19.09.2012 - UNESCO Office in Venice

Resource Constraints in the Mediterranean Region: Exploring the Links Between Ecological and Economic Crises

©Global Footprint Network - Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends

Growing demands on the Mediterranean region’s ecosystems threaten the foundation of its social and economic well-being, the international think tank Global Footprint Network reports in a two-year study whose findings will be released at an international conference on October 1.

Global Footprint Network’s report, Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends, show an ever widening ecological deficit. Between 1961 and 2008, the most recent year data were available, growing population and consumption trends tripled the region’s demand for renewable resources and ecological services. By 2008, the region’s Ecological Footprint—the demand on Earth’s bioproductive land and sea areas—exceeded local available ecological assets by more than 150 percent.

“The Mediterranean's accessibility to essential life supporting ecological resources and services is increasingly at risk,” said Mathis Wackernagel, President of Global Footprint Network and the co-creator of the Ecological Footprint, a resource accounting tool. “It is in each country's most central self-interest to combat ecological deficits quickly and aggressively.”

With possibly one exception, every country in the Mediterranean region has now moved from ecological creditor to debtor status, and demand more of Earth’s renewable resources than are locally available. Countries meet their ecological deficits through trade and overexploiting their own ecosystems.

The implications are far reaching. Virtually every economic activity—and life itself—depends on access to ecological resources and services.  But as humanity’s Footprint has grown, the entire world has pushed further into ecological overshoot. With resources around the globe becoming scarcer, competition for these resources tightens, and the risk of volatile costs or supply disruptions increases.

"As resource constraints tighten globally, countries that depend heavily on ecological services from other nations may find that their resource supply becomes insecure and unreliable, and this has profound economic implications," said Wackernagel.

Among Global Footprint Network’s findings:

  • Demand outstrips supply: In less the 50 years, the Mediterranean region nearly tripled its demands for ecological resources and services, and increased its ecological deficit by 230 percent.
  • Wealth and Footprint size: The higher the income of a country, the greater was its demand for ecological resources and services (and the higher its per capita consumption). Three countries alone contributed more than 50 percent of the region’s total Footprint in 2008: France (21 percent), Italy (18 percent) and Spain (14 percent).  
  • Individual country trends: Algeria experienced the largest change in national ecological assets balance, moving from a large reserve in 1961 to a large ecological deficit in 2008. Syria, Tunisia and Turkey also shifted from ecological creditor to debtor status during this period, while the other Mediterranean countries saw a worsening of their ecological deficits. Cyprus experienced the largest deficit increase, and Jordan the smallest. Montenegro possibly remains the only ecological creditor in the region (Montenegro’s country data is incomplete), but its reserve is narrowing.
  •  Region’s biggest ecological debtors: In 2008, the five Mediterranean countries with the highest total ecological deficits were Italy, Spain, France, Turkey and Egypt.
  • One exception to regional trends: Portugal was the sole country in the Mediterranean region to have significantly narrowed its ecological deficit in recent years (an 18 percent per capita decrease between 1998 and 2008). But the country’s per capita deficit is still higher than the regional average.
  • Supply and demand today: By 2008, the region’s total Ecological Footprint exceeded local biocapacity—the ecosystems’ ability to provide resource and services useful for humans—by more than 150 percent.

Global Footprint Network and UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe, Venice (Italy), with the support of the MAVA Foundation, will launch the report on October 1 at the two-day conference at Palazzo Zorzi. The event will include a media briefing and workshops to debate implications of the report’s findings and the national strategies required in a resource-constrained world.  For key findings of the report, please see Global Footprint Network’s policy brief, Why Are Resource Limits Undermining Economic Performance? (The brief is also available in French and Arabic translations.)

The conference is expected to draw government finance, planning and environment representatives, NGOs and academics who wish to better understand the link between economic and environmental crises and debate potential solutions.

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