Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Acting under the auspices of the United Nations, Mediterranean nations agreed to cooperate to curb pollution. The question remained, however, whether ecologically desirable approaches could assume priority status in widely diverse national political settings.

Summary of Event

When more than fifteen Mediterranean nations signed a Mediterranean pollution control agreement with United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) sponsorship in 1980, a new emphasis was given to serious pollution problems that had been identified years earlier. In 1975, UNEP allocated more than $7 million to the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) to aid Mediterranean seacoast countries in their efforts to fight obvious pollution problems. U.N. money represented the lion’s share of funds to be disbursed, since the total expected from Mediterranean participants in the 1975 MAP agreement amounted to only $375,000. Within one year, still another agreement, known as the Barcelona Convention, Barcelona Convention (1976) was signed by the signatories to the MAP. United Nations Environment Program;Mediterranean pollution control Blue Plan Regional Activity Centers Pollution;international agreements Environmental policy, international;pollution [kw]Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact (1980) [kw]Nations Sign Antipollution Pact, Mediterranean (1980) [kw]Antipollution Pact, Mediterranean Nations Sign (1980) [kw]Pact, Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution (1980) United Nations Environment Program;Mediterranean pollution control Blue Plan Regional Activity Centers Pollution;international agreements Environmental policy, international;pollution [g]Europe;1980: Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact[03980] [g]Switzerland;1980: Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact[03980] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;1980: Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact[03980] [c]United Nations;1980: Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact[03980] [c]Environmental issues;1980: Mediterranean Nations Sign Antipollution Pact[03980] Batisse, Michel Tolba, Mostafa Kamal Cousteau, Jacques

At least one other precursor to the 1980 antipollution pact demonstrated notable shortcomings in the original concept of international cooperation sparked by the 1975 MAP. Early in 1979, UNEP informed signatories to the 1975 agreement that it was planning to cut back future financial support from MAP because of limited funds and increasingly important commitments UNEP had undertaken elsewhere in the world. Specifically, the U.N. agency stated that it was “incompatible with UNEP’s catalytic role to envisage permanent financial support to individual programmes.”

The agency called a February, 1979, conference in Geneva, Switzerland, to prepare a new approach to budgetary demands for immediate environmental remedies, as well as to map out a strategy for protecting future ecological conditions throughout the Mediterranean basin. In Geneva, a two-year work program was drafted, identifying some twenty-three environmental protection projects demanding immediate attention. A budget of $6.5 million was established, one-half to come from the seventeen participating Mediterranean countries, one-fourth from UNEP, and the remaining one-fourth in the form of contributions in services and staff time from twelve international organizations involved in environmental protection. At the outset, it was apparent that this budget would not go far, so only three less financially demanding projects were approved for immediate attention. Member states were apparently as concerned about where the MAP headquarters was to be established (Athens, Barcelona, and Monaco were all proposed) as they were about the type of work to be undertaken in the 1980’s. A decision was postponed, however, until 1980, when the same countries would meet to take already existing antipollution accords to the next level.


After 1980, much of the antipollution efforts originally conceived as falling under U.N. sponsorship had, in the Mediterranean area as well as in other areas, as much to do with sharing preventive comparative research findings as with spot projects to solve existing problems. In fact, the staffs of international researchers who formed what came to be called Blue Plan Regional Activity Centers received a mandate. They were to provide data to the political authorities of all MAP countries to help them plan future economic development in a way that would avoid the damages already done in the sea itself and along its coastline in the 1970’s. Each of these centers, such as the Sophia-Antipolis research complex near Cannes, France, was to be included in the research budgets of separate national signatories to the MAP agreements of 1975 and 1980. The U.N. role was to facilitate communication among these centers and to sponsor international meetings to share findings and propose solutions on a regular basis.

Essential to the Blue Plan approach to Mediterranean ecology during the 1980’s was the challenge of constructing several scenarios of what the entire area might look like in twenty years (by 2000) or forty-five years (by 2025). After a decade of research, these scenarios, which were far enough along to be presented in published form, rested as much on economic and demographic variables as on formal ecological data per se. While the Blue Plan studies did incorporate observations, many very critical, of existing environmental issues in the 1980’s, the studies’ larger objective was to save the MAP countries the much higher costs of greater and perhaps irreversible problems in the future.

