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“Climate change happens 20% faster in the Mediterranean”

Philippe Drobinski
Philippe Drobinski
CNRS Research Director at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (LMD*) and Professor at Ecole Polytechnique (IP Paris)

Along with the polar regions, the Mediter­ranean basin is one of the loca­tions in the world most impact­ed by the effects of cli­mate change. Tem­per­a­tures there are ris­ing 20% faster than else­where; already 1.5°C high­er than pre-indus­tri­al tem­per­a­tures. For every 1°C increase, there is a ~4% rise in rain­fall. This shift is lead­ing to a para­dox­i­cal effect on cli­mate, char­ac­terised by more extreme pre­cip­i­ta­tion and much longer peri­ods of dry spells and droughts – with 10–30% less sum­mer rainfall. 

Pro­jec­tions show that in the worst-case sce­nario, tem­per­a­tures could rise as much as a fur­ther 6.5°C by the end of the cen­tu­ry. Sea lev­el has risen by 6 cm over the past 20 years and is expect­ed to upsurge by anoth­er 90 cm between now and 2100, and obser­va­tions of the Mediter­ranean Sea show increas­es in salin­i­ty and acid­i­fi­ca­tion. Not to men­tion the pres­ence of inva­sive species both on land and in the sea, with reper­cus­sions on local biodiversity. 

Hence, now is the time for proac­tive solu­tions mov­ing for­ward in region. In Novem­ber 2020, the inde­pen­dent net­work of Mediter­ranean Experts on Cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal Change (MedECC), found­ed in 2015, pub­lished the report, “Cli­mate and Envi­ron­men­tal Change in the Mediter­ranean Basin Cur­rent Sit­u­a­tion and Risks for the Future 1st Mediter­ranean Assess­ment Report1. MedECC com­bines efforts from 190 experts such as myself from 43 coun­tries in the EU, North Africa and Mid­dle East. Referred to as MAR1, the report out­lines cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal issues spe­cif­ic to the Mediter­ranean and what to expect in the com­ing years. 

Mediterranean energy transition 

In the chap­ter of MAR1 on the ener­gy tran­si­tion, which I coor­di­nat­ed through the Energy4Climate inter­dis­ci­pli­nary Cen­tre 2 and Insti­tut Pierre Simon Laplace 3, we show that the Mediter­ranean region is respon­si­ble for only a com­par­a­tive­ly small share of glob­al green­house gas emis­sions – as lit­tle as 6%. Nonethe­less, the region is great­ly affect­ed by their effects.

Cli­mate change in the Mediter­ranean is expect­ed to affect ener­gy pro­duc­tion (due to impacts on resources and infra­struc­ture) and ener­gy use (by decreased heat­ing demand and increased cool­ing needs). We expect fos­sil fuels to remain the main source of ener­gy until 2040, which will grad­u­al­ly be phased out by oth­er tech­nolo­gies. The fig­ures show that the share of renew­able ener­gy will triple to reach as much as 27% of the over­all mix. A fac­tor to con­sid­er is that warm­ing in the region is actu­al­ly expect­ed to result in loss­es in renew­able ener­gy pro­duc­tion. The impact of such will be mar­gin­al if glob­al warm­ing does not exceed 2°C, how­ev­er it will dras­ti­cal­ly dete­ri­o­rate if tem­per­a­tures rise beyond 2°C. 

Tra­di­tion­al hydropow­er and ther­mo­elec­tric pow­er capac­i­ty is expect­ed to decline due to decreased stream­flow and increased water tem­per­a­ture – sea sur­face tem­per­a­ture could increase by anoth­er 1–4°C by the end of the cen­tu­ry. Nonethe­less, by fur­ther improv­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy and deploy­ing renew­able ener­gies on a large scale, the entire Mediter­ranean region can reduce ten­sions over ener­gy secu­ri­ty for import­ing coun­tries, improve oppor­tu­ni­ties for export­ing coun­tries and reduce costs of ener­gy and envi­ron­men­tal dam­age for the whole region. 

