In amongst other challenges, the Carpathian Mountains face a threat from the global phenomenon of climate change. A publication coordinated by the UN Environment Programme highlights the threats climate change pose to the Carpathian region and the mitigation measures to deal with such threats. Above all, the need to enhance cross-border cooperation such as the Centralparks project in adapting to climate change was a key outcome of this paper.
The realities of climate change
Current projections show that the Carpathian region will begin to experience increasingly irregular rainfall and a generally warmer climate. Scientists from Eurac Research expect a rise in temperature of around 3.0-4.5 ̊C by the end of the current century. Consequently, these changes will have a profound impact on both the human and natural elements of the Carpathian region.
Primeval forests and grasslands which make the Carpathians so unique will be negatively impacted by climate change. In turn, this will affect biodiverse rich areas which support large carnivores like bears, lynx and wolves. Climate change will also impact ecosystem services in the region. For instance, the freshwater that flows into the Danube, Dniester and Vistula from the Carpathians, will change due to climate change, potentially impacting an area much larger than the immediate Carpathian region. Unless the region adopts mitigation and adaptation measures, climate change will have a major impact on the environment, economy and human well-being in the Carpathian Mountains.
Impact on livelihoods
In the Carpathian region, there are two sectors whose fates are very much connected with climate change. The tourism and agricultural sectors are at risk from the adverse effects of climate change and these two industries support many livelihoods in the region. A warming climate, especially in winter, has already impacted the tourism industry. Periods of snowfall have shortened and the snow line is now at a higher elevation. This has not only reduced revenue for organisations that are reliant on winter tourism, but also changed the seasonal scenery expected by tourists during the winter months.
On the other hand, the warming climate provides the agricultural sector a longer growing season. While the season will be able to start earlier, this is not necessarily good news. An earlier snowmelt results in reduced discharge and drinking water supplies in the summer, leading to increased risk of drought. Subsequently, wildfires will become more common and agricultural pests will pose a higher risk. Extreme patterns of rainfall will also result in more flooding, erosion and landslides, affecting settlements, farmland and other productive land.
Most importantly, if those in the area take no adaptation measures to combat these effects, then the region could suffer greatly. Economic and livelihood losses will be compounded by a loss of species and reduced ecosystem functioning. This ends up creating a vicious circle of socio-ecological degradation.
Impact on ecosystems services
Climate change impacts the whole ecosystem and can result in a series of cascading effects if adaptation is not pursued. Key parts of the ecosystem that may be affected include the region’s hydrology, forestry and biodiversity.
When looking at the hydrological system, the aforementioned landslides impact the land’s ability to retain water. Subsequently, this has a significant impact on other parts of the ecosystem as well. A reduced ability to retain water negatively impacts the provision of water for agriculture and other purposes.
Climate change may lead to a greater threat of pests and diseases affecting trees, which could devastate the forestry industry. Forests are also at greater risk to fires under a warming climate. The relevant authorities and foresters need to appropriately manage this threat, so as to not cause extensive disruption to the ecosystem and sector. Moreover, climate change will force management priorities to change in this area towards a greater focus on bioenergy.
Related to forestry is the issue of biodiversity. Climate change will lead to an increased fragmentation of habitats and open the door to invasive species. This will reduce the ability of ecosystems to respond to the changing climate, ultimately resulting in a loss of species. As a result, reduced biodiversity will lead to negative impacts on ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, pest control and pollination.
Evidently, nature is an interconnected system and knock-on effects have the ability to impact the whole system for the worse. In order to avoid such impacts, stakeholders should adopt a management approach with an outlook oriented towards the future challenges posed by climate change. The Carpathian Ecosystem Services Toolkit, developed within Centralparks will be able to provide comprehensive information to policymakers and management practitioners regarding the costs and benefits in environmental management decisions.
Science-based adaptation measures
One underlying conclusion of this report was the need for a science-based informed decision making regarding the future management of the Carpathian region. Improved data collection and information availability about local mountain specific impacts will play key roles in targeting climate change adaptation measures in sensitive areas like the Carpathians. An effective implementation of adaptation measures requires a concerted effort from all parties with a direct interest in the Carpathians.
Currently, the Carpathian Convention is the primary force behind coordinating supranational efforts in the region. Creating a region resilient in the face of the threats posed by climate change requires increased regional cooperation. As it already forms a key mechanism for cross-border cooperation, the strengthening of the Carpathian Convention’s mandate, such as through harmonising the efforts of the Carpathian Network of Protected Areas, will build on the foundation already there. Climate change adaptation can be more successfully implemented when such action is taken, increasing regional cooperation and coordination. This also has a positive impact on maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems services as a strengthened mandate for the Carpathian Convention will also lead to cooperation through other institutions too, such as the International Commission for the Protection of the Danube River, which will help improve the overall health of the region’s hydrology in the face of the challenges posed by climate change.
Harmonisation of policies
There is generally less funding in Ukraine and Serbia, the two non-EU signatories to the Carpathian Convention, resulting in a lack of uniformity in management approaches across the region. Owing to better structured policy frameworks, the EU member state signatories to the Carpathian Convention have made similar strides in adaptation, thanks to the harmonisation of laws and guidelines through the EU. However, this also needs to include Ukraine and Serbia to in order to maximise the effectiveness of adaptation measures.
Future policies in the region must be harmonised in order to prepare for adaptation to future changes. On the topic of biodiversity, stakeholders from the different countries should aim for further cooperation. This will help create ecological networks and corridors to allow for the migration of species under climate change. As such, Centralparks works closely together with Carpathian experts to harmonise biodiversity protection and sustainable development, through the development of several expert policy support documents.
Monitoring activities also require standardisation in order to maximise the potential of science based decision making. By standardising indicators and monitoring systems, it allows for easy comparability of data from across the whole region. In turn, this helps facilitate more efficient adaptation planning. A particular prevalent example that the report proposes is that of the harmonising forest monitoring systems. Centralparks brings forward a new approach for habitat management planning. During the project, a forest state assessment methodology will be introduced as an innovative technique to serve multi-aspect and small-scale multiple evaluation of forests.
Integrating rigorous science into decision-making is only one part of the puzzle. If there is no support from stakeholders then it could make these efforts to pursue adaptation measures futile. Therefore, increasing awareness regarding climate change adaption amongst stakeholders is crucial. This will allow them to acquaint themselves with the challenges ahead and the potential methods to tackle them. Subsequently, this will help ensure the active participation of all stakeholders in decision making, allowing for adaptation at multiple levels.
The Carpathian Mountains faces a grave threat from climate change, to both its cultural, natural and economic value. However, if decision-makers made right moves to strengthen the area’s resilience now, the region can adapt to climate change and mitigate the worst of its effects.