This special guest editorial features in our 2017 Water Around the Mediterranean report on page 7.
Writer: Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.
The Mediterranean has often been at the centre of world affairs. It’s the cradle of our civilisation, the birthplace of democracy and the midwife to some of the world’s major religions.
Today, as much as anywhere else in the world, it concentrates the problems we face. It brings us face to face with the realities of water scarcity, urbanisation, and our growing energy needs. On its southern shores, an enduring economic crisis is bringing ongoing socio-political instability, conflict and large-scale migratory movements.
And one thing is increasingly clear. Most of these challenges have some connection to water.
We are nothing without water. It underpins all societies, all commerce, all life on earth. And world leaders are explicitly committed to its protection: UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 is an explicit requirement to combat climate change. SDG 14 is an obligation to conserve the oceans, and ensure their use is sustainable. And SDG 6 demands the sustainable management of water for all.
Policy-makers are tasked with ensuring that these impressive-sounding commitments are translated into action on the ground. With ensuring that governments, private companies and civil society all work together to deliver on these existing commitments, and raise the level of ambition.
The challenges are all too clear: all around the Mediterranean, fresh water resources have been profoundly affected by climate change; warming oceans, sea level rise and acidification are already here, and their knock-on effects will be difficult to manage.
And yet our future depends on how we rise to these challenges.
Europe is determined to act. The EU and the European Commission are long-time supporters of sustainable water management in the region. The Sustainable Water Integrated Management (SWIM) programme launched by the European Commission contributes to the extensive dissemination and effective implementation of sustainable water management policies and practices in the southern Mediterranean region.
Last October, the European Union hosted the Our Ocean Conference in my home country, Malta. I am proud of the results we achieved, and the determination it revealed to address climate change, and to help communities work with nature, not against it. An unprecedented EUR 7 billion was pledged to this fight, in a host of different areas, from fighting marine pollution and climate change to ensuring a sustainable blue economy.
And as members of the Union for the Mediterranean, we pledged to address these challenges. We are already working on numerous initiatives focusing on delivering our commitments for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including on water and inter-linked sectors.
When water ministers gathered in Malta for the April meeting of the Union for the Mediterranean, the meeting was something of a breakthrough. We delivered a new regional framework for long-term cooperation in the water sector.
While still attentive to the regional priorities of the region, this ambitious declaration targets broader, global policy agendas. One of these global commitments is the development of green growth and the circular economy, a concept that will be vital for the sustainable development of the Mediterranean region.
Because water is a tremendous driver of innovation. By encouraging industry to innovate and find solutions, we make it more competitive at the global level. The challenges the region faces are very real, but they are also opportunities – drivers of economic benefits, bringing jobs, growth, and better quality of life.
We can share that satisfaction, because as the Union for the Mediterranean constantly proves, water doesn’t have to divide us. We can also use it to bring us closer together.