Mediterranean region faces grim future

Mediterranean countries will suffer from increasingly saturated coastal development over the next 20 years if current trends continue, 63 million people will lack sufficient water and desertification will worsen rural poverty and biodiversity loss, according to the grim projections of a new United Nations-backed report.

But the 400-page study commissioned by the 21 nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea also describes an alternative pathway based on sustainable development that could dramatically boost the quality of life over the coming decades.

“Governments need to recognize that economic and social development requires a healthy natural environment. Tough decisions and trade-offs will have to be made if the Mediterranean is to preserve the natural beauty and quality of life that have made it one of the world’s most attractive locations,” the report’s vice-president, former Tunisian Environment Minister Mohamed Ennabli said.

A Sustainable Future for the Mediterranean: the Blue Plan’s Environment & Development Outlook was written by 300 experts assembled under the auspices of the UN Environment Programme’s Athens-based Mediterranean Action Plan.

The report concludes that many of the more pessimistic predictions that the first Blue Plan study made in 1989 have come true. The effects of current trends over the next 20 years include:

  • A rise in population to 524 million from 427 million, with that of coastal cities increasing 20 million to 90 million; 312 million tourists will visit coastal areas every year versus 175 million in 2000.
  • Coastal areas will become increasingly over-developed with 50 per cent of the 46,000-kilometre coastline built-up by 2025 with new harbours, roads and airports as well as 360 power plants, compared to 200 in 2000, several dozen new refineries and perhaps 175 new desalinization plants.
  • Some 63 million people will have access to less than 500 square metres of fresh water per capita per year, defined as the ‘shortage’ threshold; because options for increasing supply are reaching their limits, the focus must be on managing demand, with a potential savings of nearly 25 per cent of the total demand projected for 2025.
  • With maritime freight growing faster than the overall economy, operational pollution from hydrocarbons should decrease but discharges of bilge water and chemical products as well as the risk of oils spills and other polluting accidents are growing significantly.
  • Desertification in the southern and eastern Mediterranean will worsen the social and environmental damage, exacerbating rural poverty, biodiversity loss and the degradation of water resources.

The report calls for a new regional agreement containing stronger measures, greater private and public financing to reduce pollution, the development of better demand-management and local sustainable-development policies, and renewed efforts to mobilize all stakeholders for policies integrating environment and development.

From United Nations

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