Under COVID-19 lockdowns, many took to the internet to enthuse about clean air and blue skies. The confined masses shared pictures of wild animals roaming in deserted cities, including a photo purporting to show dolphins in the canals of Venice. Some of those photos may have been inaccurate or outright fake, but the enthusiasm signalled a longing for a healthy environment.
In the search for the pandemic’s silver lining, there may be a temptation to accept that healing the environment comes with plunging millions into joblessness as economies grind to a halt. We must reject this notion because the health of nature and the wellbeing of humans go hand in hand. Over the last few months, UNEP has repeatedly called upon governments to build back greener. UNEP’s Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP/MAP)—which works to underpin the implementation of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention) by 21 Mediterranean countries and the European Union—has called for a green renaissance in Mare Nostrum. As the region continues to grapple with a set of intertwined crises, which now includes the coronavirus pandemic, the journey to a green recovery may begin with relatively small steps.
Meeting in Naples, Italy, on 2-5 December 2019, the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention adopted a Roadmap for a Proposal for the Possible Designation of the Mediterranean Sea, as a whole, as an Emission Control Area for Sulphur Oxides Pursuant to MARPOL Annex VI, within the Framework of the Barcelona Convention”. Although it was tabled before the pandemic, the proposal epitomizes the kind of steps needed to build back greener in the region. Mediterranean leaders have an opportunity to demonstrate that they mean green business.