UfM representative: ‘Obligation’ to protect Mediterranean from climate change

Miguel García-Herraiz [Union for the Mediterranean]

COP22 kicked off this week and achieving the goals set by the last instalment in Paris will top the agenda of the Marrakesh conference. EurActiv Spain spoke with Miguel García-Herraiz about the climate challenges facing the countries that border the Mediterranean.

Miguel García-Herraiz is a Spanish diplomat who was recently appointed deputy secretary-general of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) in charge of water and environment.

He spoke to EurActiv Spain’s Fernando Heller and Irene de Pablo.

Spain is a world leader in projects relating to the treatment and sanitation of water. How has it contributed to one of the most ambitious UfM projects of recent years: the decontamination of Tunisia’s Lake Bizerte?

That decontamination project is very comprehensive, ambitious and worthy, because it touches on prevention and mitigation of the lake’s pollution, as well as socio-economic aspects, as it is creating possibilities for future development of tourism in the area. It’s also making fish farming possible.

It has the UfM’s stamp of approval on it, so it has the political support of our 43 member states, including Spain. Spain supports the project because it knows the difficulties encountered during a transition into democracy and the challenges of meeting the expectations of citizens following a revolution (the Arab Spring). The decontamination project has a long road ahead of it.

Spain’s experience in these matters is evident?

It’s no coincidence Spain is involved with this as it does have experience here. It also has a business sectors closely associated to the EU’s water policies and Europe’s Mediterranean area. At the COP22 summit, Spain, together with its 5+5 group partners (Portugal, France, Italy, Malta and Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Mauritania and Tunisia) is going to present its water strategy for the Western Mediterranean.

Within the framework of COP22, what challenges wait after the success of the Paris Agreement? What added value does the UfM bring to the climate dialogue?

I feel optimistic about COP22, because I see, from the UfM platform, a widespread, shared and consolidated conviction to facing the challenges. We are still in the ratification phase, where countries are bringing the Agreement into force.

The Mediterranean a region of the world that is one of the most affected by climate change and rising temperatures, so it is particularly vulnerable. Therefore, there is a need and an obligation to adopt tailored policies to combat these phenomena. The UfM is one of the platforms working towards that. In fact, in 2014, a ministerial declaration was adopted that brought objectives in line with climate change.

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What are you going to present at the Marrakesh conference?

UfM has a number of events planned to attract attention to what we are doing. One of those is a panel on stability and sustainable development. It’s going to be a forum discussion with several political leaders on how the Mediterranean can collaborate to meet this global challenge. We will also launch a dialogue platform on renewable energy between states, the private sector and civil society. We are also going to present a private initiative called SEMED SPREF, which focuses on stimulating private sector participation in renewable energy projects in the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean.

The European institutions have opened the doors to private sector participation in development aid. How far should the private sector’s reach extend into Official Development Assistance (ODA)? Where should the balance be between private and public support?

The UfM works to remove the link between economic growth and the degradation of natural resources and the challenges posed by climate change. This affects not only governments, but also businesses, the private sector and society. The private sector has investment potential and we know that it is difficult to attract investment to sectors that don’t generate resources. That is why the private and public sectors have to work together to create business opportunities. We can’t pretend that it is just the private sector that has this obligation, the public sector does as well.

There is joint work going on between multilateral organisations, like UfM, which aims to promote the exchange of good practices in improving the regulatory environment, so that the private sector can feel comfortable in areas that are today crucial to the future of sustainable development. The private sector can contribute to concepts like the green economy, the circular economy, etc.

Access to clean water and public health are two inseparable elements of development. How is the situation in countries like Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia and Mauritania, and what is the UfM’s involvement?

All those countries are UfM members and benefit from our regional training project and knowledge-sharing schemes. For example, we have a governance, transparency and integrity in water management programme, which aims to boost investment in water schemes. I mentioned the 5+5: Mauritania and Algeria are a part of that group, so are involved with the Western Mediterranean scheme too. We hope it will serve as a model for the UfM’s 2017 ministerial meeting, where we will get to work on the same principles.

Lebanon is actively involved in preparing these policy documents on working together with other international actors in the Mediterranean. This wraps us all up in the same framework and there is interest in finding attractive investment projects in the environment and water sectors.

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After years of turmoil and enthusiasm brought about by the Arab Spring, some countries of the South Med seem to be a but lethargic now, is that really the case?

There have been movements in recent years in the south. The UfM is made up of 43 member states balanced between the north (co-presidency in the EU) and the south (co-presidency in Jordan). Although it has been a difficult phase, the UfM has found common issues to deal with. Although we have not addressed the migration crisis directly, we have worked in all the areas that cause people to leave their homes in the first place: government training, job creation opportunities, empowerment of women, all issues in which member states have a common interest and which exacerbate migratory flows. We continue to work on them too.

We identify projects of that make a regional impact, like the Lake Bizerte case, but also projects that has cross-border interest. Lake Bizerte discharges its pollution into the Mediterranean, meaning it affects us all, not just Tunisia.

Migration, security and terrorism concern citizens. What initiatives does the UfM have in the pipeline? Do you think that the problems that affect the Med’s south shore are high enough on Europe’s political agenda?

The UfM is also a political forum. We are currently organising for our late January meeting of foreign ministers. These hot-topic issues will be on the agenda, as will the future of the UfM itself. In developing a roadmap for the future, there is considerable consensus.

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Your agenda is certainly ambitious. Is it easy to coordinate amongst some many member states?

It is difficult to make decisions between 43 members and it is hard reaching a consensus. But after six years of operation, there is a certain amount of know-how now. The themes that we base the ministerial meetings on, energy, employment, role of women, already have built in consensus among our members, as they are shared issues. We face our challenges together north and south, pointing out what needs to be done.

Regarding where the Mediterranean is on the European political agenda, High Representative Federica Mogherini was in Tunisia recently to inaugurate the Bizerte project, so it is clearly on the radar of the European institutions.