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Climate change and the future of the Mediterranean region (Part II)

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Climate change and the future of the Mediterranean region (Part II)

Given the far-reaching repercussions of climate change in the Mediterranean, immediate action is required to boost climate-resilience across industries and confront future threats and challenges.

In Part I of Climate Change and the Future of the Mediterranean Region, the key features of climate change in the Mediterranean were presented, including the immediate effects of shifting temperatures and changing precipitation levels on both human security and natural ecosystem functioning. However, the effects of climate change go far beyond the occurrence of natural hazards, biodiversity loss, and water scarcity – threats analysed in more detail in Part I. The present article explores the far-reaching implications of climate change in the Mediterranean region, looking at how the agricultural and fishing industries, cultural heritage sites, migration patterns and tourism might be affected by a rapidly changing climate scene. As it will be shown, climate change in the Mediterranean could have such far-reaching repercussions as to affect human activity across different sectors, requiring immediate action to increase the climate-resilience of key industries and confront future threats and challenges.   

Agriculture and food security

Given that agricultural production is directly dependent upon suitable environmental conditions, it is not surprising that food security features amongst the key concerns pertinent to climate change in the Mediterranean. Agricultural activity in the region consumes more than 70% of available water resources, representing thus an area of great concern in the anticipated event of declining precipitation levels leading to water scarcity.

Graph created with data from ‘Water resources in the Mediterranean: quantity and quality’ [1]

Water consumption for agricultural purposes is already unsustainable in certain areas. For example, in Spain, 11/15 river basin districts have been identified as being under stress; and the largest agricultural region of Greece (Thessaly) is also facing water stress [2]. Increased agricultural demands due to growing population numbers, coupled with declining precipitation levels across the Mediterranean, can be expected to place additional strain on already water-stressed regions. More specifically, according to a recent study on crop water requirements in Mediterranean countries, the production of maize, wheat, and grapes could require 13%, 16%, and 10% more irrigation respectively in the years 2036-2065, as compared to the period 1976-2005. Such a rise in irrigation demand could pose significant challenges to water resource management [3].

Agriculture in the Mediterranean region is particularly vulnerable, because it relies mainly on smallholder farms that lack the necessary technical and financial resources to support a more climate-resilient agricultural system. A recent report by ARLEM confirms that it is generally farms of small and medium size that are regarded as most vulnerable to climate disruption; in the Mediterranean, about 80% of crops and livestock are produced by small farms, which occupy between 75-85% of agricultural land in the region [4]. To make matters worse, there is extremely limited scope for increasing agricultural capacity by enlarging cultivation expanses, as almost all available arable land is already under cultivation: according to an IEMed publication, about 95% of land resources in the Mediterranean are already being farmed [5].

Alternative strategies, therefore, that focus on efficient water management and stronger irrigation systems become critically important in order to strengthen the resilience of the agricultural sector in the Mediterranean region and ensure the security of food supplies under rapidly changing climate conditions.

The fishing industry

The transformation of the Mediterranean marine ecosystem could affect fishing patterns as some commercially valuable species decline in numbers, potentially even becoming extinct. According to one estimate, by 2050 catches in the Mediterranean could decrease by up to 5%; and changes in phytoplankton levels could lead to a further 10% decrease [6]. Furthermore, the composition of the catch is expected to tropicalize, as warm water species become increasingly abundant (see Part I). Indeed, looking at Mean Temperature Catch (MTC) data, which show the average temperature preferred by the fish caught, it becomes evident that the tropicalization trend is already well under way: between 1970 and 2010, an overall increase in MTC was observed on every side of the Mediterranean, and particularly in the central area where MTC increased on average by +1.05°C per decade; on the western and eastern sides the increase has been more modest, at +0.56 °C and +0.29°C per decade respectively [6].

Moreover, just as current agricultural activity appears unsustainable in certain respects, so the fishing industry is already under pressure due to overexploitation: back in 2015, about 90% of stocks assessed across the Mediterranean were deemed overfished [6]. Combining the effects of climate change with unsustainable fishing activity, it is estimated that by 2060 more than 20% of currently exploited fishes and invertebrates in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean could become extinct in the area; and without successful adaptation strategies, by 2050 revenues of the fishing industry could fall by 15-30%, compared to base year 2000 [2]. The EU Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has stated that, according to the latest scientific data, ‘in order to attain the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) targets for demersal stocks, swift action is needed and real reductions in fishing mortality are necessary’ [7]. As a move in that direction, the western Mediterranean MAP has ‘set a legal requirement to achieve the objective of sustainable management of fish stocks by 1 January 2025 at the latest’ [7]. Looking at the shifting marine ecosystem of the Mediterranean, an argument can be made that the tropicalization of species composition creates new fishing opportunities: with the invasion of non-native species, especially from the Red Sea through the Suez Canal, it is suggested that ‘there is a need to explore market options for non-target species currently of low or no economic value’ [6].

