Slovenia: Floods and Droughts - and the EU's Climate Change commitment

As the current holder of the EU presidency Slovenia is responsible for steering the EU's package on energy and climate change through the various stages of decision making. The European Commission this week spoke of "historic" plans to make Europe "the first economy for the low-carbon age". In Slovenia the need to do this is being driven home by some alarming observations of changes already occurring in Slovenia's climate and the impact that's having on water and agriculture.

Parts of the country have experienced intense rainfall and storms. Others were affected by droughts and heat waves, and that in places where they do not normally occur. Out of nine droughts in the last fourty years, six of those have occurred since 1991. And last September, Slovenia witnessed probably its most devastating flash flood ever, leaving six people dead.

According to the well known Slovenian climatologist and ecologist, dr. Lučka Kajfež – Bogataj, also a member of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change in Geneva, the event was caused by a drastic change in the amount of precipitation. Half the normal yearly amount of rain fell on just one day during that tragic flood. Dr Bogataj says such events can occur practically anywhere in Slovenia.

‘"The climate change in Slovenia will be different in different regions. So far, it seems, that the Alpine part of Slovenia will be the worst hit, because the change in snow and the water regime there seems to be the highest. But also the Mediterranean Slovenia might be heavily impacted because of the low precipitation amounts in summer, so dry condition may prevail.’’

Slovenia’s climate is diverse and very complicated. Over the last fifty years, it has become warmer, on average, by 1 degree. Regional scenarios of future climate change are even less reliable than global ones, but climatologists say, the impact of climate change will continue to be very diverse.

A harvest is underway in Slovenia’s North East region – known as Styria. Vineyards line the slopes while vegetables, fruit and maize are grown on the rich river flats. Of all the sectors of the Slovene economy it’s agriculture which will be most affected by climate change and according to Dr. Dušica Majer of the Chamber of Agriculture and Forestry, it’s this picturesque and productive North East region which is hardest hit.

‘"These climate changes are affecting all areas of production, from fruit and vegetable production to cultivation of land. In the last five years, the NE part of Slovenia has been most hit, due to drought and high temperatures. The region has most maize, wheat and oil producing plants.’’

Dr. Majer says the structure of agricultural production hasn’t changed much in recent years. However, Slovenian farmers are aware change is necessary in order to survive in the long-run. This year alone – across the country - they will be offered more than 17,000 hours of advice and training. It will involve changing sowing times, rotating crops, paying attention to structure of soil, and protection against diseases and pests. Dr Majer says there are other important measures as well.

"This refers mostly to the choice of plant species and production technologies. In the previous years, many have already grown species which are more resistant to extreme weather phenomena. Some are already building new irrigation systems and putting up anti-hail and anti-frost protection.’’

Dr. Majer estimates that the amount of food produced in Slovenia will decrease by around 16% by 2020.

Despite a lack of public awareness of the problems stemming from Climate Change Slovenia may be on the right track to deal with them Dr. Kajfež – Bogataj stresses the need to continue with preventive steps, by first treating water with respect:

‘"So, really good spatial planning in agriculture, also really good spatial planning when we build bridges and other buildings, because we can avoid floods. And also water conservation, I think that in Slovenia we don’t have proper attitude to water, also pricing of the water is not right. So, I think there are some challenges in this field, and it can be done.’’