Blue Plan researchers, who were comparing economic conditions of the 1980’s with future scenarios, divided their concern into five areas: food production, industry, energy use, tourism, and transport. Some areas, such as food production (agriculture and livestock), were closely associated with issues of ecological impact. Measuring variables such as the surfaces of naturally fertile land, available water resources, and patterns of crop or livestock use could show comparative levels of productivity as well as gradual depletion of resources on a country-by-country basis.

Agricultural studies in all Mediterranean countries indicated, for example, that modernization—through the introduction of tractors or chemical fertilizers in countries such as Egypt—produced short-term gains that could be more costly in the long term. In this domain, countries such as Egypt, with alarming demographic statistics and unique conditions created by unpredicted side effects from the massive Aswān High Dam, could not be readily compared with more technologically developed countries on the European side of the Mediterranean. Blue Plan comparisons of food production potential between non-European countries were complicated by many factors beyond mere technology differences. Egypt, with a seemingly unlimited Nile water supply, could not be considered in the same terms as, for example, Algeria, where water resources were scant but the promising potential for expanding petroleum production could affect future food production.

By contrast, a common variable that could help compare relationships between economic performance and ecological repercussions in all Mediterranean countries, whatever their level of technological advancement, was the relative size of agricultural units. Blue Plan studies traced, for example, the ecological costs (namely, erosion) of standard agricultural development procedures in the 1960’s and 1970’s, such as expanding farmland by using tractors to transform previously uncultivated surfaces. The studies weighed these ecological costs against the benefits of using alternative technologies, including carefully developed fertilizers and improved irrigation, for example, to intensify production on what had been the traditional farmlands of each country. Another area of agro-industrial recommendations that were generated by Blue Plan studies involved ecologically safe “soil-less” alternatives to traditional farming or animal husbandry. These alternatives included indoor gardening or crop production and increased use of enclosed animal-feeding pens to replace open grazing on ecologically fragile, arid land.

Studies showed a considerable need to recognize differences between recommendations to retain or change traditional land tenure or cultivation techniques—which varied considerably according to economic class—and realistic possibilities for legislation affecting social class relationships. The fact that data were offered without a specific framework requiring political conformity undermined the practical realization of the MAP recommendations. This fact held true not only in the agricultural sphere but also in all areas of presumed joint ecological concern. Ongoing patterns of agro-industry, energy consumption, and tourism in each country, for example, represent politically sensitive issues at national levels that remain beyond any sphere of authority defined in the original MAP or subsequent joint Mediterranean agreements.

Jointly sponsored research suggested that some geographically concentrated areas of ecologically harmful heavy industrial activity, such as mining and metallurgical processing, as well as petrochemical production, were overproducing for stagnated or artificially sustained local national markets. Ecologically preferable and economically logical adjustments in such cases could involve integration of regional suppliers and markets (for steel or coal, for example). While Blue Plan recommendations such as these were being published, however, two prime examples of difficulties barring realization of intraregional production and consumption markets could be cited. First, Turkey, a major coal and steel producer, continued to be in fierce disagreement with its neighbor, Greece. Second, despite the logic of participating in a confirmed producer-consumer market, Tunisia and Algeria (the latter already a producer of natural gas Natural gas and petroleum) saw only minor attractions for energy market cooperation with each other. Tunisia therefore continued throughout the 1980’s to intensify, at great capital and ecological cost, its own limited petroleum production schedule.

While these are specific examples of neighboring countries neglecting joint production and consumption planning because of essentially political reasons (and thus suffering economic handicaps in the process), a related area of Blue Plan concern reflected broader reasons for alarm over the potential ecological costs of delaying energy policies that would link all Mediterranean countries. Reports of participating scientists from all the MAP countries agreed, for example, on the necessity of encouraging wider use of clean energy sources, beginning realistically with natural gas, and aiming eventually at high-technology nuclear or, ideally, solar energy production—a seemingly logical direction for Mediterranean sun-belt countries.

