The European Commission proposed a long-term environmental strategy for cleaning up and protecting the Mediterranean Sea. This unique ecosystem, it said, is deteriorating as environmental pressures such as pollution and construction increase. The major oil spill that occurred during the recent conflict in Lebanon has dramatically highlighted the vulnerability of the region’s environment.
The Mediterranean’s decline threatens the health of the 143 million people living on its shores as well as the long-term development of key economic sectors that depend on the sea, such as fishing and tourism, said the commission.
Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “We have to act for the promotion of economic development of the Mediterranean and the protection of the health of its people. Inaction is not an option. This strategy aims to revitalize and strengthen cooperation between the EU, our Mediterranean neighbours and the relevant international organizations to safeguard the region’s environment and natural resources for the long term. If we fail, the Mediterranean could deteriorate beyond repair.”
Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, added: “Environmental cooperation has been an important aspect of our dialogue with Mediterranean partners since the launching of the Barcelona Process. We include ambitious environmental goals in the Action Plans agreed with in the framework of our Neighbourhood Policy. It is crucial that we all work together to safeguard our common future and this is why we have all agreed to work towards a decontaminated Mediterranean by 2020. The environment is an excellent example of an area where we can succeed only when we work together with our close neighbours.”
The Mediterranean is the largest European sea, shared by 427 million people living in the 22 countries and territories around it and visited by some 175 million more every year. Their well-being depends upon the health of its environment. But despite nearly 30 years of international efforts to protect the sea, the Mediterranean remains fragile and continues to deteriorate as environmental pressures increase.
These pressures include pollution from industry, shipping and households as well as the loss of open areas and the destruction of coastal ecosystems like forests to make way for construction. On current projections, 50% of the Mediterranean coastline may be built up by 2025.
While the environmental challenges are well known and solutions exist, the effectiveness of international action to date has been hampered by lack of finance, the low political priority given to environmental protection in many countries, limited public awareness and weak institutional cooperation.
The large oil spill and other pollution resulting from the recent conflict in Lebanon underline the need for a coherent strategy to address both specific events and long-term environmental issues in the Mediterranean region.
The environmental needs of the Mediterranean far outweigh the means currently available to deal with them. Consequently, international organisations, the donor community and above all the countries around the sea will need to make significant additional and coordinated efforts if a cleaner Mediterranean is to be achieved. In this context, the Commission intends to concentrate its own efforts and limited resources in areas where it can bring clear added value.
The strategy’s key aims are to reduce pollution levels across the region; promote sustainable use of the sea and its coastline; encourage neighbouring countries to cooperate on environmental issues; assist partner countries in developing effective institutions and policies to protect the environment; and to involve NGOs and the public in environmental decisions affecting them.
In line with the European Neighbourhood Policy and the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, these aims will be achieved through four means: financial assistance from existing and already planned EU aid programs; strengthened dialogue with the region`s representatives; improved coordination with other organizations and partners; and sharing of EU experience in dealing with the problems of the Mediterranean and other regions.