World Heritage Sites

World Heritage Sites (WHS) could be affected by climate change, particularly those located at low elevation coastal zones (LECZ), as they are more likely to be damaged by centennial flooding and coastal erosion. Of the total of 49 heritage sites located in LECZ around the Mediterranean, 37 (75.5%) have already been identified as at risk from centennial flood, and a partly overlapping number of 42 (85.7%) have been labelled as at risk from coastal erosion [8].


Graph created with data from ‘Mediterranean UNESCO World Heritage at risk from coastal flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise’ [8].

A study tracking and estimating data for the years 2000-2100, revealed that by the end of the century flood risk could increase by 50% and erosion risk by 13%; and that a total of 47/49 WHS could be at risk from one or both hazards by 2100 – with the only two sites escaping danger being Medina of Tunis and Xanthos-Letoon [8]. As the authors of the study suggest, risk indices can be used to identify priority areas and support adaptation strategies, particularly for WHS identified as facing high risk.

Migration

Although at present climate change is definitely not the main driver of displacement, it is increasingly recognized as a factor likely to exert mounting pressure, particularly if climate change progresses further.

Mediterranean regions identified as potential out-migration hotspots include principally coastal regions in North Africa, and especially the area near the Nile Delta. In the first instance, climate-related displacement is more likely to involve internal migration, particularly towards urban centres; however, large migration flows from coastal areas risk placing disproportionate strain on available resources in already densely populated cities. According to the World Bank’s Groundswell Report, in North Africa alone internal climate migrants could reach up to 19.3 million people by 2050 – about 9% of the region’s total projected population estimate – under a high-end climate change scenario; in more climate-friendly development scenarios, numbers drop down to 4.5 million (or 2.1% of the region’s population) [9]. As noted in the Groundswell publication, the vast difference in projected migration levels under different climate scenarios highlights the importance of climate action to mitigate future threats [9]. Climate-driven mobility could also result in cross-border migration, particularly if other pressures like political instability and economic crisis render urban centres fragile. Indeed, it has been shown that adverse climate events affect more dramatically countries with limited socioeconomic development and weak governance structures [10]. As the effects of climate change combine with other pressures, the cumulative force exerted can be expected to increase migration flows in the Mediterranean region, presenting yet another cause for concern.

Tourism

According to a recent report by the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, climate change could affect tourism, potentially reducing revenue generated from travel-related activities in the south of Europe. More specifically, the study revealed a clear north-south divide in Europe, whereby in northern areas an overall increase in tourism is projected, while in Mediterranean regions a considerable drop is anticipated [11]. The table below presents estimates of tourism’s decline under four different warming scenarios in Greece and Cyprus – two countries which generate a considerable share of their income from travel-related activities:

*2019 as year of reference. Table created with data from ‘Regional impact of climate change on European tourism demand [11, p. 28].

Tourism is estimated to generate about 20% of GDP for Cyprus [12]. As for Greece, in 2022 alone, the tourism industry generated a revenue of about 37.8 billion euros, accounting for more than 18% of the country’s total GDP, as well as supporting about 800,000 jobs [13].

Conclusion

The effects of climate change in the Mediterranean region, varied in nature and far-reaching in scope, are already a reality, as extreme natural phenomena become ever more frequent and water stress increases. In the first instance, as explained in Part I, climate change acts as a multiplying force for the occurrence and intensity of natural hazards, posing a direct threat to human safety and the environment. Efforts to support those affected by extreme weather phenomena, to repair destruction caused, and to strengthen our resilience mechanisms remain extremely important – particularly as prospects for the Mediterranean future appear grim.

But alongside short-term emergency measures to combat individual catastrophes, long-term strategies must be adopted to strengthen climate-resilience and so protect the Mediterranean world – natural and human alike.

