The natural processes of the atmosphere are self-regulating. However, the discharging of chemicals into the atmosphere as a result of human activities causes irreversible changes and leads to gradual alterations in the Earth’s climate.
There is increasing concern that climate change may be more rapid than suggested in previous projections. There is good reason to anticipate severe consequences within a relatively short time. One change might be the melting of the large ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica, which would release enough water to raise sea levels by 13 metres, something that could happen over the next 1,000 years.
There has always been a natural greenhouse effect, which keeps the Earth warmer than it would be without an atmosphere, making life on Earth possible.
Energy from the sun reaches the Earth and warms it. The Earth reflects this energy back, at the same time changing it to infrared energy (heat). Due to gases in the atmosphere that envelops the Earth like a blanket, part of this reflected energy is trapped and never leaves the Earth. Thus, in contrast to other planets without an atmosphere, the Earth stays warm.
Before the Industrial Revolution, which started in the middle of the 18th century, economies were mostly based on small-scale agriculture and commerce. Subsequently, advances in technology, the large-scale construction of factories, a colossal growth in manufacturing and the advent of large-scale mechanised agriculture have led to increased pollution and the production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, Freon and methane, as well as water vapour.
The increased concentration of greenhouse gases has led to an increase in the amount of trapped solar energy, thereby raising the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. The latest scientific insights and research confirm that global climate change is taking place, and it is projected to continue.
Most greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides and methane, occur naturally.
Carbon dioxide — Over millions of years, trillions of tonnes of carbon were removed from the atmosphere by plants and trapped in sediments that eventually became deposits of coal, oil and natural gas. For the past two centuries, humans have been extracting and igniting these fossil fuel resources at an increasing rate. Today, human beings release about 5.5 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere every year by burning fossil fuels. Another 1.5 billion tonnes per year are released through land-use changes, such as deforestation. When trees are cut, they stop absorbing carbon. If the trees are then burned, the carbon is immediately released back into the atmosphere. These releases result in an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide of about 0.5 percent per year. Since the Industrial Revolution, the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased by 30 percent. The use of fossil fuels for energy production and transport is the leading source of global carbon dioxide emissions.
Methane — Emitted during the production and transport of coal, natural gas and oil, methane is also produced by livestock farming and the decomposition of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills. Methane is 20 times more effective in trapping heat than carbon dioxide and thus contributes 20 times more to the greenhouse effect
Nitrogen oxides — Emissions of these gases are caused mainly by agricultural activities and the burning of vegetation and forests.
The impacts of climate change, including those on natural ecosystems, biodiversity, human health and water resources (in the form of floods and droughts) can already be observed and are projected to become more pronounced. Least developed countries are among the most vulnerable, as they have the fewest financial resources and technical capacities to adapt.
Although some scientists and influential policy makers remain unconvinced that humankind plays an important role in long-term climate change, the facts present an alarming trend. Global mean surface temperatures have increased. In Europe, the temperature is about 1.4°C higher than the pre-industrial level. Scientists expect that the average global surface temperature could rise by between 1.0°C and 3.5°C by the year 2100, with significant regional variations. Over the last decade, Western and Central Europe and the Arctic experienced additional rainfall in winter, whereas Southern and South Eastern Europe became drier. In contrast, during the summer most parts of Central and Northern Europe experienced less precipitation. Evaporation will increase as the climate warms, which will increase average global precipitation. Soil moisture is likely to decline in many regions, and intensive rainstorms are likely to become more frequent. Sea levels are likely to rise by 50 to 60 cm, which will have a disastrous effect on coastal areas.
Health impacts — Among the negative impacts of climate change on human beings are heat waves, natural disasters, air pollution and infectious diseases. Warmer temperatures can encourage the proliferation of disease-carrying mosquitoes in new areas, which could lead to the spread of infectious diseases such as encephalitis, malaria and dengue fever. Long-term exposure to fine particles in the ambient air due to drier and hotter winds can exacerbate a number of health problems such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, making people more susceptible to further climate-induced stress. In addition, hotter temperatures in the summer are likely to lead to a greater number of heat-related deaths. The number of severe weather events, such as floods, could also increase. In poorer countries, rates of malnutrition and starvation could rise as a result of droughts and other changes in crop growing conditions. A number of countries have already formulated climate change adaptation strategies in relation to human health, including the improved monitoring of vulnerable population groups and stricter controls on drinking water quality.
Environmental impacts — Climate change is one of the factors threatening biodiversity. Its impact has increased in recent decades and it is expected to be the main driver of biodiversity loss in the future, affecting the growth cycle of plants and animals as well as species distribution. The main impacts of climate change on the environment are related to:
Modelling studies show that by 2100, invasive species may account for more than 35 percent of all plant species in northern countries, while a quarter of local plant species in South Eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula may have disappeared. Climate change often imposes an additional pressure on water resources:
Changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to alter the composition of forests. Some forest ecosystems may disappear, leading to the extinction of several species. Many plant and animal species that cannot adapt quickly to changing conditions will become endangered or extinct.
Economic impacts — The economic impacts of climate change are hard to predict and will vary widely among nations, and among regions within nations.
Sea-level rise — One-third of the population of the EU lives within 50 km of a coastline. The impacts of sea-level rise include the inundation and displacement of wetlands, coastal erosion, increased salinity, and impeded drainage. Global sea levels have risen between 15 and 20 cm over the past century. Between 2 and 5 cm of this rise has resulted from the melting of glaciers, and another 2 to 7 cm from the expansion of ocean water, which is a result of warmer ocean temperatures. By 2100, the global sea level is projected to have risen by 0.2 to 0.6 m. The Arctic region will be one of the most affected. Other regions under threat are the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts.
