Portoroz, 8 December 2023—The 23rd Meeting (COP23) of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, which took place on 5-8 December 2023 in Portoroz (Slovenia), adopted important steps to protect ecosystems in the face of the rising impacts of the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
H.E. Robert Golob, Prime Minister of the Republic of Slovenia, opened the Ministerial Session on 7 December, highlighting nature conservation in the Mediterranean as a priority for the Slovenian presidency of the Barcelona Convention during the 2024-2025 biennium. “Do not be afraid of pushing the topic in your own country,” Prime Minister Golob told participants. “Even if one of you becomes prime minister, it is still going to be hard. But this is one of the topics where all efforts are needed, but once achieved, they will pay off, giving meaning to your political career. So, no matter the obstacles, keep pushing. That is my personal message to you.”
In the Portoroz Ministerial Declaration, the Contracting Parties (21 countries and the European Union) vow 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 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,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and Deputy Executive Director of UNEP.
COP 23 adopted the two-year Programme of Work and budget of the Mediterranean Action Plan of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP/MAP) and mandated the revision of the Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development to boost the green transition in the region, using the SDGs as a blueprint and science as a foundation for action. The findings of the Mediterranean Quality Status Report (2023 MED QSR), a comprehensive environmental assessment compiled by UNEP/MAP and presented at COP23, highlighted the urgency of action.
On 7 December UNEP/MAP signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Agreement on the Conservation of Cetaceans of the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and contiguous Atlantic Area (ACCOBAMS). The MoU will enhance cooperation to protect several whale and dolphin species facing threats such as noise, bycatch and depredation, pollution, collisions with vessels and the unfolding impacts of climate change.
“We need a surge in implementation at the national level. Together, we can turn decisions into impactful action that delivers Good Environmental Status and fulfills 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,” Tatjana Hema, the UNEP/MAP Coordinator said.
The Contracting Parties made progress in articulating the Mediterranean region’s response to the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity and nature loss, and pollution and waste.
Boosting climate action
The Contracting Parties decided to establish a Regional Activity Centre on Climate Change hosted by Türkiye. They also endorsed the Summary for policymakers of the Special Report on Climate and Environmental Coastal Risks by MedECC—a science-policy interface hosted by the Plan Bleu Regional Activity Centre in Marseille, France.
COP23 saw a renewed commitment to taking national and local measures for the implementation of Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), in line with the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols. By ensuring that the development of the blue economy does not come at the expense of nature, ICZM and MSP ensure that healthy marine and coastal ecosystems underpin green economic progress while providing protection to coastal communities faced with heightened climate-induced risks and disasters.
Addressing nature and biodiversity loss
In the Portoroz Ministerial Declaration, the Contracting Parties commit to making every effort to ensure that by 2030 at least 30 per cent of coastal and marine areas are effectively conserved and managed. They also renewed the commitment to halt the degradation of marine and coastal biodiversity through the effective implementation of the Mediterranean region’s post-2020 Biodiversity Framework (aligned with the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework).
COP23 adopted decisions on the conservation of endangered and threatened marine species under the Specially Protected Areas and Biodiversity (SPA/BD) Protocol, extending protection to six additional species of sharks and rays, having management measures for three species of ray, restoring the Pinna nobilis, and on strengthening the existing network of Specially Protected Areas and Specially Protected Areas of Mediterranean Importance (SPAMIs).
In a push against the introduction of non-indigenous species from ships’ ballast water, the Contracting Parties adopted the “Regional Harmonized Procedures for the Uniform Implementation of the Ballast Water Management Convention in the Mediterranean Sea” prepared by REMPEC in cooperation with SPA/RAC.
Making a dent in pollution and waste
New legally binding, time-bound Regional Plans on agriculture, aquaculture and urban stormwater management and related regulatory measures were adopted in Portoroz, in the framework of Article 15 of the Land-Based Sources (LBS) Protocol to the Barcelona Convention. On plastic pollution, the Contracting Parties agreed on the need for a comprehensive approach that addresses the full lifecycle of plastic in the context of ongoing global negotiations on legally binding instrument on plastic pollution, including in the marine environment. There was also a commitment to the implementation of the global framework on chemicals adopted at the 5th International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5, 25-29 September 2023), recognizing linkages and potential synergies with their obligations under the LBS Protocol to the Barcelona Convention.
On air pollution from ships, the Contracting Parties vowed to enforce the Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides. The Contracting Parties further urged those States not yet Party to the MAPROL Annex VI to ratify the Convention as soon as possible for the measure to enter into force on 1 May 2025.