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FEATURE STORY

Bracing for Climate Change: Managing the Unavoidable and Avoiding the Unmanageable

July 1, 2014

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Climate change is already happening: 900 extreme events were registered across the world last year and in Bulgaria, the frequency of natural disasters has increased significantly in the new millennium - with 10 major natural occurrences recorded between 2004 and 2006 alone.
  • A new World Bank report for Bulgaria looks at financial disaster risk management and insurance options for climate adaptation in the country, highlighting vulnerability and suggesting policy options.
  • With 52 disasters across 23 countries in the European Union (EU) over the last 12 years, the European Commission has proposed that at least 20% of the EU budget for 2014-2020 be allocated for climate-related expenditures.

On June 19, 2014 thirteen people were killed by flooding and landslides as a result of heavy rains and floods in Northeastern and North Central Bulgaria. The national meteorological service estimated that the amount of rain that fell in eastern Bulgaria over a 24 hour period was equal one month of precipitation. As a result, a state of emergency was declared in the Black Sea town of Varna and the low-lying district of Asparuhovo, where many houses were flooded and dozens of cars floated away and now lie on top of each other. Town of Dorbich was also flooded, as was Veliko Turnovo.

In the lead up to this tragic event, several unusual natural events rocked Bulgaria over five weeks in the spring. Heavy rains and floods swept through parts of the country. Earthquakes rattled towns. Tornado-force winds swept the roofs off of several houses in a village near the capital, Sofia.

These events only seem to reaffirm what many experts around the country – and around the world – have been saying for some time: climate change is not only real, it is already happening. Statistics emerging from the scientific community are staggering: 900 extreme events were registered across the world last year. In Bulgaria, in particular, the frequency of natural disasters has increased significantly in the new millennium, with 10 major natural events recorded between 2004 and 2006 alone.

How does one cope with this new reality?

For policy makers across the world, the overarching guiding principle remains to “manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable.” A new World Bank report for Bulgaria, Insurance Against Climate Change, spells this principle out while highlighting the usefulness of combining insurance measures, early warning systems, information campaigns, and strict regulation to help reduce the possible negative impacts of climate change.

The study argues that inaction in tackling climate-change related risks will only raise the potential risk of ongoing climate change. According to the report, if one waits too long to take action, a much costlier intervention may ultimately be necessary or the opportunity to effectively deal with the impacts of climate change impacts may even be lost altogether. Therefore, adaptation must not exclusively be focused on controlling the negative impacts climate change impacts, but rather focus equally on taking advantage of existing opportunities and incentives as well.

With 52 climate-related disasters in 23 countries in the European Union (EU) over the last 12 years, climate change has been a hot topic all over Europe – not just Bulgaria. In response, the EU has set forth a series of ambitious targets, known as the 20-20-20 mitigation targets – committing countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20%, reduce energy consumption by 20% through improved energy efficiency, and meet 20% of energy needs through renewable sources. Lending support this plan, the European Commission has also proposed that at least 20% of the EU budget for 2014-2020 be allocated for climate-related expenditures. Furthermore, the European Parliament recently called for even more ambitious targets for 2030: a 40% cut in greenhouse gases (compared to 1990 levels); at least 30% of energy coming from renewable sources; and a 40% improvement in energy efficiency. All these developments present a unique opportunity for Bulgaria to further advance policies in the sphere of climate adaptation.

As a member of the EU, Bulgaria may draw upon existing EU policies and instruments to respond to the impacts of climate change and enhance the country’s preparedness and capacity in the face of a changing climate. Many of these policies are based on the 2013 climate change adaptation strategy – a key document that aims to make Europe more climate-resilient.

Bulgaria’s vulnerability to climate change is further accelerated by a relatively high degree of poverty in areas where such events typically happen. A review of the existing financial disaster risk management in Bulgaria reveals that existing mechanisms are inadequate to manage the potentially enormous economic and fiscal losses posed by natural disasters.

It is estimated that only 8% of the 3.6 million homes in Bulgaria are insured against natural disasters, such as earthquakes and floods. Such a low insurance rate could result in huge, unexpected public expenditures for the country, should a natural disaster hit. The new report contains several proposals to help policymakers in the country address this particular challenge - including the promotion of risk prevention through incentives and discounts for insuring buildings. Other recommendations include improving forest, agriculture and wetland management, promoting technology innovation, and strengthening the cooperation between the insurance sector and the government. Collectively, these measures can help prepare the country for an impending disaster – helping both mitigate risks and reduce any eventual impacts.