The Mediterranean is the fastest-warming place on Earth, set to go beyond 3°C by 2100.
The ocean absorbs over 90% of the additional heat generated by the greenhouse effect and thus acts as a retardant flywheel for global warming. We don’t see the ocean as a priority because we are a land species, but ocean warming brings incremental natural disasters to the mainland, such as the fires that raged in Australia and the Amazon in 2020, which are linked to the highest ocean temperatures recorded in 65 years, measured from surface level to a depth of 1.24 miles. The danger is concentrated in one of the most delicate and entangled crossroads of interests and balances known as the Mediterranean – the water mass that has the highest rate of warming around the world.
These water trends intersect with overall regional dynamics that are detailed in the 2022 MedECC Report Risks associated to climate and environmental changes in the Mediterranean region. Beyond sea temperatures, the report highlights that this region is the second in the world for the terrestrial warming too. In the Mediterranean, the average temperature compared to the pre-industrial era has increased by 1.5°C and warming is proceeding 20% faster than the global average. If not countered by mitigation interventions rapidly, some areas will reach up to 2.2°C in 2040, and 3.8°C in 2100, with catastrophic implications for a Mediterranean population that is also growing exponentially.
Observing planet Earth, you can see that the idea of Europe represents an anomaly. According to territorial delimitations of all other continents, Europe should not exist: it is a rather small extension of Asia. And yet, Europe continues to feel like a continent apart. What sets it apart? A certain cultural unity and a sense of community in diversity. Few wonder about the roots of this uniqueness that are not based on physical isolation, but someone did: Montesquieu saw the European identity as a product of the exceptional climate that has blessed ‘Europe’ since the end of the last Ice Age some 10,000 years ago: Europe enjoys a mild climate that is stabilized by the inertia of a large, closed mass of water – the Mediterranean.
The same applies to the southern shore of the Mediterranean which is part of Africa without actually being Africa. As anticipated by Montesquieu in Europe, the southern shore of the Mediterranean has also benefited from exceptional climate conditions that forged its unique cultural identity. However, the destabilizing consequences of global warming mean that the Mediterranean Sea level is expected to rise by +20 cm by 2050, which may not seem like a lot but this will be enough to salinize vast coastal plains and the Nile Delta, for example, upsetting the livelihoods of millions in Egypt, a significant portion of the +250 million people around the Mediterranean that live with the highest levels of water scarcity in the world.
Europe and North Africa have been interconnected favorably by the stabilizing effect of this ‘Middle Sea’ that we share, and that created the conditions for the agricultural revolution: the greatest social restructuring ever that led to our civilization today. It all happened around the Mediterranean between Europe, Anatolia, and Phoenicia, with a stable, predictable climate that is essential for planning harvests. However, this climate is changing: the blessing of a stabilizing inertia by a vast water basin such as the Mediterranean no longer works if its waters store and release increasing amounts of heat into the system, turning its climate into chaos.
The deep foundations of our regional equilibrium are changing and becoming unstable, and the worsening of destructive conflict is looming if we place ourselves in constant competition over the new scarcity of resources. However, if we look at all this from a positive perspective, we discover that the changing climate can bring together all that we have; and therefore this challenge can be transformed constructively into an unprecedented opportunity for peace based on a community that shares its most precious natural resources: water and energy.