Europe and Central Asia facing significant climate change threats, but is in ‘adaptation deficit’

World Bank report urges countries to pursue climate-resilient development

BONN, June 2, 2009—The World Bank today warned that the impact of climate change in the Europe and Central Asia Region* will be more significant than expected due to a lingering post-Soviet legacy of environmental mismanagement and the poor state of much of the Region’s infrastructure, leaving the countries  poorly prepared to adapt.

“Europe and Central Asia suffers from an ‘adaptation deficit’ that is already challenged by recent climate variability,” said Marianne Fay, Director of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2010, and author of the new report ‘Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia’, “which will only worsen with the consequences of projected trends in climate in the coming decades.”

Fay added that “While almost two decades have passed since the breakup of the Soviet Union and its partner countries in Central and Eastern Europe, the legacy of environmental mismanagement and oversized infrastructure in countries outside the European Union still remains a dangerous holdover from the past.  It greatly worsens the countries’ vulnerability to even modest changes in the climate.”

Launched today during the UNFCCC Bonn Climate Change Talks and on the eve of ‘World Environment Day’ (June 5th), the report says that, contrary to popular perception, the Region is significantly threatened by climate change and is already experiencing the consequences: increasing variability, warmer temperatures, changing hydrology, and more extremes – droughts, floods, heat waves, as well as windstorms and forest fires. 

Average temperatures across ECA have already increased by 0.5?C in the south to 1.6?C in the north (Siberia) since the early 1900s and overall increases of 1.6 to 2.6?C above are expected by the middle of the century, with the greater changes occurring in the more northern latitudes. The north is projected to see greater temperature changes in winter, with the number of frost days declining by 14 to 30 days over the next 20 to 40 years. Southern parts of the region are expected to see the greatest changes in the summer, with the number of hot days increasing by 22 to 37 days over the same period. This warming trend is significant: by mid-century, countries such as Poland or Hungary are expected to experience the same number of hot days (>30oC) as today’s Spain or Sicily.

According to Fay, “Increases in temperature are affecting hydrology, with a rapid melting of the region’s glaciers and a decrease in winter snows.  Many countries are already suffering from winter floods and summer droughts – with both Southeastern Europe and Central Asia at risk for severe water shortages.  Summer heat waves are expected to claim more lives than will be saved by warmer winters.”

The report says that changes in sea level, another impact of climate change, will affect the Region’s four basins – the Baltic Sea, the East Adriatic and Mediterranean coast of Turkey, the Black Sea, and the Caspian – and the Russian Arctic Ocean.  On the Baltic, Poland, with its heavily populated low-lying coast, is the most vulnerable.  Along the Adriatic and the Mediterranean, storm surge and saltwater intrusion into aquifers threaten parts of the Croatian, Albanian, and Turkish coasts. Sea level rise in the Black Sea is already threatening numerous ports and towns along the Russian, Ukrainian, and Georgian coasts.  In the Caspian Sea, increased surface evaporation is projected to decrease water levels by as much as 6 meters by the end of the 21st century, imperiling fish stocks and affecting coastal infrastructure.

However, according to the report, legacy issues make the Region even more vulnerable.  Under the Soviet system, economic growth was pursued in blatant disregard to natural conditions. When water was needed for irrigation, the rivers feeding the Aral Sea were diverted to the desert to produce rice, fruit, and cotton. Uzbekistan became one of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, but at the cost of destroying the Aral Sea in the process.

The historic poor environmental management across the Region has its consequences.  Even countries and sectors that stand to benefit from climate change are currently poorly positioned to do so. According to Fay, “Much has been made of the fact that warmer climate and abundant precipitation in the northeastern part of Europe and Central Asia – Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine – will open up a new agricultural frontier.  However, any local potential benefit pales in comparison to the costs of the region’s relative inefficiency and low productivity. While world grain yields have been growing on average by about 1.5 percent per year, they have been falling or stagnant in these three countries.”

But over the next ten to twenty years, Europe and Central Asia’s resilience to climate shocks can be strengthened with improved infrastructure and environmental management systems, all of which will have positive consequences for sustainable development.  Regardless of climate change, Europe and Central Asia will gain from improving its water resource management, tackling its environmental pollution problems, upgrading neglected infrastructure and housing, and strengthening disaster management.  These steps will also greatly strengthen the Region’s ability to cope with the current climate. 

Adapting to the changing climate will also require specific climate-related actions:  investments in weather and water monitoring; the capacity to interpret and disseminate climate information; institutions to support adaptation efforts, whether by large firms or small farmers; and policies to foster incentives for informed, proactive responses to the challenges of climate change.

The Europe and Central Asian countries will need to develop strategies to reduce vulnerability to future changes.  Jane Ebinger, World Bank Senior Energy Specialist, emphasized the need for stakeholder involvement in adaption.  “Adaptation strategies will require steps to bring together policy makers, planners, asset owners, academics, and civil society to discuss and assess the risks a country may face from current weather and projected climate change, and identify possible adaptation measures, their costs and benefits.  In addition, the experience of countries, regions, or cities currently developing and implementing adaptation plans offers valuable lessons and methodologies.” 

*Europe and Central Asia Region economies:  Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania FYR Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan,

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