Saving the Mediterranean: The role of International Environmental Cooperation

Environmental Cooperation

By Nikolaos Anagnostakis,

Environmental Lawyer, Chair of the Environmental NGO “Green Justice”

-The present essay is the product of a thourough research conducted in Italy and other mediterranean countries-

Environmental Cooperation

            The last century has seen human beings come to the horrific realization that the world’s resources may not be able to sustain future generations. Human practices have over the years strained and abused the environment such that experts fear the planet cannot sustain any more harmful behavior. Therefore, global sustainability has become a global concern and various methods including earth literacy studies have been introduced to ensure that the earth’s resources can still sustain future generations.

            One of the objectives of the World Environmental Day which was founded in 1972 was to protect the environment. Protecting the environment is one of the ways that sustainability can be achieved. The Mediterranean is one of the natural resources that need protection from harmful agents. The purpose of this essay is to examine the role of international environmental cooperation in protecting the Mediterranean.

            One notable feature of the Mediterranean is the Mediterranean Sea. The Mediterranean basin is also habitat to 25,000 different plant species and many different animal species and has been named among the first 25 global biodiversity hotspots. Other than having different species of plants and animals some of the plant and animal species can only be found in the Mediterranean (WWF, n.d).

            For instance 18 % of the world macroscopic marine species are found in the Mediterranean Sea and 20-30 % percent of this species cannot be found anywhere else. Species provide human beings with medicine and food as well as tourist attraction sites which bring income to countries in the Mediterranean basin (WWF, n.d). With the diversity that exists in the Mediterranean basin it’s obvious that there is a wealth of importance from it hence the cause of alarm when it is under treat.

            Some of the threats facing the Mediterranean basin include pollution by solid waste and marine litter. The growth of population has in turn led to high generation of waste. High levels of waste generation coupled with poor systems of waste disposal have led to most of the waste finding its way into the Mediterranean (Scoullas & Ferragina, 2010). Moreover waste generated by ships, and beach users all have a negative effect on the Mediterranean ecosystem.

            On World Ocean day 2017, the World Wide Fund for nature (WWF), whose work involves; among other things, marine protection and coast line planning, raised an alarm over plastic pollution in the Mediterranean (WWF, 2017). The Mediterranean Sea is ranked 6th highest region in the accumulation of debris (WWF, 2017). According to Giussepe Calo the marine initiative leader at WWF the Mediterranean is endangered by paint, cosmetic products and plastics which take long to decay and are a danger to oceans and to marine life another threat facing the Mediterranean is pollution by waste water (WWF, 2017).

            Just like in the case of solid waste, poor management of waste water mainly from industries means that untreated water almost always finds its way into the Mediterranean and especially the sea (Scoullas & Ferragina, 2010). Waste water not only harms marine life but also leads to degradation and contamination of freshwater sources which may harm human beings in the long run.

            Maritime traffic and oil spills have also contributed to the degradation of the Mediterranean. Scoullos and Ferragina, 2010 Write that close to 220,000 vessels cross the Mediterranean Sea every year. Cases of oil spillage from these ships adversely affect the ecosystem of the Mediterranean Sea. As Haas (1990), writes oil pollution was so widespread in the 1960s causing alarm in Mediterranean governments such that they started developing pollution controls. Currently, reports indicate that the Mediterranean Sea is highly contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons (Scoullos & Ferragina, 2010). Other factors that pose a threat to the environmental sustainability of the Mediterranean include climate change, desertification, soil erosion and sealing among others.

            Robert Keohane as cited by Haas (1990), defines international cooperation as a state in which a countries adopt the policies of another country if they find that those policies help further their objectives through policy coordination. International Environmental cooperation could thus be defined as the adaptation of policies that help protect the environment by multiple states. With the realization that the Mediterranean was under threats also came the realization that countries needed to work together to save the Mediterranean and thus international environmental cooperation on the Mediterranean started in the 1970s

            According to Costa (2010), threats facing the Mediterranean have seen the EU and nations surrounding the Mediterranean pay more attention to the ways in which they can protect the Mediterranean from destructive agents. According to Boxer (1982), International efforts aimed at controlling pollution in the Mediterranean sea are unique in that states with different political backgrounds and international organizations come together to create and implement joint programs of research, training, education, planning and treaty drafting.

            Haas (1990), writes that Internal Environmental cooperation could take various forms depending on the scope, strength and duration. Scope considers simple methods of solving simple problems or complex interventions for complex interventions. Strength refers to the specifics of an arrangement for instance to what extent are the injunctions of an arrangement binding to member states. Duration has to do with the life span of the arrangement; some arrangements may be transitory and others may be permanent.

