The Mediterranean is a cradle of historic civilizations and cultures. All of them characterized by the power of radical thinking, ambition, mobilization and action. In doing so they advanced humankind in profound and enduring ways. Their transformational impact is still felt by all of us today.
We may now live in a very different age, but we would do well to learn lessons and draw inspiration from our history. In doing so we should pose the question to ourselves: how will future generations think of us?
The escalating climate and environmental crisis is the biggest test we all face.
Today, I host the heads of state and government of Croatia, Cyprus, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Spain, the Portuguese Foreign Minister, and the President of the European Commission, in Athens, for the 8th Summit of the Southern Countries of the EU – the EUMED – where the first item on our agenda is climate change in our region.
We meet after a summer that witnessed many of our countries, and indeed nations across the globe, suffer extreme weather events. In Greece we observed record temperatures and many months of drought, which turned the country into a powder keg.
The Mediterranean is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and prone to extreme weather events. We are already experiencing longer, more frequent and intensive heat waves, droughts, heavy precipitation, floods, and forest fires. The climate crisis is not now some abstract concept, it has arrived on our beautiful shores.
The serious and significant threat posed to the environment, society and the economy should not be underestimated. I am confident that the EUMED leaders will stand united in our strong conviction that urgent and ambitious global action is essential. The Athens Declaration that we will adopt signals a newly enhanced commitment to impactful action in key areas.
First, we must reaffirm our commitment to limiting the global temperature increase to 1.5°C and ensure that the Mediterranean’s voice is heard more loudly on the global stage, our actions intensified, and the strength of our common endeavour truly unleashed.
Swift and rapid alignment of public and private investment flows around issues of mitigation, climate neutrality and climate adaptation is imperative. We need unprecedented levels of public-private partnership and imagination.
The rollout of decarbonized and climate-proof infrastructures has to accelerate and we must commit to work together, and engage with the EU, to achieve the best outcome possible at the UN COP 26 summit.
Second, on biodiversity, we are seeing the vibrancy and endemism of the Mediterranean region threatened by habitat loss and degradation. Therefore, collaborating across our borders to monitor and materially change the situation is so important.
Third, on forests, we need to invest in the protection of our climate and ecosystems. The long-term adverse impacts of forest fires in the Mediterranean are huge. We are seeing them fundamentally change the features of drainage basins and increase soil erosion and they endanger species.
Where damage has been done, we need to act. We must encourage the sharing of our technologies and experiences for ecosystem recovery and restoration of degraded areas, within and outside of protected areas, and to formulate initiatives that contribute to ecosystem connectivity.
Fourth, on the marine environment, important progress was made at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Marseille earlier this month – including protecting 30% of marine and coastal areas by 2030 and stopping overfishing. The role of the Blue Economy in achieving the goals of the European Green Deal in the Mediterranean is pivotal.
We have seen pent-up demand for holiday travel coming back after the Covid impact, but we need to ensure we now build a model of sustainable tourism: not narrowly measuring success by the number of tourist numbers that visit but taking a much more sophisticated and holistic approach, particularly on our precious islands. We need to reduce the environmental, climate and energy footprint of all the Blue Economy-related offshore, onshore and coastal activities with a view to making them circular.
Finally, on civil protection, prevention and preparedness, we must strengthen and deepen cooperation among Mediterranean partners. The challenges related to natural disasters that we face share a common profile and across the Mediterranean countries we need to exchange experts, lessons, best practices, resources and expertise. We also need an upgrading of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism and the substantial strengthening of the RescEU in the Mediterranean by providing a European Reserve of resources.
Just as in our past, we need a powerful and sustained phase of radical thinking, ambition, mobilization and action to drive transformational progress for humanity. The EUMED as a grouping of nations must rise to this moment for our fragile planet.
We have to build a future that is rooted in justice where people and nature can thrive, and everyone has opportunity. One where generations to come look back with pride at what we were able to achieve.
The fight to create a safe, prosperous, fair and sustainable future for our societies will be hard won, but it is a battle we cannot afford to lose.
Kyriakos Mitsotakis is the prime minister of Greece.