“Green, blue and circular” economy versus “black” economy for the Mediterranean?
“Towards a greener Mediterranean” is the promotional slogan of the launch meeting of the INTERREG EURO-MED 2021-2027 program, to be held in Lisbon on 2sd from December 2021. https://interreg-med.eu/index.php?id=13352&L=0
“Green, blue and circular” are the main pillars of the EU’s economic strategy for the current decade, playing a major role in the implementation of the European Green Deal.
Blue economy refers to marine or sea-related activities, either in established sectors, such as living marine resources, non-living marine resources (fossil fuels), etc., or in emerging and innovative sectors, such as as new types of marine renewable energy (i.e. ocean energy), blue bioeconomy and biotechnology, marine minerals, desalination, etc.
In its new approach, the European Commission is abandoning the “blue growth” objective, applied during the previous financial year (2014-2020), in favor of the concept of “sustainable blue economy”. The economy and the environment must be considered as a whole, while all economic activities at sea must reduce their environmental impacts.
The EURO-MED program will finance, with a total budget of € 281 million (awaiting final approval), actions relevant to emerging and innovative sectors. These activities indeed hold significant potential for the future development of coastal and island communities.
All other EU financial instruments for the new financial period relating to the same area, such as ADRION (EUSAIR macro-regional strategy), Next-MED (European Neighborhood Policy) and the INTERREG bilateral programs (Italy-France, Greece -Italy, Greece-Albania, etc.), will probably follow this same orientation.
The Blue Plan report (2020) describes in clear terms the alarming situation on the state of the environment and development in the Mediterranean. Among other things, the report indicates that vulnerable resources are under pressure, that the basin is a hotspot of climate change, and that its coastal zone is concentrating and accumulating pressure and suffering from environmental degradation. https://planbleu.org/en/soed-2020-state-of-environment-and-development-in-mediterranean/
When it comes to a semi-enclosed sea, all coastal states should share common values and apply the same policies in order to achieve common goals. This seems not to be the case in the Mediterranean, where economic interests and political rivalries, including armed conflicts, territorial disputes and economic weaknesses, limit opportunities for cooperation and common actions.
The main question is therefore to examine whether future high European investments, in particular from the EURO-MED program, will be sufficient to reverse or even influence the economic model and the current realities of the Mediterranean basin.
Our analysis will focus on energy production, a very important but conflicting sector of the blue economy, where the battle between conventional and renewable energy resources is expected to be fierce.
In its communication on the blue economy, the European Commission said that the offshore oil and gas sector has been in decline for several years, in principle due to the Italian moratorium on offshore oil and gas permits. But is this assumption valid for Mediterranean offshore oil and gas development in general? What about nuclear energy, which is not considered a marine energy resource but can have environmental impacts on wastewater and could further deteriorate the sea basin?
According to data provided by the US Geological Survey, the eastern Mediterranean Levant region – which includes the Syrian coast – holds a reserve of 1.7 billion barrels of oil and 3.5 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.
While Egypt was a pioneer in the discovery of offshore gas with the Abu Qir field in 1969, it was the start of deep-water drilling in 2000 that opened up a new horizon in the eastern Mediterranean. To date, more than two trillion cubic meters (bcm) of natural gas have been discovered in the Egyptian sector of the Mediterranean Sea. And yet the eastern Mediterranean remains under or unexplored and has good prospects for additional reserves.
Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Lebanon, Syria, Libya and Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean are leading active policies in this energy-rich region while the United States, Russia, United Kingdom, France and Italy are also seeking to maintain their influence in the region.
Indeed, after two serious economic and health crises, the risk of security of supply and the increase in the prices of oil and gas, it would be rather doubtful for the governments to refuse to exploit the “black gold” recently discovered. , by favoring it over other “nobles” and environmentally friendly resources. Domestic producers need money, big oil companies profit, and northern European countries need energy security, independence from Russian gas and stable prices.
The potential role of the Eastern Mediterranean in diversifying Europe’s energy sources is therefore becoming important. The East-Med gas pipeline project will be the means to transfer Mediterranean gas to Europe via Israel, Cyprus and Greece.
Under these circumstances, it is not at all surprising that Turkish President Erdogan at all times is claiming the “blue homeland” as the main element of Turkish foreign policy.
A number of experts are sounding the alarm that the planned extraction of hydrocarbon deposits in the eastern Mediterranean presents a dramatic risk of irreversible ecological and socio-economic disaster at sea, the productive land areas where the mining is envisaged, but also the viability of the countries themselves. Other experts consider that hydrocarbons, and in particular gas, are part of the solution to energy transition and insist that efforts to research and discover new deposits as well as their exploitation must be intensified.
International experience has shown that in an area of hydrocarbon extraction, accidents and general degradation are inevitable, despite strict environmental conditions and preventive measures. It is therefore obvious that mining activities cannot coexist with so-called blue and green activities.
Two recent typical examples illustrate the negative effects of onshore and offshore mining: Basilicata (Italy) and the Gulf of Mexico.
After nearly thirty years of mining, Basilicata now faces a dramatic environmental disaster, rising cancer rates, devastated agriculture and degraded tourism. As a result, the Italian government has decided to suspend all new production concession requests by the end of 2021.
In the Gulf of Mexico, the BP oil rig explosion in 2010 dumped 5 million barrels of crude oil into the sea. It took three months to close the 1,500-meter-deep mining well and bring it to a standstill. the escape. The oil covered 180,000 km2 of sea and coast, from Texas to Alabama, while more than 5,500 tons of toxic chemical dispersants were used.
In addition to doubts and concerns for the exploitation of oil and gas, a series of concerns are expressed for the operation or construction of new nuclear power plants in various countries around the Mediterranean. There are currently nuclear power plants in Bulgaria, Romania, France, Spain and Slovenia, while such units are planned in Turkey, Albania and North Macedonia.
Turkey plans to build four nuclear reactors with a capacity of 1,200 MW, the first at Akuyu, to be built by Rosatom, a Russian state atomic energy company.
Rosatom also received a permit from the Egyptian government to build a factory in the Dabaa region of MarsaMatrouh, funded by Russia with a loan of US $ 25 billion.
France has fifty-eight nuclear reactors and around 80% of its energy production is based on nuclear energy. This percentage is the highest in the world. France has one of the lowest electricity prices in the European Union and the lowest carbon dioxide emissions in the EU.
Nuclear power is therefore coming back again as a means of transition to a zero carbon economy, and despite bad experiences and accidents, many countries, such as the United Kingdom and Japan, for example, are also adopting this solution.
Ten Member States (Netherlands, Romania, Czech Republic, Finland, Slovakia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Poland and Hungary) led by France consider that natural gas and nuclear energy can be used in the fight against change climate and asked to be recognized as such, in the so-called “taxonomy”. On the other hand, Germany – which locks down its nuclear power plants – Austria, Luxembourg and other countries strongly resist this policy. Some other countries consider that gas should only be a temporary solution, a gateway to the transition to green energy, because it is less polluting than oil and although it remains a fossil fuel.
Current predictions are that in less than a decade the planet will have made a decisive shift from fossil fuels to renewable energies and gentle management of resources, with the first dramatic change expected being in car technology which currently consume more than half of the fuel. of global fuel. Indeed, a significant drop in the price of oil is expected.
It remains to be seen whether this forecast will also be valid for the Mediterranean basin, given that the energy will be produced in parallel by conventional sources (fossil fuel and nuclear) and by emerging renewable energies.
At the end of the decade, we will know whether European money was used to save the sea or was lost in the sea.