To be suc­cess­ful in its large-scale ener­gy tran­si­tion, the region will need more inclu­sive ener­gy poli­cies that will undoubt­ed­ly pass by a more col­lab­o­ra­tive approach from the coun­tries con­cerned. Even though the shift is not a giv­en, there is great poten­tial for clean pow­er in the region, par­tic­u­lar­ly solar. There are already region­al col­lab­o­ra­tions on the go, which are help­ing to facil­i­tate this move­ment across coun­tries and states in the area. These include ener­gy mar­ket reg­u­la­tors like MEDREG and MEDSO, or MEDENER an agency focused on envi­ron­men­tal and ener­gy poli­cies on both sides of the Mediterranean. 

Efforts like these will hope­ful­ly encour­age coun­tries to suc­cess­ful­ly move away from fos­sil fuels to the ben­e­fit of the envi­ron­ment. More­over, poli­cies and action should also cre­ate jobs and improve the social well-being for the population.

Improv­ing ener­gy effi­cien­cy and deploy­ing renew­able ener­gy on a large scale will there­fore become necessary.

Changing local practises

Above the fact that the geo­graph­i­cal posi­tion of the zone is an ampli­fi­er of glob­al warm­ing mak­ing the zone a “hot spot”, the MAR1 report also talks about oth­er prob­lems spe­cif­ic to the Mediter­ranean. At sea, the con­se­quences of rapid region­al cli­mate change are the increas­ing acid­i­fi­ca­tion of sea­wa­ter and the rise in aver­age sea lev­el. On land, there is an increase in dura­tion and ampli­tude of heat waves and a decrease in sum­mer pre­cip­i­ta­tion in some regions, result­ing in increased water short­ages and desertification. 

Fac­tors of change also include pop­u­la­tion growth, pol­lu­tion of the air, soils, rivers and oceans, unsus­tain­able land and sea use prac­tices. Com­bined, these effects have numer­ous con­se­quences such as degra­da­tion of nat­ur­al resources, reduc­ing the avail­abil­i­ty of fresh water, ther­mal com­fort, and increas­ing risks to human health. Those par­tic­u­lar­ly affect­ed will be dis­ad­van­taged and vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions. Con­flicts caused by resource scarci­ty and human migra­tion are like­ly to increase due to drought and the dete­ri­o­ra­tion of agri­cul­tur­al and fish­ery resources, but socio-eco­nom­ic and polit­i­cal fac­tors are like­ly to still play a major role.

As such, MAR1 sets the ground­work for the region to start think­ing about the answers to the big ques­tions yet to come: how can the region adapt to the chang­ing cli­mate? What infor­ma­tion will help sup­port future poli­cies? Can the Mediter­ranean be more sustainable?

MAR1: the COP of the Mediterranean

The report was estab­lished in the same way that the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el for Cli­mate Change (IPCC) wrote their five assess­ment reports between 1990 and 2013, the lat­est sup­port­ing the nego­ti­a­tions that led to the Paris Agree­ment in 2015 4. As for IPCC, MedECC pro­vides an assess­ment that pro­vides infor­ma­tion rel­e­vant to pol­i­cy mak­ers, how­ev­er is not pre­scrip­tive and does not pro­vide rec­om­men­da­tions to deci­sion mak­ers on what to do. More­over, the focus of the MAR1 is on adap­ta­tion to cli­mate change rather than mit­i­ga­tion as the lat­ter must be addressed on a glob­al scale.

As a col­lec­tive, MedECC were award­ed the North-South Prize by the Coun­cil of Europe 5. It is a prize that most notably rewards peo­ple for their efforts in human rights pro­tec­tion – a Euro­pean ver­sion of the Nobel Peace Prize, one could say. This year was one of the rare occa­sions it was award­ed to a group instead of indi­vid­ual people.



Philippe Drobinski

Philippe Drobinski

CNRS Research Director at the Dynamic Meteorology Laboratory (LMD*) and Professor at Ecole Polytechnique (IP Paris)

Philippe Drobinski's research focuses on regional climate variability and trends in the Euro-Mediterranean region with a particular interest in water and energy resources. Since 2019, he is the founding director of the interdisciplinary centre Energy4Climate, aiming to address the systemic complexity of the energy transition.
*A joint research unit CNRS, École Polytechnique - Institut Polytechnique de Paris, ENS, Sorbonne Université

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