Amid Venice’s bustling tourist activity, its iconic art, gondolas, and church bells, dozens of government representatives, NGO leaders and academics met this week to discuss the links between ecological and economic crises in the Mediterranean region.
Organized by Global Footprint Network and UNESCO, with support from the MAVA Foundation, the two-day international conference, “Securing Competitiveness for the Mediterranean,” opened Monday (October 1) at UNESCO’s Venice office. The Mediterranean’s ever-widening ecological deficit and its economic implications is the main theme of the new Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends report, the result of a two-year study by Global Footprint Network and the focus of the conference. Representatives from more than 12 Mediterranean countries attended the event, which has already been covered by Le Monde, La Stampa and other media.
Despite recent headlines about financial debt and economic reform, the region’s ecological deficit (when the Ecological Footprint exceeds biocapacity) has remained largely unreported. As suggested by the theme of the conference—“Exploring Ecological Footprint and biocapacity trends and their implications for the Mediterranean”—the purpose was to obtain a clear-eyed assessment of the Mediterranean region’s ecological deficit, and to explore what it means for the region’s long-term economic security.
The first day of the conference was dedicated to diving into the report’s findings. For example, Mediterranean nations have nearly tripled their demand for renewable natural resources and ecological services since 1961. By 2008, the region’s Ecological Footprint—the demand on Earth’s bioproductive land and sea areas—exceeded local ecological assets by more than 150 percent.
Mediterranean nations’ dependence on the availability of ecological assets outside the region exposes them to supply disruptions or price volatility. This is increasingly true as trade partners have shifted from nations with ecological reserves to those with ecological deficits. As competition for limited resources heats up, it leaves those with declining purchasing power in a potentially precarious situation.
Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel gave a keynote speech, focusing on how national leaders can prepare for an era of increasing resource constraints by incorporating indicators such as the Footprint accounting into their decision making. He was joined by Gianfranco Bologna, Scientific Director of WWF Italy; Enrico Giovannini, President, Chief Statistician and Director of ISTAT; and Atila Uras, Programme Officer of UNEP/MAP.
Day two of the conference was a by-invitation only workshop, dedicated to exploring how the findings of the Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends report can be used to develop innovative and proactive responses (ranging from policy interventions to reforms of education systems) to the region’s growing ecological deficit and the emerging global competition for resources and ecosystem services. Participants discussed the need to shift from a silo to a systemic approach in governance, as well as the need to incorporate a one-planet thinking into educational programs and awareness campaigns to mobilize both policy makers and civil society.
Conclusions presented in Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends report include:
- Demand outstrips supply: In less the 50 years, the Mediterranean region nearly tripled its demands for ecological resources and services, and increased its ecological deficit by 230 percent.
- Wealth and Footprint size: The higher the income of a country, the greater was its demand for ecological resources and services (and the higher its per capita consumption). Three countries alone contributed more than 50 percent of the region’s total Footprint in 2008: France (21 percent), Italy (18 percent) and Spain (14 percent).
- Individual country trends: Algeria experienced the largest change in national ecological assets balance, moving from a reserve in 1961 to a ecological deficit in 2008. Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey also shifted from ecological creditor to debtor status during this period, while the other Mediterranean countries saw a worsening of their ecological deficits. Cyprus experienced the largest deficit increase, and Jordan the smallest. Montenegro possibly remains the only ecological creditor in the region (Montenegro’s country data is incomplete), but its reserve is narrowing.
- Region’s biggest ecological debtors: In 2008, the five Mediterranean countries with the highest total ecological deficits were Italy, Spain, France, Turkey and Egypt.
- One exception to regional trends: Portugal was the sole country in the Mediterranean region to have significantly narrowed its ecological deficit in recent years (an 18 percent per capita decrease between 1998 and 2008). But the country’s per capita deficit is still higher than the regional average.
- Supply and demand today: By 2008 (the last year for which data is available), the region’s total Ecological Footprint exceeded local biocapacity—the ecosystems’ ability to provide resources and services used for humans—by more than 150 percent.
How can the region address these risks? Even in this resource-constrained world, countries can remain economically successful. Indeed, with the right tools, leaders can choose strategies that both reverse the trends of shrinking supply and growing demand and help their populations thrive in this new era. How Mediterranean countries track and manage their supply of and demand on biocapacity will be central to their long-term ability to remain economically competitive and to provide for the well-being of their citizens.
Key findings of the report, “Why Are Resource Limits Now Undermining Economic Performance?”, are available online in English, French and Arabic. The full report, “Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends,” will also be available in French in coming weeks.
[Photo Credit: UNESCO/Olivera Jovanovska]
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