The future of South-East Europe and the Mediterranean in the context of climate change: a UNESCO perspective

13 - Climate Action

Without action, the world’s average surface temperature is likely to surpass 3°C this century. Around the world, people are experiencing both the subtle and stark effects of climate change. Gradually shifting weather patterns, rising sea levels and more extreme weather events are all clear and devastating evidence of a rapidly changing climate. The symposium convened by UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe on 6-8 November 2019 in Venice, Italy, will gather international expertise to contribute to a climate resilient South-East Europe and Mediterranean population living near the coast.

Today, climate change is affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries dearly every day and even more tomorrow. Weather patterns are changing, sea levels are rising, weather events are becoming more extreme and greenhouse gas emissions are now at their highest levels in history. The world is in a race to limit climate change.

In this regard, SDG13 calls for actions through strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity, mainstreaming it into policies, and capacity building. In September, the 2019 Climate Action Summit showcased UN’s pledge to accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement. In the face of worsening climate crisis, the summit has delivered new pathways and practical actions to shift global response into higher gear.

As we all recognize that time is running out, youth leaders warn: “we will be watching”. Growing is recognition that the pace of climate action must be rapidly accelerated. “Climate change is the defining issue of our time time – and we are at a defining moment”, remarked UN Secretary-General. “There is still time to tackle climate change, but it will require an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society.”

Climate change has long-term effects and it is composed of multi-dimensional challenges. Keeping the increase in global average temperature to well below 2°C and limit the increase to 1.5°C, as set in the Paris Agreement, will require mobilization of all actors across society – countries, regions, cities, companies, investors, and other organizations – working collaboratively towards reducing emissions to net zero by 2050. A cross-generational approach to climate change will be essential to give youth a chance to determine their future.

It is crucial that action is taken to combat climate change and its impacts also in the Mediterranean, a region that has already experienced an increase in average temperature by 1.4 °C since the pre-industrial era, 0.4 °C more than the global average. As seen last summer, Europe and the Mediterranean coastal areas suffer from an increasingly warming and drying climate, causing already loss of life and disruptions throughout the region. The weather will increase impacts in the region from heat-related mortality, water restrictions, habitat loss, energy demand for cooling and forest fires.

In this context, UNESCO has been working closely with Member States to study the effects of climate change on UNESCO sites, such as biosphere reserves, geoparks and World Heritage properties, and discover ways for sites to best adapt to climate change and to the multiplication of extreme weather patterns.

During the UNESCO Regional symposium, discussions will dive into how climate change is affecting the region, notably its water resources and the sea. Ultimately, the overall aim will be to contribute to a more climate-resilient Mediterranean. The symposium will explore how UNESCO can more effectively work with UNESCO designated sites, emblematic both in terms of nature and culture in the region, to increase their resilience to climate change and extreme events.

Scientists, universities and research institutions, site managers, education specialists, local and national authorities as well as youth climate change advocates will come together to exchange ideas and explore how UNESCO can, through its programmes and sites, make a strong contribution to the region’s climate resilience.

The symposium will welcome 55 participants from the Mediterranean and South-East Europe region, including 13 youth activists, 29 experts and scientists, and 13 site managers from 11 UNESCO sites. In particular, in attendance will be Italian young activist, Federica Gasbarro.

 “The symposium is an opportunity to involve youth and youth climate advocates to ensure that those making up a quarter of the world’s population, and representing the future of the planet, have a voice in UNESCO deliberations on climate change.”, emphasizes Ana Luiza Massot Thompson-Flores, Director of the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Science and Culture in Europe.

The symposium will allow to define common lines of work and strategies, and initiate discussions on possible project proposals to address the adverse effects of climate change on UNESCO designated sites. The event will close with a plenary presentation and discussion of a regional climate change strategy and project ideas with a broader group - including local and national authorities.