Soaring public debt, languishing economy, growing inequality, no jobs for a growing number of people, especially young: this is what most of the Mediterranean countries are facing today. In Southern Europe as well as in Northern Africa and east Mediterranean. Old recipes dominate government responses: promote investment in natural resources exploitation, even if this implies reducing environmental safeguards, even if the trade-off is losing ecosystem services whose contribution to wellbeing does not appear in economic accounts.
Two sectors are particularly attractive to governments as a quick response to the economic crisis: oil, gas & coal, and construction. Unfortunately these are also the sectors with the highest environmental costs, and the least sustainable. The construction sector is extremely powerful everywhere in the Mediterranean. It attracts the majority of public and private investments. It is the easiest approach to stimulating the economy: loosen building regulations, release concessions for tourism development, and invest public money in physical infrastructures. It is all based on the assumption that land is only valuable when it is built: the more a country is built, the wealthier it is considered. The loss of ecosystems, fertile land, landscapes are not accounted.
A boom of oil & gas exploration is going on the Med. From the Levant basin to the Aegean, from the Italian to the Spanish shelf, almost any government is looking for fossil fuel reserves to reduce the energy import bill and energy costs for domestic industries, usually based on ill conceived economic assessments. A paradox for a region that is at high risk from climate change, not to talk about the shorter term risks for marine habitats, fisheries and the tourism sector. But the cost of lost marine ecosystems benefits is not charged to the fossil energy industry.
It is time for a u-turn in the Mediterranean economic policies. The abundant sun light can provide more energy than Mediterranean people will ever be able to use; the construction sector can be converted in a re-development sector, restoring urban centers and landscapes, upgrading energy efficiency of buildings, improving seismic protection; agriculture can become a high quality high-tech sector producing the best food in the world; land and sea should be valued for the benefits they provide to the economy and people well being. All these creating many more jobs than any other type of investment. The Mediterranean can defeat the crisis by focusing on one target: make this the place where everybody would like to live.
Director, WWF Mediterranean Programme Office