The tiny island of Cyprus is reshaping itself into a regional hub for climate-change research. The country lies at the meeting point of the Mediterranean, the Middle East and North Africa — areas where climate change is expected to take a heavy toll in the coming decades, but where research capacity to address the issue is limited (Makri, 2018).
Cyprus’s president, Nicos Anastasiades, announced plans to create a government initiative that will coordinate action against global warming across the Mediterranean and support the creation of a €30-million (US$35-million) climate-change research centre at the Cyprus Institute in Nicosia, the nation’s leading multidisciplinary research institution. "This is a priority issue for the government," says Theodoulos Mesimeris, head of the climate-change division of the Cypriot environment ministry. The initiative will also create a comprehensive plan to reduce Cyprus’s greenhouse-gas emissions in line with the 2015 Paris climate accord.
The Mediterranean region: a biodiversity hotspot
The Mediterranean basin (2.5 million km²) is the second largest of the 34 biodiversity hotspots in the world (FAO, 2018). Even if the Mediterranean area represents approximately 1.6% of the world's surface, the Mediterranean region is key to addressing global goals on plant ecosystems due to the extraordinary biodiversity e.g. houses 20% of the world's total floristic richness, and because the region is one of the world’s climate change hotspots (FAO, 2018).
In terms of plant diversity, the Mediterranean region is the third richest biodiversity hotspot in the world. Around 10% of the world’s vascular plants (25,000) are found in the Mediterranean basin and 60% of these species are endemic. The region contains a great wealth of endemism in trees and shrubs (290 indigenous woody species, 70% are endemic) and more than 220 species of terrestrial mammals (11% are endemic). The wide diversity of fauna and flora make the Mediterranean one of the richest natural habitats in the world.
The Mediterranean region in numbers (in 2016):
- 6.5% of global land area
- 2.0% of the total forest area
- 20% of the world's total floristic richness
- 13,000 endemic plant species
- 7.3% of the global population
- 60% of people living in water–poor countries globally
- 10.4% of global GDP (16.2% in 1990)
- 6.0% global carbon emission
Climate change in the Mediterranean region
Among all bioclimatic regions worldwide, the Mediterranean area appears to be the most vulnerable to climate change because it represents a transition zone between arid and humid regions of the world (Scarascia–Mugnozza and Matteucci, 2012). By 2100, the Mediterranean climate is predicted to experience a mean temperature rise of 2–4°C and rainfall is expected to decrease by 4–30% (IPCC, 2007).
In particular, the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East region is expected to become a global climate change “hot spot” based on results of global climate models (Lelieveld et al., 2012; Zachariadis, 2012). Cyprus is projected to face the most adverse climate change effects by 2100 (Lelieveld et al., 2012).
Observations from the beginning of the 20th century showed an increasing trend in the annual mean temperature in Cyprus, with a rate of increase of 0.01 °C per year, i.e. + 1.0–1.6 °C over the 20th century as well as a decrease of 1 mm per year on average for rainfall (Zachariadis, 2016). This increase exceeds the mean global temperature rise observed for the same period. According to the Cyprus Department of Meteorology, most of the warm years in the century have been recorded after 1990. The annual mean rainfall in the first 30–year period of the 20th century was 559 mm, and 462 mm in the last 30–year period, i.e. a decrease of 17 % (Zachariadis, 2016). In 2008, rainfall was 45% lower than the 2000–2007 average and reservoirs were filled only at 3% capacity, forcing the government of Cyprus to a multimillion Euro water import from Greece. These projected changes of the Cyprus climate may adversely affect ecosystems and emphasize the need for adaptation strategies (Hadjinicolaou et al., 2011; Lelieveld et al., 2012; Zachariadis, 2012).
For 2026–2050 period, maximum and minimum air temperatures may increase by 1.6–2.0°C and 1.8–2.3°C reference period and annual rainfall is projected to decrease by 2–8% compared to the 1976–2000 period (Hadjinicolaou et al., 2011). The rainfall frequency is projected to decrease at the inland Nicosia and at the coastal Limassol, while the mountainous Saittas could experience more frequent 5–15 mm/day rainfall (Hadjinicolaou et al., 2011). The annual number of consecutive dry days shows a statistically significant increase in Cyprus, up to 9 days in Limassol. Similarly, Zachariadis (2012) reported that the maximum air temperature will increase by 1.3–1.9°C for 2021–2050 and by 3.6–5.0°C for 2071–2100 compared with pre–industrial era (Zachariadis, 2012). By 2100, Önol and Semazzi (2010) concluded that temperature would increase by 4°C and precipitation decrease by 20–30 %. A relatively strong warming of about 3.5–7.0°C between the 1961–1990 period and the period 2070–2099 was also reported for Cyprus (Lelieveld et al., 2012).
Air pollution in Mediterranean region
Strong industrialization and a lack of air pollution policy have resulted, in recent decades, in an increase of anthropogenic emissions (Georgiou et al., 2018). Compared to other regions in the Northern Hemisphere, Mediterranean region experiences very high air pollution levels mainly due to particulate matter, nitrogen deposition and tropospheric ozone (Ochoa–Hueso et al., 2017). The Mediterranean area is the region at highest ozone risk in Europe (Sicard et al., 2013; Safieddine et al., 2014; Georgiou et al., 2018). Kleanthous et al. (2014) reported that long–range transport has important impacts on the air quality in Cyprus. Local ozone precursor emissions, such as nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, account only for 6% of the observed ozone levels in Cyprus (Kleanthous et al., 2014). The levels of near-surface ozone are further enhanced under heat waves conditions that occur in Cyprus (Pyrgou et al. 2018).
The ozone control measures were effective at rural sites in western Mediterranean basin over the time period 2000–2010 (on average, - 0.14 ppb per year). Between 1995 and 2014, the annual mean concentrations decreased at rural stations by - 0.15 ppb per year in France and - 0.40 ppb per year in Spain while + 0.23 ppb per year is found in Cyprus at EMEP Ayia Marina station (Sicard et al., 2018).
Tropospheric ozone, considered as the most dangerous gaseous air pollutant for forest vegetation, together with anthropogenic nitrogen, are currently amongst the main threats to Mediterranean ecosystems health, productivity and diversity. A proper assessment and field validation of the effects of increased ozone pollution and/or nitrogen deposition on plant ecosystems are still lacking for many species and plant communities and remains a research hot–topic.
Cyprus – Threatened plant ecosystems
Cyprus has a rich biodiversity, one of the highest in Europe, currently threatened by the invasion of alien species, drought, air pollution and other reasons. For instance, among 27 Mediterranean countries, Cyprus showed a decline in forest area (- 0.17%) between 2010 and 2015 while the overall Mediterranean area showed an increase of 2.04%. The climate variability, high temperatures and limited rainfall restrict crop production in Cyprus (Bruggeman et al., 2011). Annual national crop yields may decrease by 41–43% by 2020 compared to the 1980–2009 period; this can bring about economic losses up to €80 million on an annual basis. By using the AOT40 metric, the relative yield loss was estimated at 0.34% for maize and 5.13% for wheat due to surface ozone exposure in 2010 (Solazzo et al., 2018).
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