Belarus Climate Screening
This brief screening was prepared as part of an Environment and Climate Change Policy Brief for SIDA which was produced by the University of Gothenburg in March 2010. The focus is on issues which SIDA could consider while developing their country assistance strategy for Belarus. There is more emphasis on mitigation than normal as this was requested.
Climate change in Belarus will bring both threats and opportunities, and will require effective planning and coordinated responses in order to minimise the risks that it brings. In the near-term, however, the effects of climate change are likely to be small in comparison with a number of other environmental problems. Belarus is not particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change – a recent World Bank report ranked it as only 18th most vulnerable out of 28 countries assessed in Eastern Europe and Central Asia , and in comparison to many countries climate change is likely to bring relatively large opportunities as temperatures warm.
The ability to adapt to the changes that occur and take advantage of opportunities arising in Belarus is fairly low however, and there is an ‘adaptation deficit’  when it comes to management of current climate and its variability.
Trends and projections
There has been a clear warming trend over the last century in Belarus, and over the last 30 years there has been no nation-wide change in precipitation but some increase over northern regions  . The warming trend will continue and is expected to be greatest in winter months. Increases in average annual temperature for Belarus are likely to be in the range of 1.5-2°C by 2050, and 2-3°C for the winter period. There is confidence that there will be a decrease in the number of frost days and the duration of snow cover and an increase in the frequency and duration of heat-waves .
Projections for change in precipitation are less clear, with strong model disagreement as to whether there will be an increase or a decrease in annual precipitation in Belarus. It is expected however that run-off may decrease due to the increase in evapo-transpiration. There is also greater confidence that there will be an increase in the intensity of precipitation, with more extreme rainfall events.
Impacts and Adaptation for key sectors
Agriculture Belarus has prioritised agriculture, water and forestry as key sectors for adaptation to climate change . Assessments of the impact of climate change on agriculture in Belarus are varied and depend heavily on the climate scenario used and weight given to the impact of an increase in extreme hydro-meteorological events. There will be significant opportunity to take advantage of warmer temperatures and a longer growing season to expand northwards crops currently only viable in the south of the country. The major threat to agricultural production will be the increase in frequency of drought and heat-waves, however improved soil conservation measures, water management and more drought-resistant cultivars should be allow agricultural production to benefit on the whole from changed conditions. Additionally, there is at present a gap between the potential yield of many crops in Belarus and their actual production, and measures to reduce this gap could more than counter-act any negative effects on yield due to climate change.
Forestry The effect on the forestry sector is likely to be mixed, as growth will increase but there will be an increase in outbreaks of forest pests and an increase in the risk of fire. The composition of Belarussian forests will change as temperatures rise, with Oak and Pine likely to replace Fir and Alder . As well as the provision of ecosystem services and acting as a valuable economic resource, forests have the potential to help sequester carbon and meet any emissions targets that Belarus may eventually have. A state programme on adaptation of the forestry sector has been developed and good forest management would maintain forest productivity.
Water Although precipitation change is unclear there is likely to be a reduction in run-off in Belarus, particularly during summer. This reduction could lead to an increase in the concentration of radionucleides in watersheds in the Dniepr and Pripyat provinces. The frequency of large flood events such as those of 1999 is expected to increase along with the increase in extreme rainfall events. Improved flood management plans and the restoration of wetlands and degraded forest land could help to reduce the likelihood and magnitude of such floods. In addition, improving current efficiency in the water sector, possibly through pricing mechanisms and adjusting the specifications of new water infrastructure to be able to deal with a greater number of extreme wet and extreme dry years will provide a buffer against the effects of climate change.
The core to any adaptation programme should be to start with current hazards and risks and the identification of management options to address these. With regards to adaptation to climate change in Belarus there is the potential for many ‘no-regrets’  adaptation strategies which are of tangible benefit now (such as improving efficiency in the water sector) and will help to prepare Belarus for a changing climate.
It is becoming clear that a successful adaptation process requires strong stakeholder engagement and dialogue from the start to build a complete picture of current vulnerability and the conflicting issues that influence stakeholders in the decisions they take. This sort of democratic process may be difficult to achieve in the political context of Belarus and it may be useful to consider how such a multi-stakeholder process, with strong participation from civil society, can be enabled.
Belarus does not at present have any binding emissions reduction commitments under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol. In 2006 Belarus proposed an amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol which would have given it emissions targets of -8% on 1990 levels to meet by 2012 . This proposal was adopted by the 12th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC but in order to come into force must be accepted by at least 3/4 of countries. As of Jan 2010 only 20 of the 190 countries signatory to the UNFCCC have accepted the amendment to the Kyoto Protocol .
The significance of this lies in the fact that Belarus cannot participate in the Kyoto Protocol flexible emissions trading scheme unless it has a quantified emissions target. In numerous national documents Belarus has indicated a strong desire to be able to participate in these mechanisms as they would provide an easy way to generate income. The economic collapse and de-industrialisation of the 1990s caused a reduction in emissions of 47% between 1990-2001 and, while they have been rising since, in 2007 they were still 38% below their 1990 levels, meaning that a target of -8% would be easily attained and surpassed. This would then allow Belarus to sell excess emissions credits to those countries set to miss their targets, and thus generate income. The likely reason for the non-acceptance of the amendment to the Kyoto Protocol is that countries do not want to see Belarus gain from emissions reductions resulting from earlier economic collapse without actually having to put in place any mitigation measures.
Belarus has indicated that it will support the Copenhagen Accord, and adopt a voluntary emissions target of 5-10% on 1990 levels by 2020 if it is allowed access to the flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol and provided there is enhanced technology transfer and capacity-building . They have also asked for the rules on emissions reductions from land-use change to be clarified, due to the large potential for carbon sequestration in Belarus. It remains to be seen what final agreement comes out of the Copenhagen Accord, however it seems unlikely that Belarus will be granted access to flexible mechanisms unless it adopts targets which require real mitigation efforts.
Belarus is meeting it’s reporting and organisational commitments under the UNFCCC and Kyoto Protocol through the production of National Communications, the establishment of a national Greenhouse Gas inventory system and the appointment of the a UNFCCC focal point .
- â†‘ World Bank 2009 Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia
- â†‘ ‘Adaptation Deficit’ refers to the inability of many countries to cope with current climate risks, even before any additional risks posed by climate change. There is a failure to adapt to current climate variability and extremes which represents the ‘deficit’.
- â†‘ 4th National Communication of Belarus to the UNFCCC, 2006 and World Bank 2009
- â†‘ World Bank 2009 Adapting to Climate Change in Europe and Central Asia.
- â†‘ Government of Belarus: National Program of provisions for climate change mitigation for years 2008-2012
- â†‘ Kalinin, M. 2008 Adaptation of various economic branches of Belarus to climate change.
- â†‘ This refers to measures that have value and give benefit even if the absence of climate change, but also reduce vulnerability to climate change
- â†‘ UNFCCC (2006) Report of the Conference of Parties serving as the meeting of Parties to the Kyoto protocol on its second session, held at Nairobi from the 6th-17th November 2006.
- â†‘ UNFCCC (2010) Status of ratification: Amendment to Annex B of the Kyoto Protocol
- â†‘ Government of Belarus (2010) Communication of the Republic of Belarus to the UNFCCC regarding quantified emissions targets under the Copenhagen Protocol.
- â†‘ The First Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection.