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The Mediterranean and Climate Change – Fate of the Planet in the Future of ‘Our Sea’

May 3, 2023 @ 8:30 am - 5:00 pm

Background – A collaboration between Clare Hall and the Science & Human Dimension Project, this one-day symposium will address Climate Change and the Mediterranean.

The warning signs have been evident for half a century: in 1985 David Attenborough declared at a conference in Rome: “By the early 1970s it was clear that the Mediterranean was dying.”  Scientists argue that the region is a microcosm of the planet’s environmental future.   The Mediterranean is the canary in the climate mine. If the people of the Mediterranean are unable to halt the slide to environmental disaster, what hope for the rest of the world?

The Mediterranean, a virtually enclosed sea at the juncture of three continents, is a hospitable environment of great beauty; the cradle of civilizations; a region rich in cultural heritage and recorded history, arts and architecture, the birth place of the three religions of the Book.  The benign climate is a crucial, sustaining feature of its agriculture, fisheries, food and wine; its abundant creative achievements, as well as its many conflicts.  Bordered by twenty-one countries, with collective populations of 500 million and 300 million annual visitors, the Mediterranean is a wealthy industrial, agricultural, marine and cultural powerhouse, albeit marked by striking inequalities, geopolitical tensions and local conflicts.

Yet the Mediterranean environment is headed for collapse.  The 2020 1st Report on Climate and Environmental Change in the Mediterranean Basin declared the region the “main hotspot in the world”, warming up 20 per cent faster than the global average. Some 250 million of its peoples are projected to be “water poor” within 20 years.  Temperatures are expected to increase by 2.2ºC (compared to pre-industrial levels) by 2040.  NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies has found that the current drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean – comprising Cyprus, Israel, Jordan Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Turkey – appears the worst in 900 years.

Researchers across the Mediterranean continue to monitor and model conditions and associated environmental woes due to human activity: including carbon emissions, plastics and petrochemical pollution, over-fishing, deforestation – with knock-on consequences:  unseasonal intense heatwaves, proliferating wildfires, water contamination, marine eutrophication, flash-floods. The social and geopolitical consequences are already evident: water and food insecurity, refugee and migration crises, economic shocks, heightened tension, and armed conflict.

Researchers provide measurements and models of what is happening and likely to happen. National and international constituencies of scientists, social scientists, engineers and technologists, make recommendations for policy and law makers, hampered by short-termism and budgetary constraints. But how is the wider public preparing for the reality of an environmental deterioration?  While celebrating the legendary beneficence of the region, and embracing the grim facts of its crises, our symposium program widens the perspectives to include the realms of history, geopolitics, anthropology, art and religion.

Archaeologists and climate historians have recorded the many environmental impacts on Mediterranean societies in the past, including volcanoes, earthquakes, drought, plague – from the Late Bronze Age and Antiquity to the Little Ice Age, from the Industrial Revolution to our fossil-fuelled polluted era of high technologies and rapidly expanding populations.  Can the past come to the aid of the future?  By taking soundings across a history of resilience and adaptation, contrasted with episodes of paranoia, despair, oppression and conflict, this symposium seeks to give impetus for readiness, and public action.  

Contact the Science & Human Dimension Project for more information.


May 3, 2023
8:30 am - 5:00 pm


Clare Hall, Cambridge
Cambridge, United Kingdom