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Multi-stakeholder workshop in Vilnius will address adaptation to climate change in the Neman River Basin

Published: 15 May 2013

Representatives of different water users and authorities in the Neman (Nemunas) River Basin — shared by Belarus, Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Oblast of the Russian Federation — will discuss potential measures to minimize risks and protect the population, infrastructure and natural landscape at a stakeholder workshop on 16 May 2013 in Vilnius.

The workshop is being organized as part of the project, “River basin management and climate change adaptation in the Neman River Basin”, carried out by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Belarus, in the framework of the international Environment and Security Initiative (ENVSEC).

Climate change impacts differ among basins. While the Neman is not as affected by climate change as some other basins, according to the project findings, climate change will bring warmer winters and less snow to the Neman Basin. Temperatures are expected to rise, with the greatest increases felt in winter, where a 2.0°C–2.8°C increase is projected within the next 35 years. Other probable impacts include increased precipitation in winter and run-off changes. It is also likely that the basin will see a growth of dangerous hydrometeorological phenomena, including summer droughts. As a result, water quality is expected to deteriorate, with potential negative impacts on health, and the on biodiversity in forests, fish and wetlands, including through the introduction of invasive species. Change in run-off is furthermore expected to affect the water supply for industry, fisheries, agriculture, ecosystems (wetlands) and infrastructure.

The workshop will bring together representatives of the ministries of environment, water agencies and other sectors of Lithuania and Belarus, regional representatives, different water users, the UNECE Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), UNDP, ENVSEC and international experts to present and discuss the main results of the project to date. These include a number of studies, the results of some of which are quoted above; the consultations held in Minsk in March 2013; and the new Internet platform for sharing information about the state of water resources in the basin (http://www.cricuwr.by/neman).

Through round-table discussions focusing on climate change impacts in specific regions and sectors, as well as interactive group discussions, the workshop will help identify and prioritize climate change impacts and potential adaptation measures in the Neman Basin. International experience on development of adaptation to climate change strategies will also be presented, including the experience of the Netherlands and the Rhine River Basin, as well as the recently launched EU adaptation strategy.

To date Lithuania is the only country in the basin with a fully developed national adaptation strategy. The workshop will discuss the links between this strategy and the needs and plans for adapting to climate change in the Neman Basin. It will also be discussed how other basin countries can contribute to the Neman Basin Management Plan, to be revised over the period 2013-2015. 

Note to editors:

The project “River basin management and climate change adaptation in the Neman River Basin” was launched in 2011 and is funded by Finland and Sweden in the framework of ENVSEC (www.envsec.org). It is one of the pilot projects on climate change adaptation in transboundary basins under the UNECE Water Convention (see http://www1.unece.org/ehlm/platform/display/ClimateChange/). The project is implemented by the UNECE Water Convention and UNDP Belarus and covers the territory of the Neman River Basin (Belarus, Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Region in the Russian Federation).

The overall objective of the project is to improve integrated river basin management and transboundary cooperation in times of a changing climate in the Neman River Basin. The project seeks to strengthen the capacity of the countries sharing the river to adapt to climate change through supporting dialogue and cooperation on the steps needed to design an adaptation strategy in the transboundary context. It also aims to reach a common understanding on future water availability and water use, taking into account possible climate change impacts.

The project has, for the first time, enabled modelling and forecasting of climatic and hydrological characteristics for the entire transboundary Neman River Basin. Pilot implementation of the assessment of surface water quality using agreed indicators and criteria was also performed for the first time.

The project has led to a general understanding that in the future the basin will likely suffer from stronger droughts in summer (increased air temperature combined with reduced flow), as well as increased and earlier floods in the lower part of the basin. The expected climate change impacts will affect agriculture, industry, water quality and other sectors. Some regions within the basin are especially vulnerable, such as the delta region in Kaliningrad (Russian Federation), which is located partly below sea level. The expected impacts may require countries to revisit their flood protection measures and infrastructure.

According to project results, predicted water use by the industry in Belarus will grow by 0.5%–2.0% per year in the optimistic scenario of economic development; however, the impact of climate change will likely be more important on run-off in the territory of Belarus in comparison with forecasted impacts of water use changes.

Due to climate change, water quality in the basin may decrease, in particular dissolved oxygen content in surface water in summer, which might lead to a possible deterioration of nutrient and hydrobiological characteristics. The study on the monitoring system in Neman River Basin has resulted in a recommendation to construct 21 new stations, 5 meteorological and 16 hydrological. The monitoring stations in Belarus also need to be upgraded to the same level of efficiency as those in Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Region. It was proposed that five dedicated interconnected control centres be created.

The project clearly showed the need for a transboundary approach to river basin management and climate change adaptation. A basin-coordinated approach to operating water reservoirs could support flood protection in the lower-lying Russian part of the basin. Lithuania also recognized the importance of incorporating information from the entire basin, including the upper Belorussian part, into its river basin management plans to be revised in 2013–2014, and the important and useful role which the group of experts and officials created through the project could play in that regard.

The project and its outcomes are also expected to support and strengthen the negotiations of the Neman Basin agreement between the three countries of the basin and the European Union.

For more information about the project, please contact

Iryna Usava, Manager of the project in Belarus, +375 29 755 6097, email: iryna.usava@gmail.com.

Sonja Koeppel, Manager of the project at UNECE, +41 (0)22 917 1218, email: sonja.koeppel@unece.org.


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