The Mediterranean region is endangered by irreversible ecological changes and requires an all-European recovery plan

2020 - 10 - 22

Due to pollution and climate change, the Mediterranean is endangered by irreversible ecological damage including the extinction of native animal and plant species as well as the risk of more frequent natural disasters. This is stated in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report on the environment and development of this region, which was issued yesterday.

The region represents seven percent of the world’s population and ten percent of the world’s gross domestic product. The report states that “the Mediterranean countries are prone to external shocks and crises”. According to the report, the Mediterranean region is facing a deterioration of the environment. The average temperature is rising faster than in other parts of the world and air pollution and inadequate protection of water supplies are major problems.

According to the UNEP report, “approximately 228,000 people died prematurely in 2016 due to air pollution”. A further significant problem is inadequate waste recycling. The report estimates that about 200 tonnes of plastics end up on the floor of the Mediterranean Sea every day.

The Mediterranean is also under pressure from demographic development. Between 2010 and 2018, the population of Mediterranean countries rose by more than ten percent to 512 million. The number of inhabitants is mainly rising in the countries along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. About a third of the population is concentrated on the coast. Due to the rising sea level as a result of climate change, it is actually these densely populated areas that are threatened. By 2100 the sea could engulf an area where more than 20 million people currently live.

According to the UNEP, further strong pressure comes from unsustainable economic development. The report points out that up to thirty percent of world tourism focuses on the Mediterranean and is a significant source of income for many countries in the region. By 2030, the number of visitors to the region should reach half a billion people per year. The report states that the “economic development of tourism is often realised at the expense of environmental protection and social equality”. According to UNEP experts, it is therefore fundamental to link economic development to environmental protection to a greater extent.

The region is the world’s cradle of civilization and for this reason, environmental damage has been manifest here earlier than in other parts of the world. It is historically one of the first areas where significant deforestation has been manifest due to excessive felling of trees.  “It is clear that due to the historical burden the Mediterranean region is incapable of coping with the problems by its own means. It requires the preparation of an extensive, all-European local forest recovery and biodiversity conservation programme,” warned Dalibor Dostal, Director of European Wildlife.

According to him, it is important to focus the forest recovery process on natural forests with native tree species, not on the planting of non-native wood species. “The European Union must prepare a comprehensive forest and biodiversity recovery programme in the Mediterranean region. Development aid from the European Union and its member states should also primarily focus on these goals in the countries along the southern coast of the Mediterranean Sea. This should be one of the environmental priorities for Europe in the area of protection of the climate,” emphasised Dalibor Dostal.

The renewal of Mediterranean forests is the subject matter of one of the European Wildlife programmes, known as the Mediterranean Green Belt.

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