Mediterranean Threatened by Development, says Blue Plan Report

Development pressures threaten to overwhelm the Mediterranean by 2025, says Blue Plan report

Study also recommends solutions for minimizing the damage

Geneva, 4 April 2006 – A 400-page report commissioned by the 21 nations bordering the Mediterranean Sea extrapolates from current trends in environment and development to paint a grim picture of the region in the year 2025. But the report also describes an alternative pathway based on the principles of sustainable development that could dramatically boost the quality of life over the coming decades.

“Governments need to recognize that economic and social development requires a healthy natural environment. Tough decisions and trade-offs will have to be made if the Mediterranean is to preserve the natural beauty and quality of life that have made it one of the world’s most attractive locations,” said Mohamed Ennabli, Vice-President of the Blue Plan (Plan Bleu) and Former Minister of Environment and Land Use Management in Tunisia.

The report, "A Sustainable Future for the Mediterranean: the Blue Plan’s Environment & Development Outlook", was written by some 300 experts assembled under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Athens-based Mediterranean Action Plan. It was funded by the participating countries with special support from the European Commission, France, and the European Environment Agency.

The report concludes that many of the more pessimistic predictions that the first Blue Plan study made in 1989 have come true. Looking ahead now another 20 years, the Blue Plan examines how current baseline trends will affect the Mediterranean Basin by 2025. Among its conclusions:

• By 2025, 524 million peopled will live in the Mediterranean rim countries, compared to 427 million in the year 2000. Of these, 75% will live in urban areas.

• The population of Mediterranean coastal cities will rise from 70 million in 2000 to 90 million in 2025, and 312 million tourists will visit the coastal areas every year versus 175 million in 2000.

• Coastal areas will become increasingly saturated by development. In addition to new harbors, roads and airports, the coastline of 2025 is expected to host 360 coastal power plants (compared to 200 in 2000), several dozen new refineries, and perhaps 175 new desalinization plants. Altogether, the conversion of an additional 4,000 km of coastline will result in 50% of the Sea’s 46,000 km-coastline being built-up by 2025.

• The demand for freshwater will continue to increase, particularly on the southern and eastern shores. By 2025, some 63 million people in the Mediterranean will have access to less than 500 m2 per capita per year (which has been defined as the “shortage” threshold). Because options for increasing the supply of water are reaching their limits, the focus must be on managing the demand for water. If properly implemented, this could lead to savings of nearly 54 km3 of water, or 24% of the total demand projected for 2025 under the baseline scenario (estimated at 210 km3 for the Mediterranean Basin), and stabilize water demand near 2000 levels.

• The demand for primary commercial energy more than doubled in the Mediterranean Basin from 1970 to 2000. Between 2000 and 2025, this demand could rise by another 65%. By exploiting the technologies currently available, however, the region could save 208 Mtoe (million tonnes oil equivalent) per year by 2025, about half of the projected growth in demand from 2000 to 2025. It could also ensure that renewable energy sources (geothermal, solar, wind, hydraulic) will grow to represent 14% of primary energy use by 2025, instead of the 4% expected under the baseline scenario.

• Road traffic continues to grow by some 2.7% per year on the northern rim of the Sea and 3.4% in the south. By 2025 this will cause a two-fold increase in passenger traffic and a 2.6-fold increase in freight traffic.

• Maritime freight may continue to grow faster than the overall economy, especially due to increased transit traffic (5.6% per year between 2000 and 2025, resulting in nearly a four-fold increase). While operational pollution from hydrocarbons should decrease, discharges of bilge water and chemical products as well as the risks of oils spills and other polluting accidents are growing significantly.

• In the South, it will be increasingly difficult to manage the volumes of waste produced (587 kg per person per year in 2025 versus 282 in 2000). In the North, waste volumes are expected to reach one 1,000 kg per person per year in 2025 versus 566 kg in 2000.

• Desertification in Southern and Eastern Mediterranean will worsen the social and environmental damage, exacerbating rural poverty, biodiversity loss and the degradation of water resources. The high rate of siltation that has been experienced by dams suggests that the 21st century will be the “post-dam era”.

• An additional 1.5 million hectares or more of top-quality agricultural land will be lost to urbanization and infrastructure development over the next 20 years.

• Other current threats to the Sea itself include the discharge of urban waste water – some 60% of which is untreated – into the Mediterranean, a doubling of nitrates over the past 20 years, a 90% decline in natural sediment reaching the Sea over the past 50 years (leading to coastal erosion), the introduction of some 500 alien species (some of which, for example Caulerpa seaweed, cause enormous economic and ecological damage), and the endangered status of 104 native species, including the monk seal and marine turtles.

The report urges the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and the member states of the 1975 Barcelona Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Region of the Mediterranean to strengthen their Mediterranean policies. It calls for a new regional protocol to the Convention containing stronger measures, for greater private and public financing to reduce pollution in the region, and the development of better demand-management and local sustainable-development policies. It also recommends efforts to mobilize all stakeholders for policies and projects that integrate environment and development.

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