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Towards a Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development

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Jun 09, 2015 / 0 Comments

By Zoé Vernin*


A common strategy for sustainable development is of primary importance for the regional integration in the Mediterranean. Indeed, despite many points of convergence, Mediterranean countries significantly vary in terms of development levels and living standards, which represent a challenge to envisage a sustainable future for the region. In line with the global agenda for sustainable development, attention should be paid to the specifities of the Mediterranean area: that calls for adapted orientations and actions capable of responding to the common interests of its rising populations.


The total population of Mediterranean countries grew from 276 million in 1970 to 466 million in 2010, and is predicted to reach 529 million by 2025. Overall, more than half of the population lives in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean countries, and the number is expected to grow to three quarters by 2025 (UNEP/MAP, 2012). The booming population will demand employment, food, water, energy, housing, and other elementary goods and services, exerting further pressure on the ecosystems. However, natural resources remain an essential vehicle for the achievement of social and economic stakes. Therefore, the Mediterranean shores, which share a historically common destiny around this closed sea, need to take up this substantial development challenge seriously more than ever.


Dealing with a wide range of strategic objectives among Mediterranean territories, many stakeholders cooperate in order to carry out collective projects for improving the sustainability of living conditions, lifting up economic activities, and protecting the ecological heritage of the region. If the Mediterranean future rests on joint initiatives, all stakeholders should work together in order to define a common strategy that tackles Mediterranean concerns with a transversal vision and takes into consideration the interdependency between various dynamics.


The Mediterranean Strategy for Sustainable Development (MSSD) aims at creating a platform where these stakeholders can unite and coordinate their efforts in conducting decisions and actions towards synergies. The MSSD is initiated in the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan under the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP/MAP): the “MAP system” which celebrates in 2015 its forty years of work and achievements in the field of the environment and development in the Mediterranean. Since 1976, the MAP system engaged in the implementation of the Barcelona Convention and its additional Protocols, which involves the 21 Mediterranean countries and the European Union (the Contracting Parties), in order to adopt measures against marine and coastal pollution. Following the global framework for sustainable development and in order to integrate the socio-economic interactions with the marine environment, the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD) was created within the MAP system in 1996.The Commission is composed by representatives of countries, private sector, local authorities and non-governmental organisations. It was mandated to prepare the MSSD, a reference document and an integral policy framework that reflects the diversity of the Mediterranean and provides clear strategic objectives and realistic actions.


The initial version of the MSSD (2005-2015) was adopted by the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention in 2005, and included four main objectives – economy, social, environment and governance – through seven priority fields of action, as follows:  water, energy, transports, tourism, agriculture and rural development, urban development, seas and coasts. In order to improve its functionality the Parties decided at their 18th Ordinary meeting, held in Istanbul in December 2013, to review the Strategy, taking into account the outcomes of Rio+20 (2012) and the practical lessons learnt from the first eight years. For the second time in the region, the process installed the participation of a wide range of stakeholders emanating from political institutions, sciences and academia, the private sector, as well as civil society. With the help of the other UNEP/MAP Regional Activity Centers (RACs), the technical process of the review is currently supported by Plan Bleu, which is an observatory and a prospective center dealing with the environment and sustainable development issues in the region.


Plan Bleu promotes systemic approaches, transversal studies and programmes on different scales. Plan Bleu fosters awareness among Mediterranean decision-makers and stakeholders from the three rims of the Mediterranean basin. Therefore, the collaboration of Plan Bleu was requested by the MAP Secretariat and the MCSD to carry out the consultation sessions, which gathered the experiences and expertise of the stakeholders into the text of the new MSSD (2016-2025).


The first phase of the review aimed at identifying the issues and at steering the consultation around the vision of the new Strategy. This was achieved by sending a consultation document to 6.000 contacts. The results showed that there was a need for a new structure that could consider cross-cutting approaches as well as tools that interlink the environment and development concerns in a more efficient way. On the basis of this first stage of the consultation, the MCSD steering committee agreed on a vision and identified six main objectives for the Mediterranean region.


