“An important milestone has been reached, but more is needed” – Nov 23, 2020

he UNEP/MAP Coordinator Gaetano Leone reflects on the universal ratification of the 1995 Amendments to the Barcelona Convention

Last week the Government of Spain, in its capacity of Depositary of the Barcelona Convention, notified the Secretariat of the recent ratification of the 1995 Amendments to the Barcelona Convention by Bosnia and Herzegovina. The instrument of ratification was deposited on 19 October 2020 and the Barcelona Convention Amendments entered into force for Bosnia and Herzegovina on 18 November 2020. With this piece of the jigsaw falling into place, we have now secured the universal ratification of the Amendments to the Barcelona Convention by the 22 Contracting Parties.

The Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, adopted in the framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP), constitute the principal legally binding Multilateral Environmental Agreement (MEA) in the Mediterranean.

We have come a long a way since the “Convention for the Protection of the Mediterranean Sea Against Pollution” (Barcelona Convention) was adopted on 16 February 1976. The Convention was amended in 1995 and renamed “Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean”, to reflect changes in the global and regional landscape, notably those stemming from the landmark 1992 Rio Summit.

The amendments to the Barcelona Convention entered into force on 9 July 2004, but universal ratification carries a powerful symbolism at a time when reinvigorated multilateralism is sorely needed. There is a need to keep this momentum and turn it into action to halt current trends of environmental degradation in the Mediterranean. The next frontier of our endeavor in this field will be achieving the universal ratification of the Convention’s seven Protocols, starting with the Dumping Protocol.

In 1976 the Contracting Parties adopted the Protocol for the Prevention of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft, which entered into force in 1978. But in 1995 amendments were introduced to prohibit all dumping activities, with a few regulated exceptions listed in what was renamed as “the Protocol for the Prevention and Elimination of Pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by Dumping from Ships and Aircraft or Incineration at the Sea” (Dumping Protocol). The thus amended Protocol is the only legal instrument of the UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention system that has not yet entered into force. A single additional ratification would address this glaring shortcoming.

Where Protocols have already entered into force—such as the case of the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Protocol signed in 2008— universal ratification will signal commitment, ensure uptake at the national level and pave the way for implementation, notably through the translation of supranational agreements into national law. The role of parliamentarians and civil society in this process is key.

In recent months, we have been calling for a smart, pro-sustainability recovery from the economic devastation caused by the pandemic. We call it the “green renaissance”, and it constitutes an ambitious yet doable vision for Mare Nostrum.

A new push for enforcement can ensure that the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols, as well as the wealth of regional plans and thematic strategies adopted by the Contracting Parties, result in action on the ground. Effective reporting and compliance, will be key.

We will need all hands on deck to meet the challenges and seize the opportunities lying on the Mediterranean horizon. The UNEP/MAP-Barcelona Convention Secretariat will continue to work with regional institutions and Partners to foster the legal framework needed to do so.

(The status of ratification of the Barcelona Convention and its Protocols is available here.)