Today is the first International Day of the Mediterranean, celebrating diversity and cooperation between 42 member states in the region. Union for the Mediterranean Secretary-General Nasser Karmel reflects on an unprecedented year, and the challenges that lie ahead.
'Mosaic'. 'Future'. 'Light'. 'Civilization'. 'Solidarity'. 'Serenity.' These are some of the words Mediterranean artists, policymakers, scientists and businesswomen chose to describe our common sea, in the framework of our first Day of the Mediterranean campaign.
Over the past few months, we’ve been asking citizens from the region to describe the Mediterranean in one word. I was happily surprised that the answers were all so positive and heart-warming, in contrast with the echoes of the headlines we are used to reading.
These words resonate with me, and remind me of all the Mediterranean region has to offer. Slowly emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, and with increasingly pressing challenges, Mediterranean enthusiasts who fight every day for a future that we can, and will, create for the next generations to come, can sometimes feel tired of the gloomy reactions towards our shared region.
That feeling is partly why I’ve been such a vocal supporter of creating an international day that celebrates the Mediterranean: to shine a light not only on the historical and cultural wonders of the region but also on the less tangible and visible: the many years of cooperation and dialogue that have blossomed across the region.
We must celebrate how the people of the Mediterranean have always shown great resilience, how they have joined hands throughout the years to make our region a more peaceful, stable and prosperous one.
We must celebrate our successes, and pave the way for even stronger solidarity in the years to come together.
November 28, 2021, marks the first annual Day of the Mediterranean, which recognises Mediterranean cultures, dialogue and richness, and commemorates what makes us one of the top destinations in the world.
Coming together to fight climate change and Covid-19
Naturally, the Euro-Mediterranean region’s diversity also means there is no homogeneity, political, economic or social. Let's not forget it lies at the crossroads of three continents.
But when it comes to global issues like climate change or youth empowerment, differences are put aside to work together.
We witnessed historical momentum building this last October, as our 42 member states, who exhibit tremendous differences in terms of development and priorities, adopted common, ambitious political commitments to protect and preserve the unique biodiversity of the Mediterranean in the face of climate change.
The Mediterranean region is warming up 20 per cent faster than the rest of the world. Without immediate policy change, it will experience devastating impacts on its ecosystem and way of life by 2040.
That's why the recent agreement has been one of the clearest examples, during my time as Secretary-General of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), of the importance of a multilateral platform such as this. Common, coordinated action will protect our citizens on the frontlines of climate change today, and safeguard tomorrow for everyone.
Throughout the pandemic we’ve also seen our member states come together, bonded by their shared determination to overcome COVID-19 and build an inclusive and sustainable recovery.
The Euro-Mediterranean region remains one of the least economically integrated regions in the world. Looking at levels of trade integration, 70 per cent of all cargo traffic in the Mediterranean is between European ports, with only 15 per cent between Europe and North Africa, and 5 per cent between MENA countries.
But there is more to the region’s untapped potential: for example, concentrated solar power plants in the region could generate 100 times the electricity consumption of the MENA and Europe combined.
Green energy could power the future and be a shared investment: a win for both regional integration and climate action.
The recent UfM Progress Report on Regional Integration sheds light on this untapped potential and more, and will be at the heart of the discussions of the UfM’s Sixth Regional Forum tomorrow.
Both integration and the fight against climate change are complex and intersectional. As we work to recover from the pandemic, we must leverage the opportunity to create more inclusive societies that ensure young people and women can reach their full potential, contributing to the region’s future development.
The first celebration of the Day of the Mediterranean must shine a light on the socio-economic and environmental challenges hindering stability and prosperity in the region.
Then, with all eyes on us, we can build the momentum needed to further unite the region in making the Mediterranean a pioneer of inclusive regional policies. Let our shared belief in our dynamic, creative and vibrant Euro-Mediterranean region be the compass for a brighter future.
_Nasser Karmel is a career diplomat and current Secretary-General of the Union for the Mediterranean. He formerly served as Egyptian Ambassador to the United Kingdom from 2014 to 2018 and was also Ambassador to France from 2006 to 2012. _