Interregional cooperation Danube–Black Sea–Mediterranean launched at the initiative of Slovenia

In taking over the Presidency of the Barcelona Convention, Slovenia has also succeeded in implementing an initiative for interregional integration of monitoring of the major ecosystems of the Danube, Black Sea and Mediterranean, with the aim of reducing negative effects on the world’s most international river basin.

The work programmes for individual sites were already agreed on the margins of the Barcelona Convention in Portorož, and the cooperation was formally confirmed at the meeting of the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) in Vienna last week.

We are facing a triple crisis – pollution, climate change and loss of biodiversity. And while in the case of the recent Conference of Parties (COP 28) in Dubai, we can speak of countries dealing with the consequences of this crisis at a global level, the “Slovenian” Conference for the Mediterranean (COP 23), which took place in Portorož in early December, focused on its regional aspect. Much in the spirit of “Think globally – act regionally”, under the COP 23 slogan “Green transition in the Mediterranean: from decisions to actions”. By organising a challenging meeting and taking over the Presidency of the Barcelona Convention (for the second time in history), Slovenia once again proved to be a credible and responsible partner and received high praise and gratitude from a number of high-level representatives of the Mediterranean countries.

At the meeting, the Contracting Parties (21 Mediterranean countries and the European Union) adopted the Portorož Ministerial Declaration, in which the Ministers committed themselves to a more effective implementation of global and regional agreements. The countries unanimously supported the establishment of a new Regional Activity Centre for Climate Change  based in Türkiye. Slovenia also succeeded in breaking through an initiative to adopt a joint work programme to preserve marine ecosystems in three interlinked macro-regions: the Danube, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

Photo: Jaka Ivančič

Danube–Black Sea–Mediterranean interregional cooperation

Slovenia has succeeded in bringing together the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, the Commission for the Protection of the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme with the aim of developing interregional programmes to monitor the status and reduce pressures and impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems. This is the result of many years of work and professional efforts by Slovenia within the international organisations of the Barcelona Convention and the Convention for the Protection of the Danube River. Dr Mitja Bricelj from Slovenia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning, an important contributor to the success of Slovenia’s “water diplomacy” for many years and the national representative for the Barcelona Convention, has made a significant contribution to this work in a professional capacity.

The coordinated work programmes were presented by the heads of the three institutions at the recent 23rd Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution (the Barcelona Convention), COP 23 in Portorož. This is the first interregional programme linking the world’s most international river basin – the Danube – with the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, with the aim of reducing pressures and impacts on coastal and marine ecosystems on a “source-to-sea” basis.

The joint panel of the three macro-regions Danube–Black Sea–Mediterranean at the COP 23 meeting entitled “Green transition in the Mediterranean – from decisions to action”, co-organised by Slovenia, resulted in the conclusion of a two-year joint work programme between the Convention for the Protection of the Danube River, the Commission for the Protection of the Black Sea and the Barcelona Convention. This is a major achievement as the cooperation involves two marine macro-regions (Black Sea and Mediterranean) working together to address climate change and to promote the preservation of marine ecosystems for future generations.

Ministerial declaration with concrete commitments adopted in Portorož

One of the major achievements of the recent meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention in Portorož was the adoption of the Portorož Ministerial Declaration. The fact is that climate change, alongside pollution and loss of biodiversity, is one of the greatest challenges of our time, and this is clearly reflected in the Mediterranean, for example in the acidification of the sea, rising sea temperatures, rising sea levels, changes in the number and distribution of marine flora and fauna, the increase in invasive alien species and the general degradation of marine biodiversity.

By adopting the Declaration, the Mediterranean countries have unanimously committed themselves to the following objectives:

  • to ratify all seven protocols of the Convention, including  the Waste Dumping Protocol (the so-called Dumping Protocol) being a priority by the end of 2024, which Slovenia must also do,
  • to address climate change in a scientific and research-based manner and to identify concrete solutions for resilience and climate change impact reduction through the establishment of a Mediterranean research centre,
  • to advocate for the decarbonisation of the Mediterranean,
  • to advocate for the achievement of a good environmental status of the marine and coastal area,
  • to implement the blue economy and accelerate the process towards a green transition,
  • to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships and to achieve the goal of “net zero” harmful emissions by 2050,
  • to implement a Sulphur emission control area (SECA) across the Mediterranean, starting on 1 May 2025. This will impact the global target by making it a requirement for all ships of the world sailing to Mediterranean ports, ensuring uniform application and equal competition conditions,
  • to continue the process to limit NOx emissions (NECA) in maritime transport,
  • to increase the ambition of the targets in the requirements of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO),
  • to accelerate the implementation of Maritime Spatial Planning (MSP) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in all Mediterranean countries,
  • to raise public awareness of the importance of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) and to protect at least 30% of the marine and coastal areas of the Mediterranean by 2030,
  • to achieve a significant reduction and prevention of marine litter (with a focus on limiting the use of plastics/microplastics) by 2030, in line with global and regional commitments,
  • to actively involve youth and promote intergenerational cooperation.

Slovenia was successful in leading the negotiations for the adoption of the Portorož Ministerial Declaration

An initial draft of the Ministerial Declaration was prepared by Slovenia in the autumn, after which its content was further amended and coordinated by the Contracting Parties, and the final negotiations were held in Portorož at the COP 23 meeting. The negotiating group was made up of representatives of all countries, with Dr Nataša Bratina, Acting Director-General of the Spatial Planning and Construction Directorate of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Spatial Planning and the representative of the presiding country, appointed as lead negotiator. In just two days and with no exceptions, Dr Bratina’s guidance and leadership successfully brought the negotiations to a final substantive alignment and unanimous adoption of the Ministerial Declaration, which is undoubtedly a great success. 

The Ministerial Declaration signed at the COP 23 meeting provides a framework for the work programme for the next biennium 2024–2025, the period of Slovenia’s presidency in the Mediterranean region.

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