The Mediterranean Desert

The Mediterranean area will be the most affected, in Europe, by Climate Changes. Spain will be affected by years-long drought and its climate is likely to become close to what the Sahara is now. Most of the countries in South Europe will become increasingly uninhabitable!

Rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are causing a massive disruption of the climate, from raising temperatures to strongly impacting precipitation patterns over the world and the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events. Such massive changes have deep consequences on ecological communities and will drastically change Earth landscapes. One of the region that will see the most visible consequences of Global Warming is the Mediterranean. According to a report by the European Environmental Agency 1, the main consequences of Global Warming on the Mediterranean area will be: a large increase of temperature extreme and a strong decrease of precipitation and river flows 2. This will cause droughts, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, forest fires, reduction of crops yield, increase mortality of livestocks, and a multitude of negative effects on the economy. All together this will cause a major shift in ecosystem and landscapes toward a desertification of the Mediterranean region 34.

Long periods of precipitations deficit in the Mediterranean area over the past 10,000 years have all been linked to past civilisation collapse, yet, none of them was comparable to the climatic changes that awaits the Mediterranean area over the 21st century 4:1. In the Mediterranean region precipitations are expected to drop by up to 30% annually and up to 60% in the Summer 1:1, the frequency of drought is projected to increase by up to 15 times 1:2, the warmest July in the Mediterranean region could be 9°C warmer than today’s warmest July 5, the Segre and Minho rivers in Spain will have a Summer flow reduced by 45% on average, and up to 90% for the driest years 1:3, the Mediterranean Sea will become warmer, more saline and more acidic with an increased risk of toxic algal and bacterial bloom 1:4. Such intense stress on ecosystems will make the Mediterranean vegetation and wildlife gradually disappear, turning large areas of Southern Spain, Sicilia, Greece, Turkey, Middle East and North Africa into a desert comparable to the Sahara, while areas of Southern France, North Italy, Balkans… will turn into semi-arid landscapes 4:2.

Cities like Seville, Lisbon, Granada, Palermo, Athens… have thrived for thousands of years in a temperate climate. But if global warming continues at the current pace, these cities will be in the middle of a desert by the end of the century and their economy will collapse 3:1. To avoid the desertification of the Mediterranean region, Global Warming should stay below 1.5°C 4:3. At our current rate, the CO2 emissions require to reach a 1.5°C Warming will be reached by the end of 2027 6. Massive and immediate cuts in our CO2 emissions are therefore required. However, we’re currently on path to reach 2°C Warming by 2050 and at least 4°C by the end of the century 7.

Cutting down our CO2 emissions and staying below a 1.5°C Global Warming is still possible. The desertification of the Mediterranean area can be avoided. We need to act now.


  1. EEA Report 1/2017, 25 Jan 2017, Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2016, European Environmental Agency. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  2. Guerreiro et al., 2018, Future heat-waves, droughts and floods in 571 European Cities, Environmental Research Letters 13:034009. ↩︎

  3. Skibba, Ramin, 27 Oct 2016, Climate change could flip Mediterranean lands to desert, Nature News. ↩︎ ↩︎

  4. Guiot & Cramer, 2016, Climate change: The 2015 Paris Agreement thresholds and Mediterranean basin ecosystems, Science 354(6311):465-468. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎

  5. World Bank, 2012, Turn down the heat : why a 4°C warmer world must be avoided, A Report for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics. Washington DC, World Bank. ↩︎

  6. Remaining Carbon Budget, updated in Dec 2018, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC), Berlin, Germany. ↩︎

  7. IPCC, 2014, Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland. ↩︎