Hotspot ahead of its time: Kosovo* has been feeling the heat since the 1960s
Written by Fjollë Caka, a 2021 Climate Ambassador of the World Bank Group’s Global Youth Climate Network and an urban planner at UN-Habitat.
According to a recent UN report, climate change is happening at a faster pace than previously thought.
That’s nothing new in the Western Balkans, which is considered one of the world’s hotspots of climate change.
Kosovo has experienced heat waves since the 1960s, heavy rains followed by floods since the 1980s, and forest fires since the 2000s. Droughts were recorded in 1993, 2000, 2007, 2009 and 2012.
Things are getting worse
If you think that’s bad, consider this: The Western Balkans has been experiencing increased extreme weather and climate-related events.
Let’s take the January 2021 floods — caused by heavy rainfall and increased melting snow due to sudden temperature increases. Many riverside roads were inundated, bridges destroyed, and water supplies cut in Pristina and other areas. People had to be evacuated.
The July-August 2021 fires had about 473 active sources across three regions! Such fires further deplete our forests — Kosovo’s most important resource in lowering carbon dioxide and combating climate change.
Or let’s recall the drought of July 2017, which reduced cereal production by up to 30% and maize by 60%. Many farmers were left destitute.
There are other examples too, like dwindling water resources, or the reduced number of snow days, which nearly makes us forget what it’s like to have snow on New Year’s Eve.
Some in Kosovo may see nothing wrong with these changed climatic conditions. Some may even say warmer weather benefits business — such as one young man who established Kosovo’s largest blueberry orchard.
But climate changes in other countries can still cause disruption for us here in Kosovo, such as when a warm spring in 2018 led to an earlier harvesting season — causing our young blueberry farmer to face plummeting prices and profits, and threats to his very livelihood.
The coming climate avalanche
According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment, the Western Balkans is expected to face increased temperatures and changes in precipitation patterns, leading to extended periods of drought, as well as increased soil erosion, forest fires, and flood risk.
Temperatures in mountain areas are expected to increase more than the world average, reducing snow cover days and increasing spring flooding. There is an increased risk of water shortages and competition between different water users (agriculture, industry, tourism, households), especially during the summer.
Demand for energy will increase, for example to allow for air conditioning or cooling. That, in turn, will be followed by even more emissions and atmospheric pollutants, which are already high across the region.
Related climatic impacts will severely affect ecosystems and species distribution, the terrestrial carbon cycle, food production, infrastructure and overall health and well-being.
While this climate “avalanche” is approaching, there is still time to act and lower its impact.
Solutions in the works
The way we have been producing food (intensive chemical-based agriculture) and consuming it (intensive meat-based diets, shipping exotic foods long distances, food waste), producing energy, running factories, travelling (on fossil fuels), how we build our homes and cities (sprawling cities, losing green spaces), how we wash ourselves, dishes, clothes and yards (wasting water or polluting rivers), and choosing our clothes (from polluting industries), has changed the climate.
At this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), countries committed under the Paris Agreement are coming together to accelerate their emissions reductions plans, encourage ecosystems restoration and resilience building, collaborate with others, and mobilize finance — especially supporting developing countries.
The European Union has committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60% by 2030. This can be achieved only with increased climate action in Kosovo and the rest of the Western Balkans.
If we had had it in us to alter the global climate to this point, we must surely be capable of exploring alternative ways to sustain Kosovo — and the Earth — and limit further destruction.
This blog was originally published in full on UN Kosovo Team’s website as part of the Kosovo Climate Action campaign series. It is also available in Albanian and in Serbian. It was adapted here by Michal Shmulovich and Paul VanDeCarr, Development Coordination Office. To learn more about UN’s work in Kosovo, please visit Kosovoteam.UN.org. To learn more about the results of our work in this area and beyond, please read the latest UNSDG Chair Report on DCO.
*All references to Kosovo shall be understood to be in full compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999).