Q&A with Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director Alessandro Galli

The Mediterranean region has nearly tripled its demand for ecological resources and services over the past five decades, and increased its ecological deficit by 230 percent. Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean Initiative, launched in June 2010 with support of the MAVA Foundation, brings leaders together to develop a regional approach to managing ecological assets consumption and availability.
Last October, representatives of 12 nations attended a conference in Venice, Italy, where Global Footprint Network released its two-year investigation (Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends) into the link between the Mediterranean region’s ecological deficit and economic security.
Our Mediterranean-MENA Regional Director Alessandro Galli discusses how the Ecological Footprint has resonated in the region since, what’s next on the horizon for the Mediterranean Initiative, and new developments in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region.
Q: What key resource issues do Mediterranean countries face? How can the region’s decision-makers work collectively to manage resource consumption and natural capital to ensure a viable future?
The Mediterranean region’s access to essential ecological assets has never been as precarious as it is today. The region now uses approximately 2.5 times more natural resources and ecological services than its ecosystems can provide. When consumption exceeds local availability, countries either resort to depletion of local assets or turn to international trade in order to satisfy their demands. Mediterranean economies face a systemic risk due to the concurrence of ecological asset scarcity, price volatility, and the challenging financial situation many of them are in.
Venice conference participants indicated the need to shift from a silo approach to solving sustainability challenges to one that’s more collaborative between all decision makers, not just environmental ministers. The conference summary documenthighlights initial ideas to jumpstart this cross-cutting approach. France’s presidential mandate for a Transition Ecologique across all ministries is a great example of the needed, new systemic approach.
Q: The publication Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends wrapped the first phase of Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean Initiative. What’s next on the horizon?
After the release of the full report and its key findings, Why Are Resource Limits Now Undermining Economic Performance? (see also the French and Arabic versions), Global Footprint Network decided to build on the interest generated by launching a three-year Mediterranean program. This second phase entails improving our analysis by engaging in research collaborations with think tanks, universities, NGOs, and national governments. At the regional level, we’ll continue to use the Ecological Footprint to support work with other Mediterranean-focused organizations to deepen our understanding of the socio-economic implications of resource overconsumption in the region. At the national level, we aim to start collaborations in Mediterranean countries that will seek to conduct in-depth country analysis, to assist decision-makers in developing science-based policies to reduce resource dependency and boost socio-economic well-being.
Q: What are the immediate next steps in Global Footprint Network’s Mediterranean-MENA engagement?
Integrating the notion of resource limitations into economic planning has resonated with multiple stakeholder groups. After the launch of Mediterranean Ecological Footprint Trends, Global Footprint Network was invited to present its analysis to Greek MPsand other Mediterranean legislators at the Special Permanent Committee on Environmental Protection of the Hellenic Parliament. Furthermore, in light of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) report, Survival Options: Ecological Footprint of Arab Countries, which found that Kuwait has the world’s second highest per capita Ecological Footprint, Kuwait’s Environment Public Authority (EPA) launched its national Ecological Footprint initiative in early May.
Out of the many Solution Initiatives submitted to the MED Solutions Network at the University of Siena, our joint proposal with DESERTEC University Network was one of three selected for presentation at the MED Solutions Network’s first conference,Sustainable Development Solutions for the Mediterranean Region, at the University of Siena July 3-5, 2013. This is the first regional center of the newly formed United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN) directed by Jeffrey Sachs of Earth Institute at Columbia University. Our solution,Sustainability Compass: Guide for Projects to Reduce Ecological Deficit and Improve Human Development, focuses on developing a framework to measure the sustainable development return on investment (SDROI) of any project. Through the engagement with the Med Solutions Network, we hope to participate in the regional debate on sustainable development, contribute to the framing of the Sustainable Development Goals and engage in new collaborations in the field of sustainable development solutions with other institutions interested in Mediterranean and global sustainability issues.