Danube Watch 1/2018 - The ICPDR’S Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

Danube Watch 1/2018 - The ICPDR’S Climate Change Adaptation Strategy

It was at the Danube Ministerial Conference in 2010 that ministers concluded that the impacts of climate change were accelerating and set to pose a significant threat to the basin if ongoing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions were not complemented by climate adaptation measures. These conclusions resulted in the ICPDR being tasked with becoming one of the first major transboundary river basins worldwide to initiate the development of a climate adaptation strategy. Based on a subsequent scientific study on Climate Change in the Danube River Basin, the adaptation strategy was adopted in 2012.

History of the strategy
Germany was nominated as the Lead Country for this activity, with the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety supporting a meta-study to provide the foundations for a common, basin-wide understanding of the future impacts of climate change on water resources. The study was carried out by Prof. Dr. Wolfram Mauser and his team at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and involved the analysis of all available information on climate change and adaptation measures relevant to the Danube River Basin (DRB). The results of the study formed the basis for the development of the Danube Climate Adaptation Strategy, along with a catalogue of suitable adaptation measures.

Expected Climate Change Impacts
The study established that impacts on water related sectors were being triggered by changes in temperature and precipitation. A number of factors are set to affect the basin in the years to come, with temperature changes year after year. Due to the differences in climate influencing factors among the basin’s regions, including altitude, topography and proximity to the Black Sea, future trends foresee the highest temperature increases in the south-east regions of the DRB.

According to forecasts, air temperature in the Danube Delta will increase by 1-1.5° C, leading to more frequent heatwaves and milder winters. Water temperature will rise by 2°C, dramatically affecting fish stocks because of algae growth and reduced oxygen levels in the water. The water level in the Black Sea will rise by up to 0.5m by 2050 and small rivers will have 5-25% less water, especially in the summer.

Annual precipitation is expected to change in many countries on both a seasonal and regional basis, resulting in an increase in rainfall in the north and a decrease in the south. Lower levels of precipitation in summer and higher levels in winter in most areas are to be expected in the future. Extreme events, such as flooding and widespread droughts will become commonplace, although there are no clear forecasts for changes in flood magnitude and frequency.

An increase in water temperature and increased changes in water quality are also to be expected, resulting in changes to ecosystems and the biodiversity of both aquatic and terrestrial flora and fauna. However, a number of positive effects have also been projected, including a reduction in the number of navigational closures caused by ice and longer vegetation periods.

Adaptation Measures
Possible adaptation measures for water management were identified by the study and include:

  • intensified monitoring activities to assess climate change impacts; including the implementation of forecasting and warning systems and further research to close knowledge gaps
  • ecosystem-based measures; including the implementation of a green infrastructure to connect bio-geographic regions and habitats, along with the protection and restoration of water-retention areas
  • behavioral / managerial measures; including support for education, capacity-building, knowledge transfer and the promotion of water-saving activities
  • technological measures, e.g. the improvement of infrastructure, such as efficient irrigation systems for agriculture and the construction and modification of dams and reservoirs to safeguard drinking water supplies
  • policy approaches, e.g. the support of an institutional framework to coordinate flood risk management activities

Following the study, the ICPDR and its contracting parties began to implement the strategy’s measures with the aim of making the strategy fully operational in time for the Update of the Danube River Basin Management Plan and the 1st Danube Flood Risk Management Plan in 2015.

2015- 2021
The strategy timetable ran to schedule and the most important tools for implementing climate change adaptation measures were integrated into the original plans, and finalized and adopted in December 2015. Addressing the six-year water management period until 2021, the adaptation and upgrading of monitoring programmes is ongoing and current plans include water management measures, which have been approved by the ICPDR’s Expert and Task Groups.

The current ICPDR Climate Change Adaptation Strategy highlights the need for the creation of an investigative monitoring programme. This strategy embraces the establishment of effective long-term monitoring facilities to identify climate change signals and the subsequent implementation of all necessary measures to ensure the success of the strategy. The Danube riparian countries have selected candidate sites for climate change impact monitoring and are currently utilizing data and evaluations.

Different parameters for monitoring have also been agreed within the framework of the Danube Transnational Monitoring Network (TNMN) to investigate climate change impacts on water and air temperature, discharge, water levels, pH and oxygen.

Political support for further work on climate change adaptation has also been secured. In February 2016, the Danube Declaration was adopted at a ministerial meeting organised by the ICPDR. An update of the ICPDR’s scientific knowledge base and approaches to climate change adaptation is planned for later this year.

Leading the way for other river basins.
The ICPDR’s climate change strategy now plays an integral role in both the current and future plans of all of riparian countries in the basin. Other neighboring river commissions have also been undertaking similar endeavors for a number of years now. These include the Rhine, Sava, Dniester, Neman and Meuse.

The Sava River Basin Commission (ISRBC) is a prime example of an authority making the issue a priority, having announced its latest proposals for adaptation to climate change in October 2017. Shared by six countries, the Sava is the Danube’s third longest tributary and its largest tributary by discharge. A coherent strategy for climate change adaptation is therefore of the utmost importance for the region.

Comprehensive recent studies form the basis of the Sava strategy now being developed as part of a project supported by the French Ministry of Ecological and Inclusive Transition, the Office for Water (IOWater) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). The project aims to define pathways for the development of water related adaptation measures and linkages to other sectors including navigation, hydropower, agriculture, tourism and environmental protection. The next logical step for the project will be to develop a full climate adaptation strategy for the basin based on acquired knowledge and experience.

The Sava approach is consistent with the provisions of the ICPDR’S Climate Change Adaptation Strategy for the Danube River. Such an approach and the transboundary cooperation and exchange of information it generates will help to ensure good quality, sustainable water resources for generations to come, not only for the DRB but also its neighbors.

Next: Danube Watch 1/2018 - Saving the Danube Sturgeon: the ICPDR Sturgeon Strategy

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