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The Mediterranean region under climate change

 | 
Jean-Paul Moatti
, 
Stéphane Thiébault

Address by HSH the Prince Albert II of Monaco

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International Conference “Savoirs en action pour un codéveloppement en Méditerranée”, organized for the 350th anniversary of the Académie des sciences
MuCEM, Marseille
29 September 2016

1Mr Minister,

2Mr Prefect,

3Madam Permanent Secretary,

4Your Excellencies,

5Assembled Presidents,

6Mr Rector,

7Ladies and Gentlemen,

8Dear Friends,

9Allow me first of all extend my warm thanks to all those who have helped organise this major event and congratulate them on their choice of subjects to be addressed throughout the day.

10It is a matter of great satisfaction for me to be here with you to celebrate the 350th anniversary of the Académie des Sciences, which promotes and protects the spirit of research, and has contributed towards scientific progress and its applications since 1666.

11As a great fan of the sciences, like Colbert – the founder of your Académie – I was delighted to accept this invitation to map out a few avenues for reflection concerning the theme of the ‘challenges facing the Mediterranean coast’ – a topic which you will shortly address in your round table.

12As a unique forum where people, cultures and religions come face to face, the Mediterranean has always been a place of exchanges which have given rise to whole civilizations.

13In addition to being a cradle for these civilizations, the Mediterranean region also now at the centre of an unprecedented set of political, demographic and economic issues.

14As the crossroads between three continents and a meeting place of three civilizations, the Mediterranean remains a forum for encounters, but is also prone to political, economic, environmental and cultural tensions. With this in mind, we can be justly proud of having launched so many initiatives in favour of cooperation and partnership, in order to strengthen those exchanges and, breathe new life back into the region’s economies, despite the inequalities and imbalances among the region’s various countries.

15With a surface area of 2.5 million km², the Mediterranean represents 0.7% of the world’s seas. Its coastlines extend over 46,000 km, in 22 countries with over 400 million inhabitants.

16From a planetary perspective, this is a modestly-sized region, almost entirely enclosed and a major reservoir of biodiversity – it is home to over 25,000 plant species and 650 marine fish species, including 28% found exclusively here.

17As a semi-enclosed sea, the Mediterranean is fragile and highly exposed to the effects of climate change and pollution.

18This maritime region faces many constraints – be they ecological, anthropogenic, maritime, demographic or economic.

19As the location of 30% of the world’s maritime trade, including 22% of its oil trade, the Mediterranean is an extremely busy sea trading region, not to mention the leisure boating sector which has grown exponentially in recent years.

20The Mediterranean coastlines have also seen significant growth in terms of population density: over 150 million inhabitants – almost a third of the population of the coastal countries. This figure has virtually doubled in the last 40 years and some of the coastal areas have witnessed rampant urbanization. We know that by 2025, half the Mediterranean coastline will consist of built-up areas.

21While the Mediterranean can be justly proud of being the world’s first tourist region, it must nevertheless cope with an influx of some 200 million tourists per year who come to enjoy their holidays on its coasts. And this figure looks set to grow still further by 2025, half most visitors staying within an area less than 100 metres from the coastline.

22How can this influx be managed and the seasonal tourist economy structured, given that we are already witnessing significant increases in summer pollution of the seawater?

23The number of inhabitants living on the coastline and the increase in summer populations only serve exacerbate the pollution from the land where in some countries – for example the Middle East and North Africa – there is a lack of drinking water, often brought about by the discharge of waste or used water.

24Needs are outstripping infrastructural development on the coastline, particularly in terms of water treatment.

25And so we are witnessing increasing pressure on our water supply, brought about by growing demand. All of which is being exacerbated by climate change.

26Aquaculture is another source of pollution. With 110 kg of nitrogen, 12 kg of phosphorus and 450 kg of carbon emitted per tonne produced by fish farms, this represents a considerable challenge to be addressed as we seek out food security solutions.

27In all these cases, wastewater, whether from cities, agriculture or rain, transports significant amounts of non-biodegradable solid and chemical waste. This waste spreads with the currents and winds, and constitutes a threat to marine fauna and flora.

28And yet it is on the coast that marine biodiversity needs to be regenerated.

29We can all agree that the scenario I have painted is not a happy one. But underestimating it is no longer an option.

30We have entered an era in which most significant environmental change is brought about by men and women. Humanity has become a force for change on a planet-wide scale.

31In the phrase coined by Dutch Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen, we are now living in the ‘Anthropocene’, meaning that in just a few generations, the influence of anthropogenic actions on the earth’s ecosystem has become the major factor.

32The scientific studies being conducted today are beyond dispute: we simply must face up to our responsibilites.

33Saving the planet – which was still seen as a minority-interest subject for the more daring spirits in Rio in 1992 – has become one of the key issues of the century. The climate question is an extremely potent symbol of the global threats which we must now manage and mitigate.

34Beyond the question of the climate, other crucial topics are now beginning to attract the attention they deserve: in particular the questions of biodiversity, pollution and preserving water resources. Little by little, humanity is beginning to understand that these are matters of life and death.

