Croatian cities don’t care for climate change

In July 2018 European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet), a consortium of media from all over Europe, among which H-Alter, started a survey among 505 European cities about local responses to temperature changes. The results of the survey are used to explore how cities respond to temperature increases, and they also give an insight to general attitude towards climate change.

Published On: January 9th, 2019
Croatian cities don’t care for climate change_62ccb317485b2.jpeg
Croatian cities don’t care for climate change_62ccb317485b2.jpeg

Photo: The All-Nite Images/Flickr

Croatian cities don’t care for climate change

In July 2018 European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet), a consortium of media from all over Europe, among which H-Alter, started a survey among 505 European cities about local responses to temperature changes. The results of the survey are used to explore how cities respond to temperature increases, and they also give an insight to general attitude towards climate change.

Photo: The All-Nite Images/Flickr

Local authorities ignore requests from journalists

In order to compare the situation in different Croatian cities, at the beginning of July we send the questionnaire to local authorities in Zagreb, Pula, Split, Osijek and Dubrovnik, asking them to participate in a research on cities’ responses to temperature increases and challenges posed by climate change.

Since we didn’t receive any answer, we sent the questionnaire again. Only the city of Pula responded. In October we contacted several environmental associations in order to get more information for our research, but once again our request was almost completely ignored. Only the association “Eco Zadar” responded.

We sent the questionnaire a few more times, trying to get in touch with competent local authorities, but in December we came to the conclusion that we weren’t going to get any answer, and this is an issue unto itself and a sign of a big systematic problem we will deal with later in the text.

The survey aimed to find out: how have temperature changes affected the way of living in different cities in the last two decades; how do city authorities inform citizens and companies about the local consequences of increased temperatures; did city authorities conduct investigations about the local consequences of increased temperatures in the past 20 years (in relation to public health, transportation and infrastructures, tourism, city planning and management, nature and wildlife, education); and did city authorities carry out specific actions to adapt to increased temperatures in the past 20 years.

Pula: living conditions worsening due to temperature increase

Only the city of Pula returned fully completed questionnaire. They poined out that temperature changes have negatively affected the life in the city in the last two decades. The results of the study entitled “Opažene i očekivane promjene količine oborine, temperature zraka i indeksa ekstrema za grad Pulu” [Perceived and projected changes in precipitation rates, air temperature and climate extremes for the city of Pula], conducted in 2016 by the Meteorological and Hydrological Institute of Croatia, showed a significant increase in the average temperature in the area of the city of Pula. According to this study, in the last 10 years there has been a significat increase in the average annual temperature (ranging from 0.3ºC to 0,6ºC), in the average minimum temperature (ranging from 0.3ºC to 0.6ºC) and in the average maximum temperature (rangin from 0.2ºC to 0.6ºC).

In 2018, the city of Pula conducted a study entitled “Analiza procjene ranjivosti i rizika od utjecaja klimatskih promjena na područje grada Pule” [An analysis of evaluation of vulnerability and risks of climate change impact on the territory of the city of Pula], aimed at analysing temperature changes and variations in precipitation rate. As far as public health is concerned, the analysis showed that air temperature, especially extreme heat, affects mortaliy rate and contributes to development or worsening of symptoms of cardiovascular diseases.

“Temperature increase has already caused the appearance of new invasive insect species in our region, which represent a potential risks for transmitting new infective diseases but also for the re-emergence of old diseases that have been absent for a long time, and this is already happening in the neighbouring countries”, says the report.

Long droughts contribute to increase of fine particles in the air, thus affecting the air quality. The projected sea level rise and extreme weather events can cause damage to transportation infrastructure and affect road viability. The quality of urban environment in the city of Pula is based on favorable georgraphic location and good transport connection, thanks to a highway complex the Istrian Y.

As far as tourism is concerned, to date no research has been conducted in Croatia on optimal temperature and temperature tolerance threasholds. The projected average daily maximum temperature during the summer and the projected numer of hot days suggest significant changes that can have a negative impact on tourism demand.

The study conducted by the city of Pula also showed that the modification of natural ecosystems, unsustainable use of natural resources and pollution represent the biggest threat to ecosystems and biodiversity. The changes in climate that have a direct impact on natural ecosystems and biodiversity on the territory of the city of Pula include: increase in average temperature, reduced volume and changes in distribution of precipitation, occurance of extreme weather events (heat waves, droughts, flouds, snow storms), and sea level rise. Rising sea levels can cause submersion of coastal areas and seawater intrusion into freshwater aquifers. The west and south coast of Istria are particulary vulnerable to climate change.

Although Pula’s local authorities claim they are undertaking measures on different levels to tackle climate change issues, most of these measures are merely cosmetic, since they don’t address the core of the problem. For example, the authorities claim that “considering a whole range of activities aimed to educate the population on a healthy lifestyle, as well as the fact that the city of Pula has high literacy rate, we can conclude that the population of the city is very well educated and prepared for future climate change impacts”.

The high price of deferred action on climate change

An analysis of over 100 million meteorological data points, conducted by the European Data Journalism Network (EDJNet), shows that every major city in Europe is warmer in the 21st century than it was in the 20th. Although these data refer only to temperature increases, they are a good indicator of climate change. As we have already written, the world is paying a high price for every year of deferred action on climate change. Climate change is a global and very complex problem and it cannot be effectively tackled without taking into consideration the dominant economic model.

