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Which type of Blue Economy is fit for a warming Mediterranean?
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The Mediterranean is a climate change hotspot

The Mediterranean region is a prominent “climate change hotspot”.
This is what emerged from the recent IPCC report on climate change where, for the first time, we also had a detailed and rather scary analysis of the current and projected impacts on all land and marine ecosystems of the region and its key economic sectors. If on-land impacts are somehow largely visible to all of us – with droughts and heatwaves increasing the risk of water scarcity and fires damaging sectors like hydro energy and agriculture – effects at sea are far less evident.

In the last decades, Mediterranean waters have acidified more rapidly than the global average, and sea levels are expected to rise so much that 37% of the Mediterranean coastline currently hosting 42 million people will be at high risk of floods. Warming temperatures will also impact fish stocks in different ways: while in the eastern Mediterranean the number of fish species is predicted to increase (mainly thanks to tropical species replacing native ones), in the west it will most likely decrease. Of 75 endemic fish species, 14 are projected to become extinct and small and medium-sized pelagic fish (e.g. European anchovy) are projected to decline by 15-33% by 2100. The fishery sector is expected to suffer between 15-30% loss in revenue by 2050, especially in the south where additional factors like population growth could create problems of food security.

So, how is the Mediterranean blue economy reacting to this? 
Today, in the Mediterranean region, significant investment is still targeting industries – starting with oil and gas extraction – driving the degradation of critical marine ecosystems and further exacerbating the impacts of climate change. Evidence suggests that these investments are undertaken without a full understanding of the costs to the environment, or even of the risks that such degradation is posing to the investment itself. We believe that if this environmental damage were to be properly calculated and added to the costs of the activities (polluters pay principles), most of these investments would emerge as far less profitable and too risky for any smart insurance or finance institution. 

On the other hand, efforts are still needed to make the transition towards truly sustainable blue economic activities not only realistic but also financially attractive. This means developing new private sector finance streams to invest in the development of sustainable offshore renewable energy, the decarbonization of the maritime transport and the fishing sector and in greening ports. Financing opportunities for these activities must be de-risked by implementing a range of governance tools and approaches, such as improved regulation, incentives and disincentives, spatial tools and nature-based solutions, as well as targeted capacity building and community engagement to support their local acceptance and implementation.

But a sustainable blue economy does not limit itself to investing in low-emission activities; it also actively promotes the protection of blue carbon sinks like seagrasses and other marine habitats to further mitigate the effects of climate change. 

It’s clear that treating marine biodiversity, climate variation and economic development as separate entities is not only impossible but also counterproductive from an ecological, social and economic point of view. Most economic sectors like fisheries and tourism are already heavily impacted by reduced marine biodiversity and climate-related effects, and all scientific scenarios show that sustainability is the only way to guarantee a future to most of these sectors and the communities depending on them. 

Governments need to seriously work on integrated ocean planning that allows the implementation of nature-based climate responses (i.e. increase of blue carbon, adoption of nature-based solutions to tackle sea-level rise, enlargement of effective marine protected areas) while providing the necessary regulatory framework to support and incentivise private and public investments towards the implementation of sustainable economic activities. 

What we may see happen in the next decade is nothing less than a blue revolution, a new blue economy, sustainable and inclusive, using all its potential of innovation and technological progress to produce sustainable blue energy, blue food and blue forests while preserving a healthy and productive sea and empowering thriving communities of people.

Read more on the climate change effect in the Mediterranean and how to transform the blue economy.