First of all, a sustainable development in marine and coastal areas (objective 1) should achieve the conciliation between the protection of the rich and fragile ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea that concentrates 8% of the global biodiversity, with the economic attractiveness of this unique commercial crossroads (approximately 30% of global maritime traffic and one third of international tourist flows) and the significant residential and demographic appeals of the coastal areas.

Secondly, promoting resource management, food production and food security through sustainable forms of rural development (objective 2) appears to be a crucial objective for reducing the vulnerability of the natural resources which significantly affects the basic needs of the populations in rural territories. The consequent growth of urban populations and over-urbanisation are well addressed by the strategic orientations and the actions under the objective of planning and managing sustainable Mediterranean cities (objective 3).


Responding to Mediterranean issues deriving from climate change (objective 4) through a set of mitigation and adaptation orientations is also presented as a priority field of action by the Strategy.  Because the region is facing socio-economic inequalities between and within countries, high rates of unemployment and unsustainable patterns of consumption and production, the regional transition towards a green and blue economy (objective 5) is rigorously considered in the MSSD as well. 


Last but not least, improving governance in support of sustainable development (objective 6) consists of a transversal objective with strategic orientations and actions that aim at integrating more stakeholders in sustainable development patterns, including the reinforcement of the organizational capacities and partnerships, the access to information and the participation in the decision-making and the implementation of projects.


Well aware that all these six objectives deal with environmental, socioeconomic and governance aspects, the establishment of six thematic working groups (TWGs) resulted in  participatory workshops and online consultation sessions that mobilised more than 400 participants from June until December 2014. The exchanges between the experts and different stakeholders about Mediterranean issues allowed a formulation of the main strategic directions for each of the six objectives, and the identification of concrete actions at national and regional scales. The proposed actions carefully address recommendations for all types of stakeholders in the Mediterranean. Furthermore, these proposed actions are connected to current or possible flagship initiatives, as well as monitoring and assessment indicators.


Since the beginnings of 2015, the consultation is now steered around a preliminary version of the Strategy. The Conference on the Review of the MSSD (Floriana, Malta, 17-18 February 2015) was a unique occasion to debate the draft of the new MSSD with 100 key stakeholders, including participants to the previous consultation exercises and other participants representing international organizations, national governments, academia, NGOs, etc. The propositions were reported in the draft of the MSSD and provided the basics for a new implementation plan. This operational section should provide the ways to achieve ownership of the MSSD by the various stakeholders. It focuses also on sources of funding to support the actions, as well as the establishment of a general monitoring and assessment plan. At its 16th meeting in June 2015 in Morocco, the MCSD will discuss the revised version of the draft of the MSSD before it will be submitted for adoption by the Contracting Parties at their 19th Ordinary meeting in February 2016 in Greece. 


Until now, the review process has revealed very positive achievements. The diversity of actors who devoted their expertise and experiences raise the awareness of their synergies, confirming that collaborations lead to rich outputs. From Plan Bleu's perspective, the process offers exemplary learnings for promoting a regional dialogue based on broader participation towards achieving sustainable development in the Mediterranean. Plan Bleu considers that the quality of the dialogue shall result in positive impacts of the MSSD on National Sustainable Development Strategies (NSSDs). The NSSDs remain powerful change levers in terms of harmonization between socio-economic and environmental goals in public policies and the adaptation of regional commitments to national and local engagements. That remains a key condition for enabling a wide range of stakeholders to support their regional cooperation in the field of sustainable development.


More information about the MSSD Review here.

Zoé Vernin

Zoé Vernin joined Plan Bleu in November 2014 as an intern, where she supports the MSSD Review process. She has an academic background in Public Management in the Mediterranean, as well as a degree in political sciences and public law which she obtained through her studies in France before acquiring a master’s degree in international relations at Istanbul Bilgi University. 


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