Europe pledges to clean up Mediterranean

Protecting the environment of the Mediterranean Sea, rapidly degrading as pollution and coastal construction take their toll, is the central aim of a strategy launched by the European Commission this week.

As well as damaging marine life, pollution and development have serious implications for the health and livelihoods of the 134m people living on its shores. Fishing and tourism are the backbone of many coastal economies, and are under threat from environmental damage that is costing as much as 3% of the gross domestic product of some North African countries.

Shipping, municipal waste and sewage are to blame for most (80%) of the pollution, and will be targeted as priority issues. Meanwhile, coastal developments are projected to cover 50% of the entire shoreline by 2050 if current trends continue.

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 revitalise and strengthen cooperation between the EU, our Mediterranean neighbours and the relevant international organisations to safeguard the region’s environment and natural resources for the long term. If we fail, the Mediterranean could deteriorate beyond repair.”

The new strategy follows the recent major oil spill in Lebanon, which the EC said “highlighted the vulnerability of the region’s environment.”

The EC plans to curb pollution and development by increasing environmental protection funds – including financial aid for south Mediterranean countries, improving cooperation between the 22 countries and territories bordering on the Mediterranean, and raising public awareness about environmental issues.

It builds on the Horizon 2020 initiative, signed by Mediterranean country representatives in Barcelona last November.

Benita Ferrero-Waldner, commissioner for external relations, said: “Environmental co-operation 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 them 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!”

Key aims of the strategy are:

· to reduce pollution levels

· promote sustainable use of the sea and coastline

· encourage neighbouring countries to cooperate on environmental issues

· assist partner countries in developing effective institutions and policies

· involve NGOs and the public in environmental decisions affecting them

For more information see here.

Goska Romanowicz

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