The alarming scale of climate change impacts should convince the international community to take mitigation measures. The two most important such measures already undertaken are the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol.The UNFCCC establishes a general framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the problems caused by climate change. The convention recognises that the climate system is a shared resource, the stability of which can be affected by emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from industry and other sources. Nearly 200 countries have ratified the convention to date. Governments that are party to the convention have agreed to:
The high-level international forums that have taken place since the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol have achieved varying degrees of success in the fight against climate change. The results of the 2012 climate conference in Doha, however, fell short even of the most modest expectations. Representatives from 192 countries agreed on a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, although Japan and Russia decided not to participate in this second period, and Canada withdrew from the protocol. The United States, which is the leader in terms of emissions among industrialised countries, has never been a party to the Kyoto Protocol. While Europe, Australia and 10 other nations have reconfirmed their commitment to earlier obligations, they are responsible for just 15 percent of greenhouse emissions worldwide. The obligation to establish a special fund to help poor countries still remains unfulfilled, to the great disappointment of many — especially island — states.
People around the world need to adapt to the ongoing impacts of climate change — even if global mitigation efforts over the next decades prove to be successful. Humankind must take measures to adapt to and cope with the effects of climate change in the future. The faster this adaptation takes place, the lower the costs will be. Adaptation measures include:
In the past two decades, the average temperature in Belarus has risen by 1.1°C. During this same period, six of the country’s seven largest positive temperature anomalies have been recorded.
The impacts of climate change in Belarus are reflected in an increase in mean annual temperatures, one consequence of which is the displacement of agro-climatic zones. Shifts in mean temperatures have resulted in a shift in zone boundaries of between 60 and 150 km, while a new, warm agro-climatic zone has appeared in the Palessie region in the south of the country. Shrinking agricultural areas have led to lower production volumes, resulting in reductions in the traditional linen industry, for example.
The vegetation period now starts on average one week earlier than in the past. This fact, together with the increase in the number of abnormal frosts in May, is damaging agricultural production in Belarus.
Climate change has resulted in a higher number of severe weather events in Belarus (heavy winds, tornadoes, floods, droughts and abnormal heat waves), which have an adverse impact on the economy and public health. The tornadoes now affecting the country are an entirely new phenomenon in Belarus. Emerging changes in the hydrological regime pose a threat to the Palessie, where floods alternating with intense periods of drought have become typical during the summer months. In addition to their negative impacts on agriculture and forestry, dry spells can lead to fires in forests and peat lands.
Changes in temperature and humidity create suitable conditions for pests and insects, such as mosquitoes and ticks, which carry diseases that are dangerous for human beings.
Belarus is a party to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Presidential Decree of April 10, 2000, No. 177) and the Kyoto Protocol (Presidential Decree of August 12, 2005, No. 370).
As a result of the economic collapse in 1990, greenhouse gas emissions decreased significantly in Belarus and in other post-Soviet countries. According to the latest available data, emissions in Belarus are currently 64 percent of the 1990 levels, although the country is still among the top 50 nations responsible for 90 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
As Belarus acceded to the Kyoto Protocol later than most of the other parties, its numerically defined commitments in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions for the 2008–2012 period were not included in Annex B. Belarus proposed an amendment to the protocol to resolve this situation, but it was not ratified by a sufficient number of parties. As a result, Belarus lags behind in many international processes and has been denied the right to participate in the so-called flexible mechanisms of the Kyoto Protocol — emissions, trading, the Clean Development Mechanism and Joint Implementation.
Belarus planned to participate in the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol. However, at the 18th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC, held in Doha in 2012, it did not accept the new set of rules for calculating emissions quotas adopted by the countries participating in the second Kyoto period.
The country's greenhouse gas emissions are currently growing by an
annual average of 2 percent, although the National Strategy for
Sustainable Socioeconomic Development foresees a development trend in the Belarusian economy that will improve conservation
capacity during the second Kyoto commitment period (up to 2020). However, according to the new rules, the emissions of participating countries must remain at 2008–2010 levels, which means stabilising them rather than allowing them to grow continuously. As a result, Belarus has changed its
plans, as it is clear that the new rules for the second Kyoto period do not meet the
expectations of Belarusian representatives. Although the accession of Belarus to
the second commitment period was due to be reconsidered at the
end of 2013, it still remains unclear when a final decision will be made.
At present, there is little likelihood that Belarus will ratify the second Kyoto commitment period.
State institutions and other organisations
The State Commission on Climate Change is a collective decision-making body responsible for the development of national policy on climate change. The commission comprises representatives of the main ministries and research institutes, and of large industrial enterprises.
The Department for Hydrometeorology of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection is responsible for orienting national policy on climate change. It participates in the preparation of the legal framework and represents the country in international negotiations under the UNFCCC. It is also involved in educational activities.
The Ecology Research Centre compiles the national greenhouse gas inventories.
has participated in several international technical assistance
projects aimed at assisting in the implementation of climate change mitigation and adaptation policies, as well as in the implementation of the rules and mechanisms
of the Kyoto Protocol. Among the most important are:
Belarusian NGOs are active in the field of climate change. Their main activities include advocacy and public interest lobbying on national climate policy and the position of Belarus in the framework of international negotiations under the UNFCCC; education and the raising of public awareness on climate change and energy efficiency; research; and legal expertise. The main NGOs carrying out activities in the field of climate change are Green Network, APB-BirdLife Belarus, the Center for Environmental Solutions, Ecodom and the Ecoproject Partnership.
Further information on the country's efforts to tackle climate change can be found from the following sources:
Further information about the activities of NGOs can be found on the following links: