Lately | Environment

Western Balkans heating up

New data shows temperatures in Balkan cities increasing.

In December 2015, with the signing of the Paris agreement, 195 countries committed to “limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels.”

However, for some cities in Europe, this threshold has already been reached, as shown by data gathered, analysed, and published by the European Data Journalism Network (EdjNet). EdjNet analysed the data provided by the European Centre for Medium-term Weather Forecasts (ECMWF), which calculates meteorological data by combining inputs from various sources (meteorological stations, meteorological balloons, buoys, and satellite observations).

This innovative technology makes it possible to study meteorological models for periods of over a century, because it harmonizes inputs from thousands of data sources and enables comparisons in time and space. The data takes into consideration information from the year 1900 up to 2017 and covers more than 500 European cities, including 78 urban centers in the Balkan peninsula.

One indicator of climate change is the number of hot days recorded each year. The criteria for which one day is considered ‘hot’ varies depending on the city and on the recorded average temperature. For example, days are considered ‘hot’ if, in a 24-hour period, the average temperature is over 25 degrees Celsius in Prishtina, 28 degrees Celsius in Tirana, and 26 degrees Celsius in Skopje. Taking this into account, the number of hot days recorded each year has doubled throughout the Balkan peninsula.

There are some even more extreme cases across the region. In Split, where temperatures have to average out to over 27 degrees over a 24-hour period to qualify as a hot day, the number of hot days per year has gone from from an average of 0.35 per year in the 20th century to 13.5 in the 21st.

In Tirana, the amount of hot days per year grew from an average of around 1.5 in the 20th century to more than 8 per year since 2000, while in Prishtina, the average number of hot days have more than quadrupled — from 0.86 per year in the 20th century to over 3.5 in the 21st century.

Higher temperatures lead to excess mortality, with the elderly and infants most at risk. For instance, a heatwave in Europe in July and August 2003 killed over 52,000 people, according to the think tank Earth Policy Institute.

Research has also shown that when the daily average temperature increases above 22 degrees Celsius, cognitive abilities of school children decrease, especially in mathematics.

In Kosovo, the average amount of ‘hot’ school days per year have increased roughly four times in both Prishtina and Prizren between the centuries. From an average of around one school day a year in the 20th century in both cities, both now average out to around four.

Risk factors in the region

“The climate is changing across the continent, but the Western Balkans region is particularly vulnerable,” Radovan Nikčević, an expert from the Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) points out in an interview with K2.0 partner Osservatorio Balcani Caucaso (OBCT).

The RCC has recently published a study that predicts a temperature increase in the Western Balkans ranging from 1.7 degrees Celsius up to 4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

The factors that make the phenomenon particularly worrying in this region, according to Nikčević, include delays in the implementation of European regulations on mitigation and adaptation to climate change. “There remains a strong fragmentation: very different policies, legal frameworks, and monitoring methods in the region make the fight against climate change more difficult,” he explains. “Furthermore, economic development is the undisputed priority for the region: This is why the fight against climate change is often left behind, postponed for better times. Finally, experience and skilled human capital on these issues are lacking in the relevant institutions.”

The RCC study finds a potential impact on agricultural production, citizens’ health, degradation of forest areas, and increased floods.

With the exception of Kosovo, the countries of the region are all signatories of the Paris Agreement, obligating the states to reduce emissions by adopting mitigation plans, which act on the causes of change. In addition to the limits deriving from the Paris Agreement, some municipalities also participate in grassroots initiatives such as the EU Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy: Signatories include Niš, Tirana, Podgorica, Skopje and over 15 cities in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Furthermore, the adoption of adaptation plans aimed at managing the already visible effects of climate change is also urgent. In order to grasp the progress made in the adoption of Local Climate Plans (LCP), the EdjNet consortium is gathering information on adaptation policies adopted or being adopted by European local authorities.K

*Editor’s note: This article has been corrected to amend a number of factual inaccuracies due to errors in the data provided that affected 38 cities, including Skopje and Prizren. For more information click here.

This report was produced by the European Data Journalism Network. Additional reporting by Fitim Salihu and Jack Robinson.

Feature image: Besnik Bajrami / K2.0.