Ensuring that just transition is green: COP 23 offers regional solutions to global challenges

Thursday 21 December 2023

This is the season for renewed multilateral agreements. While the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP 28) participants negotiated text for a just transition away from fossil fuels, participants of COP 23 of the Barcelona Convention met in Portorož, Slovenia to commit to a green transition in the Mediterranean. These concurrent meetings work hand-in-hand to ensure that global goals are translated into regional instruments for actions for a healthy Mediterranean environment. Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia set the tone in his welcoming remarks, identifying nature conservation as a priority. He urged participants: “Do not be afraid of pushing the topic in your own country.” COP 23 resulted in a new Programme of Work and Budget for 2024-2025 and the Portorož Ministerial Declaration. 

A Call for a Green Transition Wave

Creating and sustaining a green transition in the Mediterranean is not the work of a single person, country or business. It is a task that must be carried out through a collective effort. The focused and orchestrated activities centering on sustainability within a region are critical to leverage the change needed. MedWaves converges synergies for the planet by bringing to life the vision of a world where production and consumption are zero-waste, non-polluting, low-carbon, resource-efficient and actually contribute to fair equitable socioeconomics. The efforts and actions on the ground met with the global vision for a green transition at COP 23 from 5-8 December in Portorož, Slovenia.

The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean, known as the Barcelona Convention, evolved from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), a multilateral environmental agreement in the context of the Regional Seas Programme. MedWaves is one of the six Regional Activity Centres (RACs) supporting and translating the vision of a healthy and prosperous Mediterranean into a gradually expanding constellation of achievements. It is the work of these centres that ensures concrete actions take place for a sustainable and prosperous Mediterranean. 

The green transition is not only a matter of commitments, it is also a window of opportunity. Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNEP articulated: “The green transition can harness rapid progress in science and technology, improvements in governance frameworks and growing public awareness. At the same time, nature-based solutions must be put front and centre. And, as not every Mediterranean country has the same financial or technological resources, regional cooperation will be essential.” COP 23 marked much-needed progress in laying out this green transition. 

Tatjana Hema, the UNEP/MAP Coordinator spoke directly with participants, saying: “We need a surge in implementation at the national level. Together, we can turn decisions into impactful action that delivers Good Environmental Status and fulfils the objectives for which UNEP/MAP saw the light of day 50 years ago, giving the Mediterranean one of the strongest regional regulatory frameworks in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development.”

We Are The Wave

The 23rd COP of 21 Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention advanced the institutional, legal, and implementing frameworks for sustainability in the Mediterranean. The presentation of findings contained in the Mediterranean Quality Status Report, a comprehensive environmental assessment compiled by UNEP/MAP, underscored the need for urgent action. COP 23 made important strides to address climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste. Decisions made ranged from establishing a new regional activity centre focusing on climate change in Türkiye to the adoption of the two-year Programme of Work and budget of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP). Additionally, there was a mandate delivered for the revision of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development to boost the green transition in the region, using the Sustainable Development Goals as a blueprint and science as a foundation for action. 

One of the outcomes of COP 23 was the adoption of the Portoroz Ministerial Declaration, in which Contracting Parties agree, among others, to “undertake the required radical shifts to decouple economic progress from the drivers of environmental degradation, and to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the Mediterranean region.” The Declaration also commits Contracting Parties “to make every effort to ensure that by 2030 at least 30 percent of coastal and marine areas are effectively conserved and managed.” Additionally, the Declaration commits to advance decarbonization, address plastic pollution and involve youth in environmental decision making.

In order to achieve the many goals set forth, there exists a shared understanding of the invaluable role of women and youth as leaders for change. A new tradition that began at COP 22 in Türkiye and continued this year in Slovenia, was a dinner meeting to honour outstanding Mediterranean women. In line with the UNEP Policy and Strategy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, gender equality is a driver of sustainable development everywhere in the world, including the Mediterranean. Dr Nataša Bratina, General Director of the Spatial Planning and Construction Directorate, welcomed the participants on behalf of Minister Alenka Bratušek and State Secretary Maša Kociper. Special guest Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, emphasised the importance of women’s work, as they can achieve exceptional results, both individually and as a collective.   

During a panel discussion on the green transition, participants heard from a youth leader Ahmed Yassin, co-founder of Banlastic Egypt who reflected on his organisation’s actions on banning single-use plastic by some 600 youth volunteers under the age of 25, and its linkages with youth groups in other Mediterranean countries. Yassin is one of the many young people who have been supported through the Switchers Support Programme. This initiative creates an enabling environment for entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises pursuing circular economic and sustainable business models in the Mediterranean region.

Yassin underscored the importance of sharing experiences and solutions, working with governing bodies, connecting with fundraising sources, and seeking alliances. He said that among the very extraordinary things about youth is how they share their solutions and experiences: “they are very fast.” He explained how useful this can be in promoting positive solutions. He cited that 85% of the alternatives that exist as solutions that Banlastic offers are done by smaller initiatives and created by youth. 

As spoken by Elizabeth Mrema: “The solutions lie within reach. We have to reduce threats to biodiversity. We must meet people’s needs sustainably and equitably. And we must stop subsidising harmful industries and activities.” MedWaves remains committed to supporting the realisation of the Barcelona Convention decisions.

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