in a closing communique – the Paris Declaration – as the 17th Conference of the Contracting Parties (COP17) to the Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean and its Protocols drew to an end after three days of talks in the French capital on February 10.

The Barcelona Convention entered into force in 1978, after Mediterranean countries and the European Community had, three years earlier, adopted the Mediterranean Action Plan, the first-ever Regional Seas Programme under the umbrella of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The convention was amended and renamed in 1995; and that version came into force in 2004.

The 22 Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention are: 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 and Turkey.

In his opening speech, France's Ambassador for the Environment, Jean-Pierre Thébault, who chaired the meeting, said: "In this very symbolic year for the environment, I express the wish that the Mediterranean Action Plan remains ambitious and leads by example, showing the way towards Rio+20."

Paris Declaration

The Paris Declaration reflects this ambition: The 22 countries want a "blue" economy, a version of the Green Economy that is applied to seas and oceans, and hope to see a strategic policy framework adopted at Rio+20 in Brazil in June.

The profound significance of the call for the "blue" economy is underlined by the fact that the world's marine ecosystems provide essential food and livelihoods to millions of people. UNEP's research shows how a switch to the more sustainable Green Economy model could unlock the vast potential of the marine-based economy and at the same time significantly reduce ocean degradation while alleviating poverty. UNEP defines the Green Economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.

"The time has come for us to rethink how we manage our oceans," said Achim Steiner, executive Director of UNEP and Under Secretary General of the UN. "They are a key pillar for many countries of their economic and social development, and are vital in the fight against poverty. But too many of these essential natural resources are being degraded by unsustainable use, putting the ecosystems services they provide, such as food security and climate regulations for instance, at risk."

Steiner added; "Management decisions and investments that put the well-being of the oceans are essential if we are to continue to profit from this rich natural resource. A 'blue' economy in the Mediterranean and elsewhere would be a big step on the right path."

UNEP is the voice for the environment in the UN system. Established in 1972, UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.

UNEP hosts the Coordinating Unit for the Mediterranean Action Plan of the Barcelona Convention.

The Paris meeting welcomed the progress that had been made in 2011 in reinforcing the fight against deterioration of the Mediterranean sea with the entry into force of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) protocol and the Protocol for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea against Pollution resulting from Exploration and Exploitation of the Continental Shelf and the Seabed and its Subsoil (the "Offshore" Protocol).

These two-world first protocols recognize the Mediterranean environment as a critical and shared resource, and promote and promote a co-operative and holistic approach to its management.

In the Paris Declaration, the Contracting Parties also:

- Reaffirmed their political commitment to the sustainable development of the Mediterranean Sea and its coastal zones through an ecosystem approach to the management of human activities.

- Agreed to develop a coherent, well-managed network of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean, aiming for a target of 10 per cent of marine protected areas by 2020.

- Decided to intensify their efforts to curb marine pollution from land-based sources, such as mercury, Persistent Organic Pollutants and marine litter, by adopting legally binding measures, and reduce pollution from offshore and marine-based activities though regional action plans.

- Adopted the action plan for the implementation of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management Protocol, and encouraged all Contracting Parties to ratify it.

- Agreed to work to protect the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction through the implementation of existing instruments and through the development of a multilateral agreement under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

- Supported the preparation by 2014 of a report on the state of the marine environment, including from a socioeconomic perspective.

Boosting marine sector

UNEP said in a report released on January 25, 2012: The economic productivity of the marine sector can be significantly boosted by shifting to a more sustainable approach that focuses on green activities such as renewable energy, eco-tourism and sustainable transport.

The UNEP report 'Green Economy in a Blue World' looks at six different economic areas in the marine sector and provides recommendations on how to boost their potential by implementing green measures.

"Oceans are a key pillar for many countries in their development and fight to tackle poverty, but the wide range of ecosystem services, including food security and climate regulation, provided by marine and coastal environments are today under unprecedented pressure," said UNEP Executive Director Steiner releasing the report.

"Stepping up green investments in marine and coastal resources and enhancing international cooperation in managing these transboundary ecosystems are essential if a transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy is to be realized," he said.

The six economic areas examined by the report include fisheries and aquaculture, marine transport, ocean nutrient pollution, marine-based renewable energy, coastal tourism, and deep-sea minerals.

"This report provides concrete examples of how emerging ocean industries – including ocean energy and aquaculture industries – can become more profitable, more sustainable, and meet the needs of a growing population without sacrificing the health of our fragile ocean ecosystems,” said Linwood Pendleton, one of the contributors to the report and Director of Ocean and Coastal Policy at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

The report also examines how small island developing States (SIDS), such as those in the Asia-Pacific and Caribbean regions, can take advantage of green economy opportunities to reduce their vulnerability to climate change and promote sustainable growth.

The report seeks to stimulate countries to take action as they prepare for Rio+20), according to a news release issued by UNEP.

"In the run-up to Rio+20, this report shows that a shift to a green economy can, if comprehensively implemented, unlock the potential of marine ecosystems to fuel economic growth – particularly in small island developing States but in ways that ensure that future generations derive an equitable share of marine resources and services," Steiner.

The report was produced by UNEP in collaboration with the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the WorldFish Center and GRID-Arendal.

Photo: UNEP | Countries call for blue economy to protect the Mediterranean.

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