On the road to a climate change adaptation strategy for Estonia

When SEI Senior Researcher Valdur Lahtvee opened the conference Infrastructure and Energy Sector Adaptation to Climate Change in Tallinn on 20 March 2015, his weather report set the keynote: according to the Estonian Weather Service, the previous Wednesday had been the warmest 18 March in Estonia on record.

Estonia is expected to be markedly affected by climate change. Average temperatures in the country are forecast to rise 0.3% by 2020 and as much as 4.3% by 2100. Winters are expected to become milder but wetter, although the number of freezing days will increase, and persistent ice on the Baltic and inland waters to disappear. Summers, on the other hand, are expected to become longer, with a growing risk of droughts and heatwaves. Stronger winds and more frequent storms are expected in winters and springs.

The Infrastructure and Energy Sector Adaptation to Climate Change conference was organized by SEI’s Tallinn Centre to kick off its input to the development of the Estonian National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Implementation Plan. SEI is leading one of four subprojects in the strategy development phase, focusing on climate change adaptation in the infrastructure and energy sector.

The main aim of the conference was to open a dialogue with stakeholders and experts in a range of relevent sectors: climate change adaptation, transport, energy, district heating and cooling, water and others. Discussions took place around the strategy drafting process, adaptation gaps and opportunities in the energy and infrastructure sectors, and practicalities of implementation, particularly mainstreaming adaptation into day-to-day work.  

Examples of adaptation steps mentioned in the discussions included: better provisions for road icing; use of more durable construction materials for better resilience to storms, and better readiness to respond when, for example, trees felled by storms damage overhead power cables.
"There are already cases where newly developed urban areas have suffered from climate-related problems, such as some of the new residential districts near Tallinn, which now, within a few years of being built, get flooded every time there is heavy rainfall. It is no use just blaming climate change – we also have to think about planning and design," commented Mari Jüssi, senior expert at SEI Tallinn. She also noted that one of the more positive aspects of climate change for the transport sector was that warmer weather might encourage more people to walk instead of drive.

Other speakers at the conference included Alo Allik, junior energy expert at the Estonian University of Life Sciences, who  talked about climate effects on energy resources; Jaanus Uiga, a junior expert of energy and green economy from Estonian University of Life Sciences, who discussed climate effects in district heating and cooling, and Timo Uustal, climate change project manager from the Estonian Environmental Research Centre, who introduced the drafting of the Estonian national climate adaptation strategy.

Development of the climate change adaptation strategy will fill a crucial gap in Estonia’s policy framework: the current national environmental strategy, valid until 2030, does not include goals or activities on climate change adaptation. The adaptation strategy should be ready for adoption by mid-2016.

Preparation of the national adaptation strategy is supported by the European Economic Area Financial Mechanism 2009-2014.  Researchers from SEI’s partner in the energy and infrastructure subproject, Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Institute (http://www.fni.no/), visted SEI Tallinn earlier in March to share Norwegion experiences on adaptation. Other subprojects focus on: Planning, Land Use, Health and Rescue Management (KATI), led by the University of Tartu Geography Department (http://www.geograafia.ut.ee/et/teadus/kati-kliimakohanemine); adaptation measures in the areas of economics, society, awareness and cooperation, led by the Research Centre of the University of Tartu; and natural environment and bioeconomy (BioClim), led by the Estonian University of Life Sciences.

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