Waste management

Anoher significant problem is inadequate waste treatment. Croatia generates about 403 kilograms of waste per capita per year. Only 21.5 percent of waste is recycled, 0.1 percent is incinerated, and the rest, 78,4 percent, is disposed in landfills, while some countries – like Sweden, Denmark, Holland and Belgium – dispose in landfills only 1 percent of waste generated. In 2015, Zagreb gained a shamful title of European capital of waste , because of its inadequate separate waste collection system.

The city of Zagreb is dealing with many problems related to waste management, such as: unfair fees, non-comliant with law and based on volume of trash cans, instead of on amount of waste produced; lack of modern waste sorting and composting machines, criminal activities on informal landfills throughout the city (like Ježdovac landfill), inadequate reaction of competent authorities to frequent fires in CIOS facilities [company that provides waste collection and primary treatment services]. Waste management plan, adopted this year, is not in line with best practice, and it is harmful for citizens of Zagreb from public health, economic, financial and ecological perspective.

Karepovac landfill is the only formal landfill in Split-Dalmatia County, opened nearly 60 years ago. It receives about 130.000 tons of garbage per year, and currently there are more than 7 million cubic meters of waste disposed. After years of neglect, ignorance and lack of planning, the landfill reached its limit capacity and long-awaited rehabilitation of the landfill site began too late. The citizens of Split became aware of risks posed by Karepovac landfill during a recent fire that spread to landfill and destroyed eastern parts of the city. As the association Sunce warned at the time, Karepovac landfill cannot and should not be seen as an isolated issue, and its rehabilitation won’t solve all problems. Although landfill rehabilitation proceeds, there’s still a problem of short term approach to waste management and the percentage of waste collected and recycled is still too low, not only in the city of Split but also in other parts of the country.

Weather extremes

According to data published in September 2017 by Fire fighting sector of National protection and rescue directorate, from the 1st of January until 30th of Spetember 2017, 6.230 fires were reported (representing an increase of 54.44 percent compared to the annual average over the past 11 year), which burned 100.767 hectares of vegetation (an increase of 277.54 percent compared to the annual average). 3.802 of all the fires reported reached the coast, mostly during the summer season (an increase of 51.47 percent compared to the annual average).

“Climate change is not something that is happening far away, or that will happen in the future. From the beginning of the year until June, more than 2000 fires have been reported in coastal areas. Wildfires threaten the safety of the population and cause inestimable damage to environment. 8 out of the last 10 years were among the hottest years ever recorded. Temperature records are continuously surpassed due to increase in carbon emissions”, said Greenpeace representative Petra Andrić in September 2018 in the occasion of the beginning of reforestation of areas burned by wildfires in Dalmatia, as part of the project Boranka.

Over the last 50 years, changing climate lead to significant changes in weather patterns, causing, among other things, floodings along major European rivers, which threaten agricultural production and infrustructure throughout the continent, according to an investigation published last year by the American magazine Science.

Probably the best indicator of weather extremes are floods that happened this year in Zadar, causing 1 billion kuna worth of damage (about 135.000 euros), as well as the combination of wildfires and drought conditions in the area of Benkovac, followed by heavy rains and flooding.

Risks and consequences of climate change in Croatia

The report on estimated climate change impacts and vulnerability, commissioned in 2017 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Energy of the Republic of Croatia, refers to eight different sectors: hydrology, agriculture, forestry, fishing, biodiversity, energy, tourism, and space planning and risk management. For each sector is given an overview of its importance, current climate change impacts, and evaluation of impacts of climate indices until 2040 and 2070.

As far as water resources are concerned, the situation is expected to worsen, with more frequent and longer-lasting droughts, and more intense floods. Significant variations in water temperatures are also expected, which may have negative impact on ecosystem biodiversity.

As regards public health, extreme weather events can have a negative impact on chronic noncommunicable diseases and mortality rates, thez can cause changes in the epidemology of transmissible diseases and affect air quality as well as water and food safety.

“The quantification of environmental impacts on health and healthcare system represents a big challenge, due to complex interactions of environmental and other impacts on health and inadequate economic assessement of impacts of climate change on health”, says the report.

The report also points out that current urban planning regulation doesn’t take account the problem of climate change and its impact on urban space development, althought there are various good practices and norms that prescribe urban planning requirements, that can contribute to mitigation of negative impacts of climate change.

The dominant economic model needs to be changed

Although the predictions about climate change are very pessimistic, suggesting that we might soon surpass the 1.5 degree target, there are still some actions that can be taken in order to mitigate the effects of climate change. As we have already written, climate change problem cannot be adequately perceived without taking into consideration the dominant economic model. So far Croatian politician showed only declarative willingness to tackle climate change problems, which vanishes when concrete actions need to be taken.

The example of big cities, whose fight against climate change mostly consists of superficial sensibilisation campaigns and formal implementation of EU funded projects, shows that serious action are being taken only in case of big natural disasters or problems, such as the one related to Karepovac landfill. On the other hand, the example of some smaller cities, like Prelog or Zlarina , show that positive changes can be achieved without pressure from EU, by taking concrete actions, like introducing a ban on single-use plastic or stimulating the circular economy. Time is running out, and we shouldn’t wait for another disaster to occur before taking the situation seriously.

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