Forest degradation in the northern Mediterranean is being driven mostly by a lack of land management and wildfires, while forests in the south-east suffer from overexploitation for firewood, overgrazing and population pressure – potentially triggering a range of economic, social and environmental problems, according to the State of Mediterranean Forests 2018, from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and environment agency UNEP.
"Mediterranean forests have long been adapting to pressures caused by human development,” said the report. “But never have these pressures been so extreme as they are now.” For example, as trees try to withstand droughts, they deplete their carbon stores and produce less carbohydrates and resins, which are essential to their health. This has already led to a decline of oak, fir, spruce, beech and pine trees in Spain, France, Italy and Greece, and Atlas cedar trees in Algeria.
The region includes more than 25 million hectares of forests and about 50 million hectares of other wooded lands, encompassing urban, rural and agricultural terrain.
And while the Mediterranean diet and agricultural products are world-renowned, their survival depend on rural landscapes, resources and decent working conditions. Moreover, Mediterranean coastlines host 30 per cent of all international tourists, with budding cities and megacities that continue to push population growth and economic activity, putting a strain on the area.
As such, it is crucial that national and regional strategies better emphasize the role of forests and agroforestry. "In a context of rapid climatic, societal and lifestyle changes in the Mediterranean, forest and tree-based solutions are critical to the region overall sustainability, with an expected impact well beyond forested areas,” asserted Ms. Lemaitre-Curri of UNEP.
The report covers 27 countries: Albania, Algeria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Morocco, Palestine, Portugal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Turkey.