Whether climate change is a naturally occurring phenomenon or a man-made catastrophe, fact is that global weather and climate patterns are changing. And a changing environment means we humans need to change, too. We need to adapt the way we live, the way we grow our food, where we build our houses, how we earn a living.
This is why in 2013, the European Commission adopted the EU Adaptation Strategy. At the same time, all European countries are encouraged to develop a National Adaptation Strategy (NAS) of their own. On 22 and 23 May, policy makers and scientists from the Baltic countries gathered in Riga to discuss just that.
Latvia and Estonia presented their plans and progress, while Lithuania (which already approved their NAS in 2012) shared their lessons learned. Several NGO’s such as homo ecos: were present as well, to hear what their countries’ representatives are planning, and gently nudge them in the right direction.
Why do we need to adapt?
For Latvia, scientists foresee a higher average temperature, less precipitation (rain, snow, etc) and a longer vegetation period (period when plants can grow, bloom and produce fruits and seeds) within the next fifty years. Latvia’s climate in 2100 would be comparable to the current climate of southern Germany. Sounds pretty nice, doesn’t it?
Well, no. The higher temperature will also cause more ice to melt, leading to more floods in urban areas. And what do you think will happen to winter tourism? Humans might like a little bit of sunbathing, but our forests and crops are happiest in the climate they evolved in. As a scientist from Silava, the Latvian State Forest Research Institute explained during the Conference, trees get ‘confused’ if the winter isn’t cold enough or starts too late, causing them not to grow at all, or to start growing just before a frost period, wasting valuable resources and energy.
So what are we doing about it?
Just to be clear: climate change adaptation is not the same as climate change mitigation (decreasing or undoing the causes of climate change). Although responsibility for adaptation usually lies with the Ministry of Environment (VARAM in Latvia) and adaptation and mitigation are often part of a single roadmap, it is quite possible to discuss the topic without thinking about ways to reduce our environmental footprint.
Still, as Kati Mattern of the European Environmental Agency pointed out during the Conference: “any 1 euro you spend on prevention saves 6 euros in damage cost”. So the best strategies not only look at ways to deal with a changing climate, but also encourage a more sustainable lifestyle, helping to mitigate climate change. And although climate change may be global, its effects are often felt locally (for instance in coastal cities) and adaptation must begin locally, too.
In Latvia, the two regions that have set a good example, are Riga and Salacgriva. In 2010, the City Council of Salacgriva approved the Declaration of Green Municipality, which not only looks at urban planning (not building houses in foreseen flood areas), but also provides green infrastructure (children’s playground powered by renewable energy, improved cycling lanes) and encourages citizens to live green and join in green initiatives (in the Liec Upē Akmeni project local people take care of their rivers).
Where to next?
Twenty European countries have already implemented a NAS, and are currently executing, evaluating and revising their strategies. Latvia has been working on adaptation plans since 2008, and is now putting the last touches to the Guidelines of the National Environmental Policy for 2014-2020. Priority sectors in this plan are forestry, coastal regions, flood plains, agriculture, insurance and civil defence.
Taking lessons from countries that have already implemented their NAS, one of the most important things for such a strategy to be succesfull, is that the plan must be supported by all sectors and ministries, not just the environmental ones. Also, the strategy should include clear quantitative measures for success, in order to be able to evaluate and possibly change projects that are being carried out.
homo ecos: will continue to keep an eye on Latvia’s government’s efforts regarding climate change mitigation and adaptation. If you’re interested in projects and best practices related to climate change adaptation, you can take a look at the Climate-ADAPT website, which is part of a Europe-wide project to spread knowledge related to climate change adaptation.