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23rd Conference of the Parties of the Barcelona Convention

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The 23rd Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean (COP 23), which takes place every two years, was held in Portorož (Slovenia) from 5 to 8 December 2023.

23rd Conference of the Parties of the Barcelona Convention

By Esther Hervella Baturone

1/ Context

The Barcelona Convention was adopted within the legal framework of the Mediterranean Action Plan. It has 22 Contracting Parties: 21 countries of the Mediterranean region and the European Union. Its main objective is to protect and preserve the  Mediterranean Sea and coastlines, which contribute to the sustainable development of the region. 

The Mediterranean is facing numerous threats, including the triple climate crisis: biodiversity loss, climate change, and pollution in the region. Therefore, in the months leading up to, and during the week of COP 23, the Contracting Parties have worked to adopt the most appropriate decisions and guidelines to protect and preserve the region.


2/ What happened? 

During the plenary sessions at COP 23, Contracting Parties managed to reach several agreements and adopt a number of decisions on important topics:

1) They adopted major decisions related to agriculture, aquaculture and stormwater, which represents a step towards the sustainability of the activities that are sources of pollution in the Mediterranean Sea.

2) Nine additional species of cartilaginous fish were included in the Biodiversity Protocol of the Barcelona Convention, six of which are fully protected against threats from human activities. This is a satisfactory decision since this amendment is legally binding on the States that sign it.

3) Parties reached an agreement on the necessity of a Regional Activity Centre on Climate Change, which should be based in Turkey. However, the Center will not be operational until the next COP24, which will take place in 2025.

4) Parties also adopted decisions regarding marine spatial planning, ship ballast water, land-based discharges, and other issues concerning the governance of the Convention.

The Ministerial session of COP 23 focused on the theme “Green transition: from decisions to actions”. During this session, participants addressed the decisions being taken in the context of the protection of the Mediterranean, but also the actions carried out by all the administrations, organizations and members of civil society. Participants also stressed the need to promote citizen participation, namely that of younger generations and women, to achieve the objectives set, thus highlighting, among other things, the central role of women in the fight against pollution. All the determined goals relate to the 2030 Agenda Sustainable Development Goal 14 on life below water.

For the next biennium, Contracting Parties have committed to continue improving the quality and sustainability of the Mediterranean Sea, for example by controlling the ship’s sulphur emissions in the Mediterranean region or by encouraging the designation of the region as a nitrogen emissions-controlled area.

Finally, all Contracting Parties and their partners are committed to fighting against the destruction of marine ecosystems, and to protecting and conserving the Posidonia Oceanica meadows –  an essential plant in Mediterranean Sea waters – for the following biennium.