Regional cooperation / regional approach
Today’s world, especially form a human activity perspective, is more connected than ever before. Countries share not only geographical features such as landscape, waters or biodiversity, but also economical and social ties that amplify the effects of human activities. An action taken in one country can affect several aspects in other countries, making sustainable development a very tough challenge given the fact that the development level of each country is different. Therefore, national sustainability is a very ephemeral concept and can even be classified as “not sustainable” itself in the long run. A real sustainable development is reached when all the actors sharing a particular resource adopt measures for the well being, proper functioning and good use of that resource for as long as possible. And this cannot be accomplished without cooperation (regional or international, depending on the nature of the resource). Below are some examples that support this statement.
The Danube River case
The Danube is the second longest river in Europe, flowing from Germany to the Black Sea, after creating its magnificent Delta. The Danube River basin is shared by 81 million people in 19 countries, making it the world’s most international river basin. The Danube itself crosses or is a border for ten countries: Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova and Ukraine.
The Danube has provided numerous benefits for the people living within its basin: water and food supply, irrigation, hydropower generation, transportation, opportunities for tourism, etc. However, all these human activities have impacted on the river through pollution from agriculture, industry and municipalities, alteration of its banks and drainage of wetlands. The pollution accumulated during the river’s 2857 km journey is carried from country to country until it ultimately settles in the Black Sea.
In order to deal efficiently with these issues, the Danubian countries have signed the Convention on Co-operation for the Protection and Sustainable Use of the River Danube (Danube River Protection Convention), which came into force in 1998. This Convention forms the overall legal instrument for co-operation and transboundary water management in the Danube River Basin.
The International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River (ICPDR) has been established to implement the Danube River Protection Convention. National delegates, representatives from highest ministerial levels, technical experts, and members of the civil society and of the scientific community cooperate in the ICPDR to ensure the sustainable and equitable use of waters in the Danube River Basin. Since its creation in 1998 the ICPDR has promoted policy agreements and the setting of joint priorities and strategies for improving the state of the Danube and its tributaries.
The goals of the ICPDR are safeguarding the Danube’s water resources for future generations, naturally balanced waters free from excess nutrients, no more risk from toxic chemicals, healthy and sustainable river systems and damage-free floods.
The Mediterranean Sea case
The Mediterranean Sea is located at the meeting point of three continents (Europe, Africa and Asia) and its waters are shared by 21 countries of completely different economical, social and cultural backgrounds.
The pressures imposed by human activity in these countries on the Sea and its ecosystems are considerable. Pollution brought in by the many rivers that flow into the Mediterranean, as well as from the ships that cross it every day, some of which carrying hazardous cargo, is a real threat. Man-made infrastructure works, like the Suez channel, disturb the balance of the water properties (salinity, temperature, etc), creating conditions for invasive species that take over endemic ones. Furthermore, overfishing has led to alarmingly low fish stocks.
The Convention for the Protection of The Mediterranean Sea against Pollution (revised in 1995 as the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean) was signed in 1976 by the countries that have a coastline on the Mediterranean Sea and the European Union. It came into force in 1978.
The key goal of the convention is to 'reduce pollution in the Mediterranean Sea and protect and improve the marine environment in the area, thereby contributing to its sustainable development'. Signers agreed to cooperate and assist in dealing with pollution emergencies, monitoring and scientific research.
The problem of climate change and associate emissions of greenhouse gases is, by excellence, a global one. Given the different stages of development of the countries, some will emit more GHGs than others. A mechanism of emissions trading at regional or even global level can be a very good method of cooperation that will impose a cap on emissions, allowing at the same time room for development.
Such schemes already exist. The Kyoto Protocol introduced Emissions Trading as one of the flexible mechanisms, along with Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation. The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) is the first and biggest international scheme for the trading of greenhouse gas emission allowances, covering 11,000 power stations and industrial plants in 30 countries. Emissions from installations in the scheme are falling as intended. The success of the EU ETS has inspired other countries and regions to launch cap and trade schemes of their own.
Further possible cooperation: renewable energies
As more and more countries are starting to adopt sustainable development targets and develop strategies for the future, the renewable energies options as alternatives to fossil fuels have gained attention. Some countries are well advanced in the renewables sector, both in terms of capacity installed and policy framework development, while others are still investigating the potential of their resources. However, it is encouraging to see that targets for the share of renewable energy sources in total energy production and consumption are already envisaged by most countries, little as they may be.
Cooperation in the field of renewable energies could have many advantages, ranging from knowledge and research exchange, to investments and enhanced regional energy security. Initial steps in this direction already exist. For example the EU South East Europe Transnational Cooperation Programme supported a project aimed at setting up an International Network in the South East Europe Area, of government institutions, scientific organizations, private companies and local authorities on renewable energy technologies, policy, capacity building and training.