What the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 tells us about our priorities in the Mediterranean region

The Sustainable Development Goals Report (2019), which was launched on 9 July 2019 in New York within the framework of the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), provides insights into the progress made so far in the implementation of the 17 Goals that the UN Member States, including the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention, resolved to achieve by 2030.

The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 notes that “countries are taking concrete actions to protect our planet: marine protected areas have doubled since 2010; countries are working concertedly to address illegal fishing; 186 parties have ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change, and almost all have communicated their first nationally determined contributions.”

Notwithstanding that progress, the report contains sobering facts about the challenges that lie ahead: “sea levels are rising; ocean acidification is accelerating; the past four years have been the warmest on record; one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction; and land degradation continues unabated. The world is moving too slowly in our efforts to end human suffering and create opportunity for all.

It is abundantly clear that a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the transformation needed to achieve the SDGs by 2030.”

Key messages on SDG 14
The Sustainable Development Goals Report (2019) contains a set of key messages that are particularly relevant to the work of the UNEP/Mediterranean Action Plan and which converge with several priorities identified by the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development (MCSD).

Key messages (SDGs 2019 Report)

Context in the Mediterranean region

Land-based pollutants and marine debris threaten coastal habitats, but improvements in water quality are achievable.


Nutrients, heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs), pesticides, hydrocarbons, and marine litter are the main pollutants of the Mediterranean Sea. Plastics account for up to 95 to 100 per cent of total floating marine litter and more than 50 per cent of seabed marine litter. The Regional Plan on Marine Litter Management in the Mediterranean (2013) provides for a set of policy, legal, institutional, regulatory, economic, and technical measures, addressing different aspects of marine litter prevention and management from land- and sea-based sources. A Regional Cooperation Platform on Marine Litter established in 2016 supports the exchange of good practices and information-sharing.

The extent of marine protected areas has doubled since 2010, but more must be done to safeguard key biodiversity areas.


The building of a coherent, representative, and well managed network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is a priority in the Mediterranean region, but MPAs critically lack permanent funding for operating costs. To date, about 1,200 MPAs and other effective area-based conservation measures cover over 8.9 per cent of the Mediterranean Sea. However, only 10 per cent of marine areas covered by conservation measures duly implement management plans due to the lack of financial resources and technical capacity, as well as legal and policy gaps.

The decline in fish stocks appears to have stabilized; now they need to be rebuilt, especially in severely depleted regions.


In 2015, the Mediterranean and Black Sea region had the lowest percentage of sustainable fish stocks (37.8 per cent). 78 per cent of Mediterranean and Black Sea fish stocks are fished at biologically unsustainable levels (FAO, 2018).

States have taken important steps to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing


Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems. Small-scale fisheries in developing countries are particularly vulnerable. The first international binding agreement developed expressly to combat IUU fishing, the Agreement on Port State Measures, entered into force in June 2016. As of March 2019, 59 States --five of which are Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention--, and the European Union were Parties to it.

Most countries have frameworks to address the needs of small-scale fisheries; the next critical stage is their implementation.


Fisheries play an important socio-economic role across the Mediterranean region, in terms of food production (landings representing 850,000 tons in 2016), revenue (approx. 2.44 billion USD annually) and employment (>227,000 direct jobs onboard fishing vessels, plus indirect job opportunities for fish processing). The Regional Plan of Action for Small-Scale Fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea was adopted in 2018 under the auspices of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (FAO-GFCM).

Increasing acidification is threatening marine life and hampering the ocean’s role in moderating climate change


The Mediterranean Sea is subject to ocean acidification at rates in line with global averages. The sea is absorbing CO2, which causes ocean acidification at an unprecedented rate of - 0.018 to - 0.028 pH units per decade, with significant expected consequences on calcifying organisms, impacting marine biodiversity and aquaculture.


The SDG Summit, the Climate Action Summit and the other crucial meetings that will take place in New York in September 2019 provide leaders everywhere with an opportunity to get the world back on track and to kick-start a decade of delivery for people and the planet. The 21st Ordinary Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention (COP21) (2-5 December 2019, Naples, Italy) will provide an opportunity to build on this momentum to accelerate the transition to sustainability in the Mediterranean region.

Date of Article: 
Friday, July 19, 2019