INTERVIEW | The likelihood of drought increases in the European part of the Carpathians

ИНТЕРВЬЮ | В европейской части Карпат увеличивается вероятность засухи

Mountain landscape in the European Carpathians. INTERVIEW | The likelihood of drought increases in the European part of the Carpathians Climate and Environment

Ahead of World Environment Day, celebrated annually on June 5, our colleagues from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) spoke with Harald Egerer, Head of UNEP Vienna and Secretary of the Carpathian Convention.

The Carpathian mountain system, which runs through seven countries of Central and Eastern Europe, is the cradle of the continent’s largest intact forests. Almost four thousand plant species grow in this zone; large populations of brown bears and gray wolves also live here.

In 2003, the Carpathian Convention was adopted, uniting the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Ukraine with aiming to protect forests, wildlife and ecosystems of the Carpathian range. However, these natural resources are threatened by climate change – many areas are becoming hotter and drier, making them more susceptible to the threat of forest fires than others. 

UNEP: Why the Carpathian mountain range is so important?

Harald Egerer: The Carpathians are the second largest mountain range in Europe and a true pearl of nature. More than half of the territory is covered with forests, including ancient ones, which for centuries remained virtually untouched by humans. The local flora is one of the richest on the continent. The Carpathians are home to Europe’s largest populations of brown bears, wolves, lynxes, European bison and rare bird species, including the critically endangered Imperial Eagle. In addition, it is important to remember that the Carpathians contain the basins of the Danube, Dniester and Vistula rivers, which are the main sources of fresh water in the region. 

UNEP: How climate change is affecting the region?

HE:Mountain regions are particularly vulnerable. They are more susceptible to climate change and extreme weather conditions than the surrounding lowlands. Over the past 50 years, the Carpathian region has become hotter. According to forecasts, by 2100 the average annual temperature in the region will increase by 3.0-4.5°C. 

Such changes lead to more frequent and intense periods heat, droughts, uneven rainfall and floods. Drought increases the risk of forest fires and pest infestations in the Carpathian Mountains, while increased frequency of heavy rainfall increases the risk of floods and landslides. Soil and water quality are at risk. In some areas, such as southern Hungary, Romania and Serbia, falling river levels in summer increase the likelihood of drought and soil erosion. 

Highland wetlands, which help prevent floods by soaking up heavy rainfall like a sponge, are in danger of drying out. This could have potentially catastrophic consequences for biodiversity, considering how many species of plants and animals use wetlands as habitat. In addition, many migratory birds use wetlands as a stopover site to find food and shelter. In addition, there is a threat of pasture degradation.

UNEP: What can be done to reduce the impact of climate change in the Carpathians?

HE:Adaptation policies to a changing climate are needed to protect ecosystems and increase resilience to drought and other extreme weather events. For example, there are several ways to reduce the risk of wildfires. Restoration of natural forests and environmentally friendly forest management are key. One approach is to thin out or remove brush and dead branches that can easily catch fire. Another approach is to provide a mix of tree species in the forest, which can slow the spread of fire. Restoring peatlands and wetlands, one of the goals of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, is not only beneficial for maintaining biodiversity. It will also help protect surrounding areas from flooding. This is because wetlands hold large amounts of flood water upstream, slowing its release downstream. It is good that much work is being done across the region to improve knowledge of climate risks to forests and promote climate-smart forest management practices.

UNEP : What other environmental problems does the Carpathian region face?

HE:The region faces various environmental challenges such as deforestation due to illegal logging and unsustainable forestry practices, habitat fragmentation, climate change, land use change and water pollution. The war affecting one of our Carpathian countries creates additional problems for the region. It is obvious that in Ukraine there is a decrease in the level of environmental protection and, possibly, increased pressure on natural resources, as well as increased environmental pollution. Throughout the region, waste and plastic disposal is a big problem. In addition, infrastructure projects and other developments put pressure on the environment.

UNEP: What achievements of the Carpathian Convention can be considered the most successful?

HE: For more than 20 years, the Convention has provided governing and decision-making bodies in seven countries with a shared vision and framework for cooperation on conservation. The result is hundreds of initiatives and changes in national legislation. Many European Union funding programs include the Carpathian Convention as a criterion for funding. The Convention also adopted five protocols aimed at protecting and ensuring sustainable development of the Carpathians in the fields of biodiversity, forestry, tourism, transport and agriculture.

UNEP : What work is being done to preserve biodiversity?

HE: We are the first region in the world to apply the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework at the regional level. As part of the Carpathian Biodiversity Conservation Program, the countries of the region have also committed to implementing the “Carpathian Vision 2050” – a strategy for the conservation, restoration and wise use of the biodiversity and natural beauty of the Carpathians for the benefit of the environment and millions of people in the region. 


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