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UN: Report Warns of Sharp Climate Change In Eastern Europe

  • Breffni O'Rourke

The United Nations conference on global warming is now underway in The Hague, and the countries of Central and East Europe are playing their part in what will likely be a hard fight to achieve progress on reducing air pollution. According to a report just released, climate change in Europe is likely to accelerate and have serious consequences from Russia in the north to Albania in the south.

Prague, 16 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The international conference on climate change in The Netherlands this week could hardly have asked for more dramatic scenes to underscore the impact on mankind of unstable weather.

In the run-up to the summit the Dutch city of The Hague, gales have raced in from the Atlantic, bringing mountainous seas and tearing at Europe's western fringes. Flood waters have engulfed wide areas of central and southern England, driving people from their homes. Meanwhile, other areas of the continent have enjoyed unseasonable mildness.

Not that this sequence of events is unique: November has always brought gales and rains, and sometimes sunshine. It is rather the changing combination of these phenomena in record or near-record doses suggest the severity of the climatic instability we are facing. Although there is no direct proof that any one weather disaster is the result of man-made global warming, the scientific community is increasingly convinced by indirect evidence of a linkage.

A new report, issued by British-led scientists and funded by the European Union, suggests global warming will hit Central and Eastern Europe in a number of ways starting around 2020. It says experimental models predict that temperatures in Europe will warm at a rate between 0.1 degree Celsius per decade and 0.4 degree per decade. This trend will be most marked in the northeast, including Western Russia and Finland, and in the Mediterranean region.

This means the north and center of the continent, including the Baltic states, will experience milder winters and warmer though possibly wetter summers. This means northern plant and animal communities will come under increasing pressure as habitat conditions change. And agriculture will have to make adjustments.

One of the scientists contributing to the report, Helsinki-based Tim Carter, explains:

"It's quite possible that different types of crops could be grown in northern regions than are grown at present, different species, and there may also be over the longer term a shift in tree distribution, broad leaf trees replacing the current evergreens that are grown in northern parts towards the Arctic Circle. On the other hand, one might also expect new pests and diseases of these species also to move northwards, so it is not all positive."

Such rapid change would therefore bring with it a need for re-education of farmers and foresters, plus much experimentation, some of it likely to be painful. And there might be other drawbacks. Carter says:

"Some of the crops that are grown in the northern and central regions of Eastern Europe, as the temperatures rise, [those] current species of crops might actually experience a drop in crop yield. This is because crops such as wheat and barley will mature more rapidly, under a climate warming, which is detrimental to yield." In the far south and southeast of Europe, the developments because of climate change are projected to be almost entirely negative. The report estimates that hotter summers will be more frequent, increasing air pollution in cities, water will be scarcer as rain decreases, forest fires will be worse, and because of the excessive heat, seashores may lose much of their recreational value. Diseases could increase in ferocity, and agriculture could be severely dislocated. Carter says:

"Certainly the prospect of drying in the summer half of the year is likely to worsen the problems of soil impoverishment, desertification, salinization, particularly where irrigation is used."

It's not clear from the climate models used to compile the report just how severe these impacts would be on states north of the Mediterranean rim, such as Bulgaria. They too can be expected to suffer heat increases, therefore also extra soil dehydration and associated problems. But some models indicate rainfall in the region may increase instead of decrease.

Therefore it would seem that Romania, which lies still further north, theoretically could gain a more moderate mix of extra summer heat and rainfall.

In any event, the editor of the British report, Professor Martin Parry, says it's essential for the European Union to start incorporating estimates of climate change impacts into its regional and environmental policies, including agricultural policies.