Water shortages and poor harvests during the droughts of the early 1990s, and the heat waves that occurred during the summer of 2003 which caused the death of hundreds of people and a marked increase in forest fires across Europe, exposed the acute vulnerability of the Mediterranean region to climatic extremes.

Against this backdrop, the prospect of a major climate change brought about by human activities is a source of growing concern, raising serious questions over the sustainability of the region.

One key finding is that future climate change could critically undermine efforts for sustainable development in the Mediterranean region. In particular, climate change may add to existing problems of desertification, water scarcity and food production, while also introducing new threats to human health, ecosystems and national economies of countries. The most serious impacts are likely to be felt in North African and eastern Mediterranean countries.

If current trends in emissions of greenhouse gases continue, global temperatures are expected to rise faster over the next century than over any time during the last 10,000 years. Significant uncertainties surround predictions of regional climate changes, but it is likely that the Mediterranean region will also warm significantly.

The outlook for precipitation is much less certain, but most projections point to more precipitation in winter and less in summer over the region as a whole. A common feature of many projections is declining annual precipitation over much of the Mediterranean region south of 40 or 45° N, with increases to the north of this. Even areas receiving more precipitation may get drier than today due to increased evaporation and changes in the seasonal distribution of rainfall and its intensity.

As a consequence, the frequency and severity of droughts could increase across the region. Changes in large-scale atmospheric circulation - as represented by the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) - would further affect the occurrence of extreme events.

An indication of the scale of possible changes is given by one scenario based on the output from four climate models. This suggests that temperatures could rise by over 4°C by 2100 over many inland areas and by over half of this over the Mediterranean Sea. Over the same period, annual precipitation is projected to decline by 10 to 40% over much of Africa and south-eastern Spain, with smaller - but potentially significant - changes elsewhere.

Aerosol emissions may counter some of the effects of greenhouse gases in some areas. But, in the long-term prospect remains one of hotter, drier conditions throughout the Mediterranean region as the relative influence of greenhouse gases increases over time.
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