Ministers from the 42 member countries of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) gathered in Cairo on Monday for the 2nd Ministerial Conference on Environment and Climate action held under the co-presidency of Jordan and the European Union (EU).
The ministers agreed on a common agenda to strengthen efforts in the Euro-Mediterranean region to tackle the multiple climate and environmental challenges it faces urgently.
The commitment reflects the highest possible ambition in accelerating the transition towards sustainable, climate-neutral, and green economies.
The conference was chaired by Frans Timmermans, European Commission Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal, and Nabil Masarweh, Jordan's Minister of Environment, attended by Secretary-General of the UfM Secretariat, Nasser Kamel. Egypt was represented by Minister of Environment, Yasmine Fouad.
The second ministerial conference comes at a critical moment for the region, only a few weeks ahead of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) and following a summer dominated by climate and environmental emergencies across the region.
The dire warning calls of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the network of Mediterranean experts on climate change (MedECC) also drew attention to the Mediterranean as one of the world's climate change hotspots.
During the Cairo conference, ministers acknowledged the urgency of taking action, stressing a firm commitment to tackle climate and environmental challenges by fully implementing the Paris Agreement and the Agenda 2030.
The ministers reiterated their commitment to lead by example and reflect the highest possible ambition by accelerating the transition towards fair, resilient, climate-neutral, and resource-efficient economies to limit average global temperature rise to 1.5°C, halt and reverse biodiversity loss and reduce air pollution.
They stressed the importance of including environment and climate action in all sectoral policies, including energy, industry, agriculture, and transportation, while mobilizing and expanding resources to support the green transition.
Investments and sustainable finance featured high on the agenda and the need to step up action on adaptation and reinforce the science-policy nexus.
The ministers emphasized the need to progressively reduce the use of fossil fuels, ensure a just transition and engage all stakeholders in environmental and climate policy-making, as well as the importance of supporting women and youth engagement in building resilience and driving the green transition.
The UfM Secretariat was mandated to support the implementation of the objectives of this declaration and monitor progress through its Environment and Climate working group.
High-level representatives of international financial institutions and UfM senior officials discussed the challenges and opportunities of the green transition in the Mediterranean in an event on investments organized by the EU and the UfM at the margins of the ministerial conference.
The discussion focused on potential trends and tools to accelerate the transition towards the region's clean, fair, and competitive economies.
The conference also saw the UfM hold a joint event with the United Nations Development Program on Biological Diversity, Ecosystem Restoration, and Food Systems. It helped establish the first steps to implement the recommendations outlined in the Declaration.
The importance of these steps was made clear by the latest IUCN reports, which indicate that some 62 million macro-litter items are floating on the surface of the Mediterranean basin.
Timmermans said that the climate crisis is existential for all of humanity and transcends borders and politics, stressing that establishing a sustainable future for all citizens across the Mediterranean is a shared responsibility.
"It is time to act and fulfill the commitments we all made under the Paris agreement. Today we have set a bold and ambitious vision for a clean, competitive, resilient, and inclusive Mediterranean. I hope our joint ambition is an example for other regions to follow."
The EU Commissioner for the Environment Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevicius, noted that the countries of the Mediterranean share a rich natural heritage and a common concern for the effects of climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
"We now have a renewed commitment to address these challenges together with an ambitious plan of action to protect the environment for future generations. The recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic allows us to build back better and greener together."
Masarweh noted that the Mediterranean region was shown to be one of the biggest climate change hotspots.
He explained that temperature in the area warms 20 percent faster than the global mean temperature, as was indicated by the MedECC report, besides other environmental challenges that the region faces.
Kamel underlined that the Mediterranean Sea has a fragile ecosystem that suffers from different problems, such as biodiversity loss, overfishing, pollution, coastal degradation, and marine litter.
The alarming effects of climate change exacerbate the fragility of this ecosystem.
"The more closely the Euro-Mediterranean community works together, the more funding we will be able to generate and the more effectively we'll be able to use it," he said.
The UfM has been very active in this regard, firstly by treating marine litter as an environmental and economic problem, and most importantly, mobilizing funds targeting key regional operational initiatives to fight climate change.