The Mediterranean should be at the heart of Europe's climate fight
Climate change is already altering the Mediterranean region. If we continue along our current trajectory – pumping out carbon emissions while remaining in a state of political inertia – then an area renowned for its cuisine will become better known as a region of droughts and food shortages as the Sahara advances northwards.
But we have a choice. The Mediterranean could become the clean energy powerhouse of Europe. Solving climate change is, in theory, simple. We keep the fossil fuels in the ground and instead light our homes and power our economies with wind, sun and water.
From activists in Egypt and judges in Northern Italy campaigning to kick out coal, to communities in Puglia mobilising to stop the Euro-Caspian mega gas pipeline arriving on their shores, there is a burgeoning movement to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Efforts to switch to renewables are also blooming. Italy has the second highest installation of solar panels in the world, and Morocco is building Ouarzazate, which upon completion will be the largest operating concentrated solar power station in the world.
To create a 100% renewable energy supply, we need to link up our renewable resources. After all, if climate change itself knows no borders, then our solutions to solve it must also traverse frontiers. This means connecting and combining North African and Southern European solar power to export northwards; it means sharing wind resources in the North Sea and exporting them southwards; and it means integrating hydro power and pumped storage from the Alps and Scandinavia to balance supply and demand. In other words, it means putting the Mediterranean at the heart, not the fringe, of a truly pan-European strategy to solve climate change.
We have the technology to build long distance interconnectors, or electricity highways, which transport electricity across long distances, cheaply and efficiently. Research and modelling shows that an integrated Euro-Mediterranean renewables network will be cheaper than either business as usual or a scenario in which each nation goes it alone on renewables.
The benefits of Euro-Mediterranean electricity highways go beyond climate change. Lives will be saved from avoided pollution, lowering healthcare costs. And the investment will help create up to a million skilled jobs across the region – a boon for both southern European and North African countries, both of which have suffered from mass youth unemployment in recent years.
Recent EU polling shows that the number of Europeans who support fighting climate change and greening the economy has risen in the last three years and that investing in green industries would boost the economy. In Greece, Portugal and Spain, some of the most recession-hit countries, nine in ten people said that fighting climate change and using energy more efficiently would help economic recovery and create jobs.
But these benefits will only be enjoyed - and renewables will only be traded across borders - if political will also manages to transcend the boundaries of the EU. The EU lays important groundwork for regional policies. The climate and energy targets which anchor Member States’ targets and policies until 2020 have been vital in catalysing the renewables industry.But as the EU’s Heads of State meet to debate our 2030 climate targets this week, legislators can also get to work on parallel strategies to build regional cooperation that reaches out to Mediterranean neighbours.
It’s telling that Italy’s new Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, chose Tunisia as his first foreign trip since taking office. Climate and energy were not on the agenda, but some have interpreted the move as a realignment of Italy’s political compass towards the Mediterranean.
Climate Parliament legislators have also been working to ramp up political will. In Brussels, our MEPs have succeeded in ensuring at least €4 billion will be spent on renewable electricity highways rather than gas pipelines in the next EU budget. Meanwhile, our MPs’ amendment to include climate protection in the new Tunisian constitution passed, making it the first Arab country and only the third country in the world to constitutionally enshrine the state’s obligation to protect citizens from climate change. And in Morocco, MPs have successfully reduced import taxes on solar technologies.
These ripples of political will need to grow into waves that cross the Mediterranean sea. This is what the Climate Parliament’s Mediterranean Network is setting out to do. Our cross-party groups of MPs from France, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia and other Arab nations will be meeting next month near Tunis to plan how they can work together to design the laws and plan the policies that are needed to put the Mediterranean at the centre of solving climate change.