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Climate change and the Mediterranean

Saving our sea. Cooling the climate in a hot region

United Kingdom
The Economist
28/10/2010

WHATEVER the travails of the Greek economy, George Papandreou has a gift for accentuating the positive. Ask the prime minister about his country’s comparative advantages, and he is likely to mention the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. His latest paean on the subject, at a resort south of Athens on October 22nd, had a sympathetic audience: a grouping of Mediterranean politicians, including Israelis, Palestinians, Greek-Cypriots and Turks, who probably found it easier to agree on culinary matters than on most other things.

As it turns out, there is at least one other thing on which Mediterranean leaders concur, at least in theory: the need to protect their sea and its shore from the worst effects of a looming ecological threat that could make it much harder to produce all that healthy fruit, wine and oil. According to Dimitri Zenghelis, a co-author of the 2006 Stern report on climate change, the region can expect to see a drop in precipitation of 25-30% by the middle of the century, with wide variation either side of the mean. If rainfall on bits of the northern Mediterranean coast were to fall by, say, 50%, the landscape could become more like the southern shore—and the struggle to save bone-dry forests from fire might become nearly hopeless. With all that in mind, representatives of 17 Mediterranean countries—including Recep Tayyip Erdogan, prime minister of Turkey—joined Mr Papandreou in pledging to work for “low-carbon, resource-efficient and climate-resilient” economies.

What difference will such fine words make? There is no lack of ideas for ways in which the two shores of the sea could collaborate in producing and distributing green energy. The most ambitious is Desertec, an initiative backed by German firms that would see vast solar power plants built in north Africa at a cost of up to €400 billion ($552 billion), with much of the electricity sent to Europe.

But the potential backers of such projects are in shock after an abrupt change of tack by the Spanish government, which has slashed subsidies for windmills and solar panels. Italy is also scaling back incentives for solar energy, looking, like Spain, to trim its budget deficit. Nor is there any guarantee that north African countries with abundant fossil-fuel stocks will welcome big solar installations.

One of the ideas of the Athens gathering was to change the political climate and restore investors’ nerve. In the short term, though, there are obstacles. For example, some north European green investment funds will not put money into Greece until its financial problems are sorted out. But there are some easy things the Mediterranean countries could help each other do: retrofitting buildings to save energy, and creating more efficient grids, for example. Before they cook up anything really juicy, the politicians of the Mediterranean may need something simpler to chew on.

El contenido de las noticias que se presentan en esta sección es responsabilidad directa de las agencias emisoras de noticias y no necesariamente reflejan la posición del Gobierno de México en este u otros temas relacionados.

    

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