The 23rd meeting of Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean – the Barcelona Convention (Conference of Parties – COP 23), held in Portorož, has successfully concluded. The contracting parties have adopted multiple important commitments to protect the Mediterranean from the increasing effects of climate change and to reduce biodiversity and pollution in the Mediterranean. One of the highlighted focus points is the active involvement of youth in decision-making processes.
By adopting the Portorož Ministerial Declaration, state ministers commit to more efficient implementation of global and regional agreements. Various legally binding decisions have been made to ensure the protection of the Mediterranean. Additionally, the countries unanimously support the establishment of a new regional climate change research centre based in Turkey.
The COP 23 member countries have agreed on significant substantive decisions on the protection of marine ecosystems:
- three new legally binding regional plans for the prevention of water pollution from agriculture, aquaculture and urban stormwater, as well as the updated guidelines of the Dumping Protocol;
- the programme for the recovery of the Nobel Pen Shell (Pinna nobilis), an endangered endemic species of the Mediterranean Sea, whose populations have fallen dramatically in recent years;
- two updated action plans for ensuring the conservation of marine and coastal birds and preventing the introduction of invasive non-native species;
- the decision on the strict protection of six endangered shark and ray species and the partial protection of three additional species;
- the procedures for coordinated implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention in the Mediterranean;
- the framework for coordinated implementation of maritime spatial planning in the Mediterranean;
- the new Mediterranean Quality Status Report (the 2023 MED QSR), which reveals a worrying situation in the marine environment and highlights the urgency to take action;
- the decision to establish a new Regional Activity Centre for Climate Change (based in Turkey), which was unanimously approved.
Other outstanding achievements include the preparation and coordination of the Danube River, Black Sea and Mediterranean management programmes, which aim to enhance coordinated monitoring of the situation and reduce environmental burdens, particularly on the marine environment. The initiative for this important interregional connection was provided by Slovenia.
Active participation of youth in decision-making processes
At this year’s meeting, Slovenia, as the presiding country, placed great emphasis on the role of young people. Youth representatives participating in an official part of yesterday’s meeting presented their views on current climate conditions. Today, upon the initiative of Dr Mitja Bricelj, National Coordinator of the Barcelona Convention and COP 23 president, one of the side events was dedicated exclusively to the youth.
The last day of the COP 23 meeting included a side event titled Education and youth: The process and actors to secure a sustainable future for the Mediterranean region, which was hosted by Slovenia along with the Mediterranean Committee on Education for Sustainable Development. The event’s participants highlighted key starting points, progress achieved, and recommendations for further measures in the field of youth involvement in processes of securing a sustainable future in the Mediterranean region.
The event was opened by Cyprus’s Minister of Education, Dr Athina Michaelidou who assessed that the side event is unfolding within the context of difficult political conditions for the Mediterranean and the entire planet. She stressed that we need to be aware of our joint responsibility for courageous decision-making and cooperating with young people in these processes and existing tools, such as the Action Plan towards 2030, adopted in 2022 by the Mediterranean Ministers of Education and the Environment, in Nicosia. National Coordinator for the Barcelona Convention Dr Mitja Bricelj highlighted the key importance of discussing how young people will be involved in policy formation, to ensure the survival of the planet. He added that schools represent the public network that will teach young people to survive in the presence of climate change – this approach was constantly a central point of the COP 23 programme and is also reflected in the Portorož Ministerial Declaration. Prof. Michael Scoullos from the Secretariat of the Mediterranean Committee on Education for Sustainable Development affirmed that education is the main tool to secure a sustainable future, yet that a big gap exists between the beautiful words that decision-makers resort to and the low priority of these words in practice – particularly in terms of an insufficient flow of financial resources by countries into the formation of these policies.
Maja Krusic Šega from the Slovenian Ministry of Education, on the other hand, emphasized positive developments in the field of promoting sustainable development. In this sense, one example of the ministry’s concrete actions is the plan to carry out training for sustainable development, which will be conducted in Slovenia by 20,000 teachers. Jan Verovšek, ambassador of the European Youth Forum, emphasized that formal education is important, yet that it’s also necessary to encourage non-formal forms of education and to make sure the youth’s ideas are concretely transferred to the decision-makers. Blaž Lipovšek, President of the Sava Youth Parliament, presented this institution’s work in the field of protecting the Sava River and connecting the youth from four Balkan countries – Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Serbia. This is a good start to involving youth in the formation of environmental policies. But much more needs to be done. He mentioned particular difficulties that arise in these processes. An especially challenging difficulty is the youth’s limited access to the formulation of measures in the fight against climate change. Lipovšek’s concluding thoughts suggested we will only be able to overcome global challenges if we step forward together and take immediate action.
Meeting of Mediterranean Women
On Thursday, a dinner was organised for outstanding women, participants of the international conference, including Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations.
The event was hosted by the head of the Slovenian delegation, Dr Nataša Bratina, Director General of the Directorate for Spatial Planning. Her speech focused on the importance of women’s involvement in significant topics, particularly the fields of environmental protection, nature conservation and spatial planning, and the importance of striving to contribute towards the common good in the Mediterranean region.
The first dinner meeting of Mediterranean women with expert discussion and socializing was introduced by Turkey at COP 22. By continuing it at COP 23 in Slovenia, the event is becoming a traditional part of the Barcelona Convention.