At the proverbial crossroads of civilizations, the Mediterranean epitomizes a myriad of climate challenges.
The southern and eastern Mediterranean regions are amongst the most water-stressed areas on Earth as the MedECC First Mediterranean Assessment Report portrays. Along the southern shores of the sea, rainfall is limited, which adds to water access challenges. Despite being deprived of water, over 75% of the water used in the region is for agriculture. In addition, issues related to water sector governance and tariffs contribute to the loss and overuse of water.
Climate change and rising global temperatures are adding to the water stress in the region. The combination of large human population growth and the associated needs for economic and social development will have substantial impacts on the sustainability of water resources in the region.
Gas has been discovered in several areas throughout the Mediterranean, and there are substantial oil reserves in southern Mediterranean countries. While essential in the foreseeable future, these oil and gas resources are depletable and finite.
This all contributes to the significant water and energy challenges in the region. Once climate change is factored into the equation, the prospects for the region in less than 30 years are dire, unless actions are taken to redress these challenges today.
Abundant access to renewables
In contrast to the lack of rainfall and finite oil and gas resources, the region has abundant solar and wind access along the shores of the Mediterranean. Rapid technological developments in alternative energy are making investments in these fields more economically feasible with minimal environmental impacts.
Additionally, the latest developments along the eastern border of the European Union, with the Ukraine crisis, have highlighted the fact that fossil fuels can be subject to political use. This together with impact costs, and changes in the energy map make fossil fuels increasingly unreliable. Solar, wind, and other offshore energies are not impacted by such political turmoil and war. These are safe and renewable sources that can be depended upon, and these are key for future energy security.
To optimize the benefits to both socio-economic development and environmental protection that ensure sustainability, the approach for energy, water, food, and environment must be comprehensive.
The region stands to gain enormously from the use of alternative energy. For countries that are oil-rich, the generation of electricity – when factoring in the actual electricity tariffs and collection in these countries – is losing substantial revenues that would come from the sale of such energy to other countries. The investment of these countries towards alternative energy will provide greater environmental and social sustainability, more revenues, and will protect nature and society from the climate change impacts of pollutants from fossil fuel electricity generation, which make up a substantial portion, reaching over 50% of energy use in some countries.
For countries that are deprived of natural resources, the move towards alternative energy provides more sustainable energy resources at an economically feasible price. Therefore, the movement towards alternative energy, at least for electricity generation, is essential for the socio-economic development of the southern and eastern Mediterranean regions. As such a movement expands, the environmental impacts will be minimized, and by association the impacts of climate change.
Addressing energy and climate challenges does not directly, and may only to a limited extent, have impacts on the water crises in the region; substantial interventions are required at the policy and management level for water resources. This includes moving towards an agriculture sector that is less dependent on water, in addition to reusing treated wastewater and increasing the use of desalination with adequate environmental measures in place.
To optimize the benefits to both socio-economic development and environmental protection that ensure sustainability, the approach for energy, water, food, and environment must be comprehensive considering the different trade-offs between the sectors. This is done by advancing the Water-Energy-Food-Ecosystems (WEFE) approach to ensure optimal outcomes for the water, energy, and food sectors while minimizing the impacts on the environment. This is our focus in the Mediterranean region today and that is one of the main takeaways from COP27: investing in renewables is part of the security in our region as well as minimizing the loss and damage to our planet by trading off between siloes and building concrete partnerships for sustainable, just and inclusive blue and green transitions.