            According to Haas (1990), environmental degradation first became popular among countries in 1972 at the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment (UNHCE). During the conference Marine pollution was one of the key problems identified. Of the 16 recommendations that were developed to deal with pollution, 9 covered marine population. Since 1976 more recommendations have been developed both on the domestic and international fronts to curb the problems of pollution and ensure that global sustainability is achieved.

             Of all the ways in which international environmental cooperation plays a role in saving the Mediterranean treaty drafting and policy making are the most popular. Various treaties and agreements have been formulated over the years to enhance protection of the Mediterranean basin. One such agreement is the Barcelona convention of 1976.

            The Barcelona convention was signed on February 167, 1976 in Barcelona, Spain and came to force in February 12, 1978. The agreement was later amended in June 1995 and changed its name to the Convention for protection of Marine Environment and Coastal region of the Mediterranean. Currently 22 states are signatories to the agreement. The agreement has seven protocols, five of which have been enforced. The protocols that have been enforced include; the dumping protocol, the emergency protocol, the land based resources protocol, specially protected areas and biodiversity protocol and the hazardous waste protocol.

            Another role of international environmental cooperation is funding of research. International agencies have come together to create organizations that can fund research activities in the Mediterranean region. One such organization is the Critical Ecosystem partnership Fund (CEPF). The CEPF is a partnership between Agence Françoise de Development (AFD), Conservation International (CI) the World Bank among others. The CEPF‘s main objective is to fund research to assess threats in the Mediterranean basin and develop a strategy to address the threats identified (Watkin, 2010).According to Haas (1990), UNEP has also sponsored research that demonstrated the need for more comprehensive pollution controls in the Mediterranean.

            Another role of international environmental cooperation is the identification of capacity building measures to help neighboring countries to create environmental agencies that can be able to develop and implement environmental laws. Such is the mandate of the horizon 2020 initiative which was formed in 2005 to enhance ‘coordination between the various actors in the Mediterranean.

            Learning is also an important tool in protecting the Mediterranean. UNEP has an aim of instilling new and holistic style of environmental policy making. Learning has been important in enabling governments understand their regional problems. UNEP has through its networks sponsored learning activities where regional scientists can share techniques and data. Mediterranean countries will always seek the advice of scientists which is then used both in domestic and international policy making and thus learning plays a great role in the protection of the Mediterranean.

            As mentioned earlier International Environmental Cooperation is not only limited to governments but also to organizations. UNEP apart from sponsoring research also plays the role of activist whereby it sends information to governments and NGOs throughout the world to ensure they have their focus on Environmental conservation at all times. Moreover, UNEP also sends environmental and conservation proposals to environmental bodies all over the world

            Through cooperation between governments and international organizations, Environmental conservation has become as much an international affair as it is an individual state’s affair. It would, therefore, be correct to say that international environmental cooperation plays one major role, of conserving the Mediterranean and reducing pollution in a bid to ensure the sustainability of the region. As mentioned earlier the Mediterranean has a vast wealth of different species some of which are endemic to the region.  Therefore, the Mediterranean is a source of great benefit to citizens of countries surrounding it since the marine life provides a source of income through tourist attraction. Moreover globally, people can also benefit since some of the plant species found in the Mediterranean are sources of medicine. Degradation of the Mediterranean, therefore, comes at a huge cost for mankind hence the need for its protection.

            Since many countries share the benefits of the Mediterranean, international environmental cooperation has become one of the ways to protect the Mediterranean. International environmental cooperation plays a role of regulating pollution mainly through treaty formulation as well as sponsoring research, training and educational programs which help protect the Mediterranean in the long run. Costa (2010), however, laments that even though countries have shown a thirst to support the protection of the Mediterranean, problems exist especially in treaties. Costa (2010), writes that there is a big gap between the formulation and implementation of a treaty caused by several factors including the challenge of uniting the different schemes that exists.

Italy, 10/7/2017


Boxer, B. (1982). Mediterranean pollution: Problem and response. Ocean Development & International Law, 10(3-4), 315-356.

Costa, O. (2010). Convergence on the fringe: the environmental dimension of euro-Mediterranean co-operation”, Mediterranean Politics, 15(2).

Haas, P. M. (1990). Saving the Mediterranean: The politics of international environmental cooperation. New York: Columbia University Press

Scoullos, M., & Ferragina, E. (2010). Environmental and Sustainable Development in the Mediterranean, Institute for Security Studies.

Watkin, J. (2010, September 29). In Mediterranean Basin, an International Strategy for Biodiversity Protection. Human Nature (Conserbvation International Blog). Retrievd from

WWF. (n.d) The Mediterranean Sea. Retrieved from

WWF. (2017, June 7). Whales poisoned by plastic pollution in the Mediterranean, WWF raises the alarm. Retrieved from