Manifestations of Climate Change in Ukraine


Most scientists around the world recognize the existence of climate change on the planet and the fact that climate change is caused by human activity.

Photo from the International Climate March, where girls hold various posters and shout

Over the past few decades, humanity has faced a growing number of unpredictable natural disasters. Most scientists around the world recognize the existence of climate change on the planet and the fact that climate change is caused by human activity. However, there are many sceptics who believe that the period of observation of nature is not enough to identify certain areas of change, or that climate change is happening, but it is not caused by human actions, but by natural phenomena. However, the current reality shows that the existing rate of climate change exceeds historic change. Let us consider how climate change in Ukraine will affect the population, energy, agriculture, and tourism in the long term. Climate change research in Ukraine in the 21st century is being actively conducted, and the data of Western European studies, which, among other things, consider Ukraine, are also of great help.

In Ukraine, there has been some intensification of abnormal weather phenomena (hail, squalls, tornadoes in areas for which they were atypical), which previously occurred once every 50-100 years. Other adverse events include sharp pressure drops that will result in weather instability with significant temperature fluctuations over short periods of time, an increase in the number of natural disasters (hurricanes, storms, droughts, prolonged downpours, floods, especially in Prykarpattia and Zakarpattia), rising sea levels.

Economic and social risks are associated with vulnerability of human health, loss of a number of species, infrastructure, the need to increase costs to overcome the effects of natural disasters, rising costs of land reclamation, the spread of "undesirable" plant species (weeds, allergens), the increase in insurance payments (insurance of the population, agricultural risks, etc.). Energy, agriculture and water supply systems are considered Ukraine’s economy sectors that are most susceptible to climate change.

Rising energy needs indirectly affect the growth of water use, and overcoming the effects of flooding of existing buildings and structures due to natural disasters and rising sea levels will require the use of various resources, including energy. Reduction of the average annual water runoff, salinization of water basins will reduce electricity generation and the load-following capacity of hydropower plants. Deterioration of circulating cooling and chemical water treatment conditions will reduce the available capacity of thermal power plants, nuclear power plants and gas turbines.

Other areas of impact on energy are changes in energy needs due to climate change. In winter, the average temperature is expected to be higher than in the last century, so less energy will be needed for heating. However, the problem of uneven loading of heat generating capacities will intensify. The number of days with extremely high summer temperatures will increase, which will result in an increase in demand for electricity for cooling the air indoors, on transport, etc. High temperatures will reduce electricity production at NPPs due to regime restrictions, and the construction of new TPPs and NPPs will be limited, among other reasons, due to water shortages.

The number and duration of droughts are expected to increase, resulting in an increase in energy demand for space cooling, food storage, an increase in irrigation water, and, consequently, an increase in the amount of energy needed to meet growing water demand, treatment and transportation. It is now believed that a severe drought is an event that occurs once every hundred years. In Ukraine, droughts covering up to 30% of the country’s territory now occur every 2 to 3 years. By 2070, the frequency of droughts is expected to at least double. High temperatures are particularly difficult to tolerate in cities, and cities will continue to grow and need more and more energy. High temperatures are not necessarily the cause of droughts — they can often be caused by warm and snowless winters, which prevent the replenishment of groundwater.

Droughts can also be critical in crop areas: groundwater scarcity negatively affects soil moisture and crop yields. However, the expected global warming in Ukraine will lead to instability of snow cover and reduced inflow of meltwater to rivers. This results in the drying up of shallow rivers, especially in the mountainous and foothill areas of the country.

High temperatures during warm seasons contribute to forest fires, which require water and chemicals to be extinguished. The average forest cover in Ukraine (15%) is at least three times lower than the European average. By 2030, due to climate change, Ukraine's forestry will continue to decline due to the reduction and even extinction of valuable tree species, the reproduction of harmful insects, the increase in the number and frequency of forest fires. This trend runs counter to the European trend of general forest growth, especially deciduous trees, and, as a result, wood production growth from 5% between 2000 and 2050 to 15% between 2050 and 2100. The appearance of forests may change—they may transform into non-timber energy plantations to meet the needs of bioenergy. Considering the fact that forests are “lungs” of the planet and absorbers of  СО2, additional measures are required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants such as ozone.

Extreme weather events, such as squally wind, hurricanes, tornadoes, will contribute to the frequency of power outages, which leads to significant economic losses to the population and industry, rising social tensions and increased demands on emergency services and the Ministry of Emergencies, negatively impacting the work of wind power stations and the increase in the number of incidents at them.

Ukraine's water resources are directly affected by climate change. Ukraine already belongs to the group of countries with limited water reserves and is the least water-supplied country in Europe. Thus, declining precipitation indicates that summer river flows may be halved throughout Central Europe and Ukraine. As a result, the need for water will increase significantly, and severe droughts will become more frequent. In the case of a decrease in the water content of the rivers of the Dnieper River basin, it is impossible to avoid water shortages by changing the nature of the management of the Dnieper reservoirs cascade.

In Ukraine, droughts are observed even in the northern and western regions, which are considered areas of sufficient moisture. For example, in 2015 there was a drought like it had never happened before. Scientists say that if this trend continues, Ukraine may lose climate diversity — there will be one arid climate zone similar to the current steppe, and no crops will grow in the South without irrigation.

