COP 21 Ministerial session - Speech by the UNEP Deputy Executive Director, Ms Joyce Msuya

H.E. Mr. Sergio Costa, Minister of Environment, Land and Sea of Italy

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is a pleasure to speak to you all today, and to open this important meeting – here in this impressive setting, among so many respected colleagues, and in this historic city on the Mediterranean coast.

I’d like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to the Government of Italy for the leadership and support they have so consistently demonstrated, not only on marine and coastal issues – our focus here – but on the health of our planet as a whole. Indeed,  this Conference of the Parties comes right on the heels of a very successful Meeting of the Parties of the Ozone Convention, which took place in Rome just last month. Italy’s wholehearted commitment to our global environment is firm and unwavering, and should serve as an inspiration to us all. 

As we gather here today, we are in the midst of an accelerating global climate emergency which is having profound impacts on our marine ecosystems.  

Our scientists, issue regular warnings about these changes. We know from the IPCC’s recent report on the world’s oceans and cryosphere that sea levels are now rising at more than double the pace we saw in the 20th century, and that we could see a rise of more than a meter by 2100 if we don’t take urgent action. We also know that, since the 1980s, the world’s oceans have absorbed up to 30% of all of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions, and their acid levels have surged as a result, destroying delicate marine life. 

And here in the Mediterranean – as in all of the world’s regions – we see hard evidence of the unfolding crisis. Despite decades of efforts, the Mediterranean remains one of the world’s most polluted ocean basins. One recent study concluded that about  62 million individual pieces of marine litter are probably floating around, right now, in the waters of the Mediterranean. All of that garbage is not just unsightly, of course – it also puts real and immediate pressures on the region’s wildlife and plants, people and their livelihoods.

Ladies and gentlemen, the science is undisputed and every day, somewhere on this earth, we are feeling the impact of the extreme weather events that are a result of climate inertia. I have just arrived from East Africa which is reeling from unprecedented floods. And as world leaders kick-off the COP 25 Climate meeting in Madrid, the urgency of cooperation and action has never been more critical.

And it is this principle, ladies and gentlemen, that has guided UNEP’s work here in the region since 1975, just three years after UNEP’s founding. It was in 1975 that 16 countries and the European Community adopted the Mediterranean Action Plan, the first-ever Regional Seas Programme under UNEP's umbrella. Over the past four decades – here in the Mediterranean, and later in regional seas around the globe – we have taken on a huge array of pressing challenges: from marine litter and plastic pollution, to the preservation of natural and cultural heritage, to the safeguarding of the livelihoods of those who depend on the sea and its resources. These regional structures have achieved so much, and they are now proving critical to our efforts to achieve SDG 14, a better life under water, in the regions and around the globe.

For forceful evidence of the strength of this Convention, we have only to look at its remarkably solid funding situation: to date, nearly 93% of this year’s assessed contributions of Contracting Parties to the Mediterranean Trust Fund have already been received. This financial commitment demonstrates that Contracting Parties believe in this instrument, what it has achieved, and what achievements are still to come.

And so here we are at COP21. This meeting is about taking stock of where we are today with the Convention, assessing what we have achieved, what lessons we have learned, and then setting our course for the future. And indeed, this work has already begun: MAP’s proposed new Programme of Work and Budget and the forward-looking Naples Ministerial Declaration – will guide the work of the Mediterranean Action Plan and the Barcelona Convention over the next two years and beyond.

COP21 comes at the end of a biennium of amplified impact and recognition of the UNEP/MAP and Barcelona Convention system, as well as an increased interaction with other UN bodies and offices. We saw strong interaction with partners and funders, including GEF, the European Commission and the Government of Italy. Just one powerful example of the projects made possible by these collaborations is GEF Mediterranean Sea Programme, which is working to enhance environmental security in the region.

This COP also comes at the close of a landmark year for marine conservation. Already in 2019, we have seen the launch of the Special Report on the Ocean and the Cryosphere, the Secretary-General’s historic Climate Action Summit, as well as the UNFCCC’s first “Blue COP,” which began just this week in Madrid.

It is your job here to carry forward this momentum, and then to spread the word at the global level – at other COPs, as well as at the UN Ocean Conference next year – about the immense importance and huge potential of working collaboratively in the regions. Because progress here in the regions can serve as a powerful driving force towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals for the world as a whole.

At the same time, I call upon you – the parties that have believed in this initiative for nearly half a century – to scale up your support. You can do this by committing new resources, strengthening national plans, ensuring universal ratification of pending protocols, and delivering the commitments that you have made in the context of global and regional frameworks. And finally, our actions are only as good as the science, and now perhaps more than ever before in history, we need to invest in the science and data that will help us asses our progress and update the Barcelona Convention process.

The next biennium of the Medium-Term Strategy gives us a chance to raise our ambition, to set bold new goals, and to demonstrate our wholehearted support for the Mediterranean Action Plan and what it’s able to achieve.

To demonstrate the importance of our seas as the lifelines of millions.

To demonstrate the importance of regional action for our planet’s shared resources.

And to demonstrate that at this time of climate emergency, WE CAN together overcome our common challenges, protecting both people and planet, and ensuring the prosperity of future generations.

Thank you.

Date of Article: 
Wednesday, December 4, 2019