The Mediterranean and neighbouring countries are a climate change hotspot, the climate research community believes. Projections suggest water availability is highly likely to fall, while demand will rise. The EU-funded CLIWASEC project cluster studied climate change impacts on water and security, and helped prepare Europe and its neighbours for the challenges ahead with guidance on water efficiency and stakeholder involvement.
The countries concerned, from Greece, Spain and Italy to Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey and Israel, to name but a few, are already experiencing a range of threats to water security – some natural, some man-made. Growing populations and widespread unsustainable agriculture practices, combined with substantially decreased rainfall in summer and stagnating rainfall in winter, will only exacerbate the problem. Alongside the more immediate issue of water scarcity, these factors could also contribute to conflict within and between countries.
While the signs are already there for those who can read them, climate change research suffers from the fact that its projections look 30, 40 or even 80 years into the future and are also relatively uncertain. This tends to mean policymakers and other stakeholders hesitate when it comes to taking long-term adaptation measures now.
Three projects – one cluster
Three projects – CLIMB, WASSERMed and CLICO – joined forces in the CLIWASEC cluster to increase understanding of the impacts of climate change on the Mediterranean from a hydrological, economic and social point of view. The cluster also sought to reduce uncertainties and develop a more focused and efficient policy strategy than any of the projects could have achieved alone.
Comparing the results of the individual projects, some of which are discussed in a special issue of the journal Science of the Total Environment (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00489697/543/part/PB), the cluster came to the joint conclusion that climate trend projections for the Mediterranean hold true. “Overall, it will get considerably warmer and drier, although the extent will vary from region to region,” cluster coordinator Ralf Ludwig of Ludwig Maximilian University Munich explains.
“In the shorter term, unsustainable water use and agricultural management, population growth and rising living standards accompanied by increased water consumption will play a greater role. In the long term, climate change will intensify the existing problems substantially.”
Aspects of climate change
Focusing on agriculture and tourism, WASSERMed found that climate change could – surprisingly – have a positive effect on northern Mediterranean countries and areas characterised by a relatively cold and humid climate, as warmer temperatures lengthen the cultivation season and render new areas to the north and at higher altitudes suitable for cultivation. Southern Mediterranean countries and arid/semi-arid areas, on the other hand, are highly likely to suffer from increased water shortage.
To effectively adapt to the changing climate and reduced water availability, water efficiency will have to improve. Potential measures to encourage stakeholder participation include water pricing, removal of market distortions and implicit subsidies as well as flexible, decentralised but coordinated decision-making.
Results from CLIMB indicate that many local and regional water managers, as well as water users, still lack awareness of climate change induced risks. “The information society – an effective medium for communicating about climate change – is simply not that widely present yet, so that climate change would be at the forefront of people’s minds, especially in North Africa,” says Ludwig. “Of course, people realise that the climate is changing and that traditional farming practices are affected, but it has not reached a point yet where they would think about changing those practices on a large scale.”
CLIMB also found data and knowledge gaps in climate change impact and risk assessment and has made recommendations for an improved monitoring and modelling strategy.
CLICO studied the effect of climate change and resulting water scarcity on tensions and conflicts within and between countries. While the initial hypothesis was that conflicts would likely be aggravated, the case studies imply that finding constructive solutions tends to be the priority. “Conflict resolution is the main focus in many areas, and the scarcer the resource, the more the parties involved strive for common solutions,” Ludwig summarises.
To further this mutually beneficial approach, CLICO recommends improving communication, coordination and cooperation between actors and developing conflict resolution mechanisms to support adaptation. In addition, social security systems and civil protection should be strengthened to reduce vulnerabilities and help maintain or improve human security.
Greater than the sum of its parts
Ludwig feels that the collaboration in a cluster was an enriching experience, albeit made more difficult by the fact that the three projects had originally been designed as standalone activities and had hence chosen different scales and case studies.
“The great advantage of clusters such as this is that they make you look beyond your own nose,” he says. “Working on projects, which focus on specific aspects, means that you are quite flexible. The meta-level brought into play by cross-project work in the cluster then creates value that is greater than the sum of its parts with relatively simple means.”