Indeed, comprehensive long-term planning is essential, given that the effects of climate change could touch upon every aspect of Mediterranean life, placing strain on necessities as basic as water and food security. Whether one focuses on the prosperity of agriculture and fishing, on the preservation of cultural heritage sites, on the future of tourism, or on forced displacement, the challenges posed by climate change are ever-present. In 2015, the world agreed to limit global warming to +1.5°C as compared to pre-industrial levels (COP21 Paris Agreement); seven years later, in 2022, the UNEP’s Emissions Gap Report warns that ‘the international community is falling far short of the Paris goals, with no credible pathway to 1.5°C in place’ and that only ‘an urgent system-wide transformation can avoid climate disaster’ [14]. And so, all eyes turn to this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference – COP28 – which, it is hoped, will bring viable and robust strategies to tackle the climate emergency.

References

[1] L. Mandi, ‘Water resources in the Mediterranean: quantity and quality’, presented at the EuroMed Cooperation – Inland and Marine Water Challenges, Naples. Italy, Nov. 2014.

[2] E. Ali et al., ‘CCP4 – Mediterranean Region’, in Climate Change 2022 – Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability: Working Group II Contribution to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.cambridge.org/core/books/climate-change-2022-impacts-adaptation-and-vulnerability/mediterranean-region/1CA723CD22CB7C23E5336E46038C0E17

[3] S. Masia, A. Trabucco, D. Spano, R. L. Snyder, J. Sušnik, and S. Marras, ‘A modelling platform for climate change impact on local and regional crop water requirements’, Agricultural Water Management, vol. 255, Sep. 2021, [Online]. Available: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378377421002705

[4] A. Rampal, ‘Report on Agriculture and food security in the context of climate change in the Mediterranean’, ARLEM, Feb. 2021.

[5] ‘Agriculture and Food Security in Climate Sensitive Areas in the Mediterranean’, European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed), Apr. 2020. [Online]. Available: https://www.iemed.org/publication/agriculture-and-food-security-in-climate-sensitive-areas-in-the-mediterranean/

[6] F. Moullec, F. B. R. Lasram, M. Coll, F. Guilhaumon, F. L. Loc’H, and Y.-J. Shin, ‘Sub-chapter 2.1.4. Climate change and fisheries’, in The Mediterranean region under climate change : A scientific update, J.-P. Moatti and S. Thiébault, Eds., in Synthèses. , Marseille: IRD Éditions, 2018, pp. 249–261. [Online]. Available: http://books.openedition.org/irdeditions/23439

[7] ‘Sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean and Black Seas: New updates to 2023 fishing opportunities proposal’, European Commission | Food, Farming, Fisheries | Oceans and fisheries | News. [Online]. Available: https://oceans-and-fisheries.ec.europa.eu/news/sustainable-fisheries-mediterranean-and-black-seas-new-updates-2023-fishing-opportunities-proposal-2022-11-23_en

[8] L. Reimann, A. T. Vafeidis, S. Brown, J. Hinkel, and R. S. J. Tol, ‘Mediterranean UNESCO World Heritage at risk from coastal flooding and erosion due to sea-level rise’, Nature Communications, vol. 9, no. 1, Art. no. 1, Oct. 2018.

[9] ‘Internal climate Migration in the Middle East and North Africa’, World Bank Group, Policy Note #4, 2021.

[10] S. Fankhauser and T. K. J. McDermott, ‘Understanding the adaptation deficit: Why are poor countries more vulnerable to climate events than rich countries?’, Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy; Grantham Research Institue on Climate Change and the Environment; London School of Economics, Sep. 2013, [Online]. Available: https://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0959378014000806

[11] N. A. Matei, D. García-León, A. Dosio, F. Batista e Silva, R. Ribeiro Barranco, and J. C. Císcar Martínez, ‘Regional impact of climate change on European tourism demand.’, Publication Office of the European Union | European Commission | Joint Research Centre, Luxembourg, 2023. [Online]. Available: https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2760/899611

[12] ‘Cyprus – Country Commercial Guide’. [Online]. Available: https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/cyprus-travel-and-tourism

[13] ‘Total contribution of travel and tourism to GDP in Greece in 2019 and 2022’, Statista. [Online]. Available: https://www.statista.com/statistics/644573/travel-tourism-total-gdp-contribution-greece/

[14] ‘Emissions Gap Report 2022’, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). [Online]. Available: http://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2022

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