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The Mediterranean: An unheard tale of climate, threats, hopes

Nov 05,2022 - Last updated at Nov 05,2022

 

For the first time in the history of climate negotiations, there will be a Mediterranean voice at the table. A diverse coalition will come together for the inaugural Mediterranean Pavilion at COP27: North and South, public and private, business and academia, women and men. We have come together to defuse the greatest ever existential threat to the sea and region that cradled so much history, knowledge and civilisation. The inaugural Mediterranean Pavilion will serve not just to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to accelerate the sustainable transition, but also to shine a light on the innovative solutions and policies that have come out of this often-overlooked region.

The climate emergency is global, demanding the attention of everyone. But its impacts and severity are not felt the same everywhere. The Mediterranean region is also more exposed, both for climatic and socio-economic reasons, and if we don’t act now, we face dire predictions, including the collapse of entire ecosystems, cities and social structures as we know them. Just this summer, a lethal heatwave wrought havoc with droughts and wildfires across the region and caused huge damage to marine ecosystems. Tens of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes and scores of people have died, in northern Algeria, at least 40 people lost their lives in the August fires. Meanwhile, in south-western France, over 36,700 people were evacuated. Spain and Portugal are facing their driest conditions in more than 1,000 years.  An impoverished, destabilised Mediterranean has consequences far beyond regional concerns, it is a global threat as the place where three continents converge.

With a global climate crisis already on our hands, it has now become clearer than ever that targeted and decisive action must be taken to save the Mediterranean region from the inevitable and rapid deterioration of this situation. The summer of 2022 was not an isolated example. Taken as a whole, the area is the second fastest warming globally, and the waters of this shared sea are the fastest warming. These risks are compounded by high levels of pollution.

The Mediterranean Network of Experts on Climate and Environmental Change (MedECC) published a pioneering and comprehensive report on the environmental and climatic issues our region faces. If political and economic action is not taken soon, the extreme heat waves will get hotter until many cities become almost inhabitable, especially for poorer and more vulnerable populations. Life on the coast will also come under threat, as the sea level is set to rise a metre by 2100 (with later increased rises inevitable), which will not only damage our coasts, but also jeopardise over 37 million people’s livelihoods, including the possibility of food shortages and the spread of waterborne diseases and pathogens. This could result in political instability, human displacement and even conflicts.

This is a scenario no one can afford. But our tale is not only a cry for awareness and help. It is rather a tale of hope, decisive action, ambitious solutions, and peace. Our Mediterranean House at the COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh wants to show how, on a regional scale, we are taking an approach to tackle climate change that it is simple but effective: together we can, together we must. So far, the Mediterranean’s renowned diversity has too often driven fragmentation and led to a lack of understanding. But this reality can be turned in our favour, the richness of knowledge and resources are diverse enough, they are capable of mitigating the threats at hand and shaping the drastic situation to the benefit of all.

As a region, the Mediterranean has tremendous potential to provide some of the solutions we need to face these challenges and avoid the predicted worst-case scenarios. The proactive sharing of knowledge and expertise must become the norm.  To the south and east of the shared sea there is huge solar, wind and marine power potential, for instance; but if its outputs were only local there would not be enough demand to finance its proper development. To the north of the Mediterranean, desertification is accelerating as a result of droughts and unsustainable water use. But agro-ecological processes, phyto-genetic resources, the plants and crops traditionally adapted to drier climates, and millenary experience about how to exploit them currently resides almost exclusively to the south. Shall each of us keep what we have for ourselves?

Our collective experiences in advocacy and inter-regional collaboration have time and again led us to the same crucial conclusion. We have come together to send a message to negotiators from everywhere. No single government or policy can face such a global threat on their own. When countries adopt robust climate policies in silos, we miss out on the vast potential benefits that different regions’ renewable energy resources and infrastructure can offer us all. By celebrating our differences, rather than fearing them, we can solve the climate crisis all while laying the foundations for peace.

“We have joined hands to build a pavilion” is not the full story. We, as the coalition behind this initiative, have come together to send a message: we have put our claims for sustainability to the test in the real world and they work. If we manage to see difference as a resource instead of fearing it, we can solve the climate crisis. And, in parallel, we will be setting the foundations of a planet in peace.

 

Signed by: Nasser Kamel,  secretary  general of the Union for the Mediterranean, with the Mediterranean Pavilion coalition: Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), United Nations Environment Programme  —  Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP-MAP) and Plan Bleu and MedWaves, Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Foundation (PRIMA), Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, Ecomondo, ENI-CBC Med Programme, Euro-Mediterranean Economists Association (EMEA), International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), Interreg MED Programme and Unimed, Med Energy Conference & Exhibition (OMC), Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation (PA2F), Mediterranean Experts Network on Climate and Environmental Change (MedECC)

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