35They touch on the way we live and eat, but also on our health, security and – on a more general level – on economic and strategic balance throughout the world, and particularly here on the shores of the Mediterranean.

36A few degrees more, a few species less, a couple of extra square kilometres in the desert – these are irreversible dramas, each of which will bring yet more tragedies and tales of exile, poverty and violence in their wake.

37As we look into these climate and environmental issues, we are at last beginning to understand the central role of the seas and oceans. These vast stretches which for so long seemed incomprehensible, hostile, and devoid of interest other than for fishing are now – so science shows us – areas of great complexity, fragility and profound significance.

38The international scene is now bearing witness to this new awareness. Major international gatherings are focusing on the issue, including of course the ongoing discussions at the UN about the high seas. As you know, the aim is to develop a “internationally binding legal instrument on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity” in the high seas.

39These negotiations form part of a positive momentum, which has seen the emergence of several important milestones in recent months: the adoption last September of a sustainable development goal specific to the oceans; the decision of the IPCC to devote a forthcoming report to the relationship between the oceans and the climate; and the holding of a session dedicated to the subject at the COP 21 – an exercise which will be repeated at the COP22 in Marrakesh.

40All of these are core areas to which I am deeply committed and to which I will be devoting unstinting effots with my Government and my Foundation.

41On the national level, in Monaco I have introduced an unwavering energy transition policy designed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. We have undertaken several international cooperation missions regarding the environment and climate change. We have long been involved in drafting original policies to preserve the seas, like the RAMOGE accord signed with France and Italy for the prevention and management of marine pollution – an agreement now celebrating its fourth anniversary.

42This work is complemented by that of my Foundation which has spent the last ten years fighting climate changes and its impacts, in order to preserve biodiversity, manage water and combat desertification.

43All of these initiatives and actions – everything we are doing for the environment – is made possible by science.

44One of the missions with which the Academy is entrusted is to monitor the quality of teaching and strive to integrate the findings from scientific developments into the general contemporary culture. I can only express my wholehearted support for this aim.

45The decisions leaders make today must be based on our scientific awareness.

46In light of the complex and barely perceptible realities of the climate, science brings us awareness and gives us power.

47It is science that has convinced us of the urgency to act, it is in its name that we try to persuade those around us, and it is science that will help us construct a new development paradigm: a model based on innovative techniques which respect the environment.

48We are all collectively indebted to scientists. Without science, none of the progress made in recent years would have been possible.

49This is also why Monaco has long been supporting research as a key dimension of its policy. This has led to – amongst other things – the development of its science centre, the welcoming of the AIEA Marine Environmental Studies Laboratory supporter of research and also my Foundation’s commitment to founding programmes and expeditions. And in the same spirit, we have strongly advocated for the IPPC to draft a report on the oceans and the cryosphere.

50But our debt to science does not end there. While we owe much to researchers and their discoveries and inventions and the perspectives they open up, we should, I believe, draw inspiration from their methods.

51Because both discovery and invention are the offsring of what makes science great: doubt. It is doubt that drives us to explore new avenues, try things out and seek new horizons.

52Today I am convinced that our political and economic leaders, like all environmental leaders, must draw inspiration from this key state of mind. At all levels, we must question our habits, our lazy assumptions and our comfortable ways of thinking.

53This is exactly what I am trying to do with my Foundation, as a complement to the activities my Government has been tasked with implementing.

54This also underlies my attempts to bring together economists, scientists, politicians and environmentalists in conjunction with my Foundation.

55And finally it also explains my search for new practical solutions to preserve our seas, oceans and climate. I mentioned the ongoing talks at the UN which are exploring new approaches to understanding the ocean, but I could also cite other initiatives, such as the protected marine reserves for which I have been fighting for many years. These structures constitute an appropriate framework for managing the seas, and only they can facilitate the joint economic development of the coastal populations and the preservation of the ecosystems.

56This is why we have, together with the French Government, created a Trust Fund dedicated to the creation and strengthening of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean. And it is why we are currently working on the reform of the Pélagos sanctuary for the protection of sea mammals along the French, Italian and Monaco coastlines.

57Here too, the key is to innovate, question existing received wisdom and devise new solutions that will help us save our seas and our climate.

58It is now time for your exchanges to take place, so that you can discuss the future of the Mediterranean Basin in light of its history and its past, touching not only on the limitations but also on the opportunities ahead.

59I would like to thank the Académie once again for its initiative, but also its partners, the Groupe Inter académique pour le développement (GID), the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and the Union for the Mediterranean for this encounter, here at the MuCEM – a fitting venue to discuss the Mediterranean, its importance and its protection.

60I hope therefore that the Mediterranean will inspire us – just as it has inspired so many great minds down the centuries, so that we may develp sustainable solutions and practices to help us achieve the best possible balance between human development and the preservation of our beloved Mare Nostrum.

61Thank you.

© IRD Éditions, 2016

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