Mediterranean habitat degenerating, UN says

PARIS – Mediterranean countries from Tunisia to Turkey face a bleak environmental future with concrete coastlines, rising temperatures, mountains of refuse and endless oil slicks, according to a UN prognosis for the region in 2025. Only a radical change in public policy and increased cooperation between northern and southern states will prevent the dismal forecast from coming true, according to the UN Environment Program’s «Plan Bleu» Mediterranean center. Some 300 experts from both the northern and southern shores of the sea linking Europe, Africa and the Middle East worked on the 430-page environment and development report, published on Thursday in Paris. The growth of built-up areas in northern countries and illegal urbanization in the south, increased car use and soaring energy consumption will all exacerbate environmental problems, while carbon dioxide emissions are set to leap by 45 percent to 2.8 billion tons from 2000 to 2025, the study warns. Climate change, largely caused by carbon dioxide, is likely to be «twice as fast» in the Mediterranean basin than in northern Europe, threatening more droughts, forest fires and parasitic infections. Under current policies, an additional 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) of coastline will be paved over in the next 20 years, while coastal zones will see their populations rise from 143 million in 2000 to 174 million in 2025. With a spiralling population, the region as a whole will be home to 523 million inhabitants by 2025, compared with 428 million in 2000, a rise of 22 percent, the report stresses. More than 1.5 million hectares (3.75 million acres) of good agricultural land will be sacrificed to urbanization and infrastructure as a result. Limited water supplies may dry up completely in some countries, with the associated risk of disease and exacerbated geopolitical conflicts, for example in the Middle East. The study also warns of a growing divide between the north (the 12 countries from Spain to Greece) and the south (from Morocco to Turkey). In southern Mediterranean countries, some 63 million people will lack the minimum requirement of 500 cubic meters (17,500 cubic feet) of water per inhabitant per year, while urban and industrial waste will degrade water quality. Meanwhile, energy consumption could double over the next 30 years, with northern countries importing record amounts and the south seeing a reduction in production capacity, particularly of Algerian gas and Libyan oil. Road traffic will grow 2.7 percent in northern countries and 3.4 percent in the south, while maritime freight could almost quadruple, risking a rise in oil spills and fuel dumping. To avoid disaster, authorities need to change consumption rates, encourage renewable energy and crack down on waste, the report urges. If water leaks are tackled, predicted consumption in 2025 could be reduced by a quarter, it says.