Vulnerability assessment of the Danube Delta to climate change

Vulnerability assessment (VA) is an interdisciplinary study done by the prominent scientists from all three countries in the region. VA looks at how the climate has already changed in the past 30 years, changes that occured in the ecosystems and climate risks for the most important sectors of economy.  To gain first-hand data, Ukrainian scientists organized two expeditions to the delta - in 2011 and 2012. GIS maps complement the study providing visual representation of the findings.

Cooperation and dialog with the key stakeholders were integral parts of the VA process. This way study attempted to find out about and address most pressing needs of the communities, while at the same time strengthening relationships between the main actors and building their capacity for adaptation.

On March 19, 2013 representatives of the local governments, scientific and non-governmental organizations from Romania, Ukraine and Moldova came together in Ismail, Ukraine to discuss the findings of the study ‘Vulnerability of the Danube Delta to climate change. Climate scenarios and projections’. The study was well accepted by those present and raised some interest from the media.  Half-a-day event finished off by signing of the Joint Statement on Climate Proofing Danube Delta. In the Joint Statement signatories, Ministry of Environment of Moldova, Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve (Romania), National Institute for Research and Development Danube Delta (Romania), Danube Biosphere Reserve (Ukraine), Danube Delta Basin Authority (Ukraine), Izmail State Forestry (Ukraine) acknowledge that climate change is one of the main global issues of our time and aim at strengthening future cooperation in the field of adaptation to climate change. Among the other, Joint Statement recommends local authorities to take into account VA and its findings when updating local development plans, water and land-use policies, as well as to distribute communication materials in the communities.

Map of potential climate risks in the Ukrainian part of the Delta

 / ©: WWF-DCP

Main results of the Vulnerability Assessment

If you live in the region, you may have already noticed that seasons are shifting – trees are starting to bloom earlier, fish spawning takes place earlier and longer, first snow appears later. This trend is expected to continue.

Average annual temperature on the coast has already increased by 0,8ºC since 1945 and is likely to grow further by 1-1,5C by 2050. Total annual precipitation won’t change much but will change its seasonal distribution – we can expect slightly bigger share of humidity in winter and less in summer. Winters will be milder with less ice cover, summers hotter and drier. Extreme weather events (droughts, floods, torrential rains and tornados) will become more frequent.

There are high uncertainties in predicting how ecosystems will respond. Warmer climate is likely to be beneficial for wintering birds, reptiles and big mammals but may negatively impact amphibians. Warm-loving invasive species will have competitive advantage over native ones – in the last years we can observe spread of jakal further North.

As climate is changing, agricultural practices will need to be adapted in order to preserve stable yields. Longer growing season may allow for the cultivation of the second crop and new crops with higher heat demands.
However, less rainfall in summer may become limiting factor for some staples. Water consumption for irrigation and drinking water supply needs will have to be carefully managed as quality of surface and groundwaters is expected to deteriorate.

Negative impacts of climate change can be minimised if proactive and timely adaptation action is mainstreamed into all sectors of economy.

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