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31 May, 2013

Climate Change – Doomsday or Opportunity?

Climate Change can be defined as a global brand used in favour of and against the battle to change our lifestyle. It is used by lobbyists, governments, multinational corporations and researchers. The bottom line is: who (if anyone) should be interested in tackling it or should we adjust our way of living to simply cope with it?

When taking part in this heated cosmopolitan debate about climate change one often begins with a thought: “Do I really need to think about this right now?” Significant changes in the climate are already visible and there seems to be a world-wide consensus on the need to respond to the situation, regardless of whether we accept human behaviour to be the cause or not.

The most often repeated cause for the climate change is the increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment has stated that the globally average net effect of human activities since 1740 has been one of warming. The “best case” computer climate models estimate that the average global temperature will rise by 1.8°C to 4.0°C by the year 2100. What does this mean in practice?

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Extreme weather, including heat waves, droughts and floods, is expected to become more frequent and intense. Different types of natural disasters or NaTechs (Technological disasters caused by natural calamities) will increase. Economic sectors such as forestry, agriculture, tourism and construction will be challenged (or sometimes blessed) by being forced to adapt to climate change. In Ukraine for example, agriculture may suffer drier conditions and higher temperatures. Crop suitability and cultivation seasons will change. New pests, diseases and currently exotic species will flourish in a warmer climate, affecting yields and requiring new and different control technologies. Particularly in Ukraine, regions reliant on traditional farming and the production of quality foods will be affected and may even be destroyed. Changes in water resources affect the energy sector directly via impacts on hydropower generation and indirectly on nuclear power plant coolant systems as seawater levels may suddenly rise. Energy demand will increase during warmer summers and colder winters. Rising sea levels will also affect coastal tourist resources such as beaches, wetlands and estuaries. Prolonged droughts have already affected Mediterranean tourism increase pressure on already-stressed water resources.

In 2008, I took part in many of the research projects funded by the European Commission (DG Environment) which aimed to survey and investigate, in greater detail, the local level responses to climate change in Sweden, Finland, Germany, Italy, Lithuania and Denmark, especially in flood-prone municipalities (both inland water and coastal) in order to identify the main (perceived) challenges and the currently existing best practices. An objective of the project was to develop, in cooperation with selected municipalities and other stakeholders, Climate Change Guidelines for Flood-Prone Municipalities specifically relating to the question of how to handle climate change-related civil protection vulnerabilities, particularly rising water levels, drainage issues and the effect of heavy rains etc., in light of municipal spatial planning in a more integrated manner.

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One of the major conclusions of our research was evident. Despite whether we agree or not about the causes and consequences of climate change, nearly all European countries (including Ukraine) are expected to be negatively affected by a rapidly changing climate. So it is important that we not only try to stop emitting greenhouse gases (mitigation), but that we also prepare ourselves for the effects of the changes to come (adaptation). To be really effective, it would be fantastic if all levels and sectors of Ukrainian society were involved in these efforts as well.

It is important to note however, that climate change will affect different regions differently (and is doing so already). For example, coastal regions experience increasing impacts from storms and erosion, while inland areas have more frequent heat waves and even drought — and for longer periods. The paradox here lies in the fact that although global warming is likely to expand Ukraine's growing season, it will also increase its annual amount of forest fires and various industrial accidents. Consequently, climate change should not only remain a main concern for Ukrainian environmentalists, but also for governmental institutions dealing with internal security and protection.

Using local and traditional knowledge to deal with changes in environment and climate is vital for success as locals have developed a close relationship to the land that has sustained them for generations. This is why practical “common sense” knowledge of people, say in Kremenchuk, will be crucial for central government agencies to succeed in  all the stages of this full-fledged climate change “battle” – to be prepared, to respond and to manage the consequences. 


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