The amount of oxygen in the lakes is expected to decrease, while the volumes of algae and bacteria will increase, even in deep waters. This will affect fishing by reducing catches. In the north of Ukraine, the annual river run-off can increase by 15–25%. Winter run-off will increase and spring run-off will decrease. In the south and south-east of Ukraine, the annual flow of rivers may decrease by 30–50%, which increases the risks of droughts and extreme floods. In those areas, surface water quality will deteriorate, which will require both additional water treatment measures and possible water transportation to these regions. In case of insufficient surface water, it will be necessary to involve groundwater from deep layers. If adjacent reservoirs are insufficiently filled with water from the Dnieper River, it may be necessary to introduce strict water conservation measures, such as setting water consumption schedules for the population, limiting irrigation, reducing navigation depth for vessels to 2.6 m. Additional measures and resources will be needed to dig sea bottom to enable navigation. Water quality in the Dnieper River is expected to deteriorate. Due to the fact that its waters are already heavily polluted, the use of deep groundwater as drinking water is expected in the future. Purification of available water requires not only chemical resources. Waste dumped into the Dnieper River near Kyiv is purified not only with chemicals but also with plants growing in rivers. With the loss of these plants (loss of biodiversity), water from the Dnieper cannot be used downstream (ie in a large area of Ukraine), even for technical and domestic needs.

In Ukraine, about 2.5% of the population lives at an altitude of less than 10 meters above sea level, so such habitats are the most vulnerable (houses, infrastructure, arable land will suffer even more from soil erosion, especially after 2050). Rising sea levels could have negative consequences for the operation of port enterprises. Over the past 60 years, the level of the Black Sea has risen by 15 cm. The current rate of rise of the Black Sea level is 0.25 cm / year, of which 0.1 cm / year—due to subsidence of the soil, and the rest—due to the inflow of fresh water from precipitation, which arrives faster than salt water evaporates. By 2100, the water level in the Black Sea may rise by 22 to 115 cm. If the water level rises by 115 cm, 29 thousand hectares of land (including the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea) will be flooded, with a corresponding loss of coastal settlements. The water level in the Azov Sea is growing more slowly than in the Black Sea: the annual growth rate is 1.5-0.69 mm / year.

The reduction in shipping is expected to reorient part of freight and passenger traffic to rail transportation, which is more expensive. Additional measures will be needed to ensure navigable depths in the Dnieper River (3.2-3.9 m), which will require up to USD 160 million in investment.

Extremely high as well as significantly low temperatures pose risks to the health of people, especially the elderly and those working outdoors, migrants and the homeless. Due to the effect of local overheating, urban residents are also at risk. To overcome these risks, it is necessary to increase the use of energy for cooling and other special measures (painting roofs, parking lots in light colours, increasing greenery, covering buildings with insulating materials, etc.). The problem of malaria spread (by its transmission by malaria mosquitoes) may become relevant. Despite the fact that there is no official malaria in Europe, in Eastern Europe and Ukraine in particular, malaria can become widespread due to limited anti-epidemic measures and low per capita medical costs, difficulties in diagnosing and treating malaria.

In Europe as a whole and in Ukraine, the number of floods may increase, threatening the physical and psychological health of the population. Floods in Ukraine also lead to an increase in the incidence of hepatitis A, cholera and salmonellosis. The number of floods can decrease in winter and spring during wet and warm winters, for example, in the Carpathians, where there is less and less snow. Deforestation is a factor that increases the scale of the negative effects of floods. The reduction of snow cover in the Carpathians will have a negative impact on tourism in the region. In the countries around the Mediterranean Sea, the average temperature is expected to increase in summer, so the climate of the Black Sea basin will become much more suitable for tourism (subject to infrastructure development and many other factors).

Agriculture is vulnerable to climate change due to changes in ecosystems, declining crop productivity. When the temperature rises by 1 °C, the natural zones shift by about 160 km. From 1998 to 2008, the average temperature in Ukraine increased by 0.6 °C (and in the last 100 years—by 0.8 °C), so the displacement of natural areas is already occurring in Ukraine and results in the emergence of atypical species of plants and animals. Livestock production in Ukraine will decrease due to climate change due to a decrease in the productivity of many livestock breeds, the spread of diseases and a decrease in the area of land suitable for grazing.

Warmer winters result in the formation of ice crusts in the fields. If their distribution coincides with frosts, spring or autumn drought, the loss of crop yields can be 50-70%.

Despite the fact that the severity of climate change in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia is lower than in other regions of the world, it is our country that may encounter increased demands to ensure global food safety, primarily through increasing the crop yield and the export potential, since the expected global population will reach 9 billion people by 2050, and suitable territories for agriculture will reduce significantly. Different forecasts sometimes suggest the opposite trends, predicting the growth in the number of floods or in the frequency of droughts—though these things are not necessarily mutually exclusive. There is no doubt that climate change is happening, and that it carries significant challenges that will require a comprehensive long-term policy to minimize its effects and impact on human life, the functioning of energy, agriculture, industry and all available infrastructure.

Author: Halyna Trypolska, PhD in Economics, Senior Fellow with the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

The material is based on the data of the National Messaging on Climate Change in Ukraine, research findings of the Ukrainian Research Hydrometeorological Institute under the Ministry of Emergencies of Ukraine, the state institution Scientific Center of Aerocosmic Earth Research of the NASU Institute for Geological Sciences, the NASU Council for the Study of Ukraine’s Production Resources, the National Institute for Strategic Research, Razumkov Ukrainian Center for Economic and Political Studies, the Met Office, the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the materials of the global group ClimateChangePost and many others.