LIFE-MICACC project
LIFE16 CCA/HU/000115

"Municipalities as integrators and coordinators
in adaptation to climate change"

BACKGROUND OF THE LIFE-MICACC PROJECT

The project will address a key cross-sectoral issue: the use of natural water retention measures in CCA and sustainable water management. It seeks ecosystem-based solutions for the mitigation of the water challenge. Water resources and ecosystems are primarily impacted by climate change, but water retention is also a key element in CCA. On the local level, restoring the hydrological cycle and creating green infrastructure also contribute to mitigating the effects of climate change, e.g.extremities. In the project we will demonstrate the various benefits of ecosystem based adaptation approaches in the field of water management and sustainable land use at the municipality and catchment level.

The prototypes of NWRM that will be developed and implemented on the pilot sites will serve as a replicable model to other municipalities in the Danube basin, facing similar water and climate risks. The demonstrated water retention measures will build on ecosystem services and form part of the local green infrastructure, which serve as natural habitat and support biodiversity.

Local communities are affected by climate change impacts all around the world. These risks can be embodied in different forms of extreme events, but most of them are water related due to the lack or excess of water. In order to mitigate detrimental effects, and be able to provide effective adaptation measures settlement management (including areas outside urban centres but managed by the local municipality) must be prepared to handle, relieve and retain water, as well as cooperate with other stakeholders from the water and agriculture sector. This proposal aims to answer this challenge by putting into practice new solutions, disseminating knowledge and raising awareness.

Climate change and its relation to water management in Hungary

Hungary is one of the member states of the EU which is expected to be impacted by climate change more severely than the global average (see map in annex). According to regional climate models’ forecasts (ALADIN, RegCM) for the period of 2071-2100 the increase in average temperature will be over 3-5 °C. This is expected to be accompanied by a decrease in precipitation with a more hectic distribution and increase of extremities. According to forecasts the combined effect may lead to a change in the runoff up to 60%. Hungary will face more frequent extreme hydrological events: water scarcity and droughts will be more extensive, precipitation become more intensive and unpredictable; floods and excess inland water inundations will be increasing. Hungary’s high exposure to climate change is combined with a high sensitivity of some key sectors, such as settlements and agriculture (climate-related losses are figured in the annex) (National Climate Change Strategy of Hungary).

The key role of water as transmitter of climate change impacts is widely known, but its importance in mitigating negative effects and improving resilience is less acknowledged. Water, according to current knowledge of hydrology, can cool the biosphere and address destructive feedback loops in the climate system even with elevated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Therefore, it is alarming that at present, due to draining water management, each year about 760 km3 of rainwater are lost from landscapes globally, through runoff. This water should be replenishing soil moisture and groundwater reserves, and stabilizing regional temperatures and rain cycles through the transpiration of plants (Kravčík, M. and Lambert, J. 2014: Global Action Plan).

25% of Hungary’s territory is former floodplain of the Danube and its tributaries. Water management has a well-established institutional background, with a history of 250 years. However, historically the main goals pursued have been river regulation, channelization for navigation use, drainage of land for the intensive agriculture and ensuring flood security through dykes and other large infrastructure. This approach drained waters from the landscape, eliminated wetlands and contributed to the drying out of soils and vegetation, and combined with intensive agriculture and tree plantations lead to the degradation of the natural buffering capacity and a high exposure to water risks. Climate change is expected to amplify these threats, and the need for adaptation is an imperative that this paradigm must be changed. It is urgent to start the restoration of the small water cycles and the water retention capacity of ecosystems and soils. Water retention in the landscape would revitalise the local climate, buffer extremities, and therefore increase the climate resilience of local communities and economy (e.g. agriculture) (National Climate Change Strategy).

Role and needs of municipalities in climate change adaptation and water management

The Act No. CLXXXIX of 2011 on local governments and some sectoral laws define the main tasks of municipalities. Among them, there are several, which would require the consideration of climate change in order to ensure sustainability and successful adaptation. Examples are settlement development, spatial planning, regional development, environment protection, nature conservation, water management, public utility services, waste management. As for alleviating the impacts of climate change and enhance adaptation there are no mandatory tasks of local governments defined by legislation. A relatively low number of municipalities however, deal with climate change issues on a voluntary basis. There are two organisations that support them in these efforts, the Association of Climate Protection Hungary (with 20 members) and the Association of Climate Friendly Municipalities (33 members, partner in this project). At present, the number of climate-smart local governments is still limited. At the same time, they express their need for a change and intention to learn.