The question remained, however, whether ecologically desirable approaches could assume priority status in widely diverse national political settings. Diversity of commitment to clean energy-use programs would necessarily be even more marked in countries such as Greece, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt, where economic investment limitations would mean unequal potential for access to supply markets, either for clean energy products themselves or for the technology to develop effective alternatives to the continued use of heavy pollutants such as coal or cheap fuel oil. Thus Blue Plan researchers’ Mediterranean scenarios in the spheres of industrial and energy production and consumption—such as the presumably more traditional, but no less complex sphere of agriculture and animal husbandry—could be seen by the end of the 1980’s to fall far short of the realistic national, political, and economic capacities of individual countries who supported the ideal objectives of the MAP.

The question remained whether the same could be said of other areas of Blue Plan ecological planning logic in which transformation of alarming trends noted in the 1970’s would not necessarily demand higher levels of capital investment. Two examples drawn from Blue Plan findings suggest that national-level political as well as economic sensitivities can still hinder ecological planning. These concern the areas of population growth and the expanding tourist trade.

Population planning (or family planning) represents a sensitive area because it is often influenced by both socioeconomic and religious practices that are not easily affected by logical legislative preferences. In the case of expanding tourist trade, formidable difficulties exist for Blue Plan theorists who, when they tell representatives of countries as different as France and Egypt that excessive construction of tourist havens may endanger the ecological balance, do not keep in mind a basic economic fact: Some poorer Mediterranean countries have come to view tourism revenues as one of the main supports of their national budgets.

Considerations such as these caused Blue Plan reporters in 1989 to close their comprehensive technological studies with a correction of the original wording of United Nations-sponsored agreements in 1979 and 1980. Whereas the 1980’s mandate implied that “the struggle for the environment will take place primarily at the national level,” by 1989 the MAP supporters believed that the next step would have to be truly all-Mediterranean planning, with movement in stages toward, for example, an international convention on energy production and distribution in the Mediterranean, and even a single and binding program for distribution of tourism development—all ambitious hopes facing formidable political obstacles. United Nations Environment Program;Mediterranean pollution control Blue Plan Regional Activity Centers Pollution;international agreements Environmental policy, international;pollution

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Batisse, Michel. “The Blue Plan for the Mediterranean.” UNESCO Courier 44 (August/September, 1991): 72-74. As one of the directors of the 1980 project, Batisse summarizes the massive findings published jointly by Mediterranean Action Plan researchers in 1989.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grenon, Michel, and Batisse, Michel, eds. Futures for the Mediterranean Basin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Represents the published results of nearly ten years of jointly sponsored research on future scenarios in the Mediterranean region. Subjects include all topics that relate to environmental conservation, including population trends and tourism.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kurlonsky, M. J. “Mediterranean States to Bear Costs of Plan Against Pollution.” U.N. Chronicle 16 (March, 1979): 30. Overview report of the steps that led UNEP to revise the strategy of direct U.S. subsidizing of antipollution programs (1975 agreement) and to adopt what would become, by 1980, the Blue Plan for joint sponsorship of all-Mediterranean ecological research.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Probing the Future of the Mediterranean Basin.” Environment 32 (June, 1990): 4-9. An overview of the progress of joint antipollution projects begun ten years earlier, after the United Nations-sponsored accords were signed in Geneva.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Saving the Mediterranean.” Environment 23 (June, 1981): 2-4. One of the earliest accounts revealing the dimensions of the problems of pollution in the Mediterranean and plans for action envisioned under the joint Mediterranean Action Plan.

Dedication of Egypt’s Aswān High Dam

United Nations Holds an Environmental Conference in Stockholm

U.N. Global Environment Monitoring System Is Inaugurated

Lovejoy Proposes the Debt-for-Nature Swap

U.S. Congress Prohibits Marine Plastics Dumping

Protocol on Antarctic Environmental Protection Enters into Force

Categories: History