Our experience and our online survey embracing all local governments in the spring of 2016 show that the local governments are making serious efforts to perform their above tasks. However, during the preparation of this project we have found that local governments many times face challenges of legal and administrative character that hampers their efforts. One of the project aims is to tackle these problems through channelling the local feedback to national decision makers in a systemized manner.

Another serious problem is that the local governments do not have sufficient information and qualified professional staff with the specific competence on climate change issues. Local governments lack the information and understanding of their natural assets that could be used for climate change adaptation. For example, in most cases, they are not aware that the municipality owns several kilometres of channels and streams on the outer land of the settlement. They do not consider wet areas, borrow pits or abandoned land covered with invasive plants as an asset; neither they take waste water, technological water released from water treatment plants or rain water falling on the area of the settlement as a resource. Water management at the settlement level has been following the same pattern than on the national level, and addressed water as a threat instead of looking at it as the source of life and using it as an asset. The predominant approach to handle water issues has been traditional grey infrastructure. Multipurpose and multi-benefit solutions for climate change adaptation and sustainable water management, which can be implemented building on the locally available assets, are generally not known by the responsible leaders and technical staff of municipalities. The high exposure and sensitivity of socio-economic systems to the impacts of climate change is therefore combined with a generally low adaptive capacity of municipalities, especially of small settlements.

In this project local and regional leaders will gain this knowledge about their natural assets and about the ways of managing them sustainably for the benefit of the settlement. Through this innovative approach their adaptive capacity to deal with climate change will be significantly improved.

Another barrier to efficient climate adaptation is the insufficient coordination capacity of local governments and a low level of channelling new ideas. Without an improved cooperation of municipalities and other stakeholders within a catchment or a region it is almost impossible to find effective solutions that contribute to resilient, adaptive, sustainable communities. Since land use around the settlement and in the catchment the town belongs to are decisive factors in water related climate vulnerability, it is a problem that municipalities lack knowledge about the stakeholders in the agricultural supply chains that affect their settlements’ territory.

Limited financial resources are also a barrier to implement integrated climate resilient water management on the settlement and its surroundings. While a range of European or other funding sources are available, Hungarian municipalities are often unaware of these opportunities or lack the necessary knowledge to submit successful proposals. Furthermore, the access to global tools and state-of-the-art knowledge is limited by weak connections to the European networks and a generally low level of English skills. Within the project, we will support local governments by sharing European best practices, building partnerships, giving information and assist them in the application procedure for funding, if required.

The local governments' interest and desire to act was reflected in the bottom-up survey titled "Vulnerability and adaptation to climate change" initiated by MOI in February 2016, with the aim of mapping climate change impact sensitivity, vulnerability and adaptation capacity, in particular regarding water management, and then selecting the 5 pilot sites where the prototypes of NWRM solutions would be developed. The questionnaire was sent out to all the 3177 local governments in Hungary. 899 of them have returned their responses that have been processed by the staff of MOI and WWF, and appr. 60 local governments were selected for further assessment, based on a set of technical criteria (such as approach of the local government; points requiring urgent intervention; local ideas or project concepts; assets existing for the implementation; vulnerability proven by national databases, etc.) Out of this pool, by in-depth interviews 28 local governments were identified from all over the country to be involved as participants of this project (see map in annex). Following a feasibility assessment on the field, finally 5 municipalities have been selected as consortium partners for pilot project implementation. The 5 pilot sites represent the typical climate related water risks that settlements in Hungary face. Therefore we expect that the model solutions demonstrated would be suitable for transfer and replication at other sites.

Project partners

Minister of Interior Bátya KTSZ General Directorate of Water Management (OVF) Pannon Pro Innovations Püspökszilágy Rákócziújfalu Ruzsa Tiszatarján WWF Hungary