Are NGOs the new champions for advancing climate adaptation in Eastern Europe?


In countries east of the European Union (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine) climate change adaptation policy is still at inception stage.

Policy in these countries is being influenced by the EU’s agenda and multi-level approach to adaptation governance. Political, institutional and social realities in these countries are different from the EU, however. As a result, the process of developing and implementing climate adaptation strategies including the actors involved, also differs from the situation in the EU.

Maria Falaleeva, an expert member of the NGO association Green Network, and deputy head at non-governmental organization (NGO) Ekapraekt, was one of a number of adaptation experts to present at the European Climate Change Adaptation Conference (ECCA) in Glasgow last month.

Falaleeva, who studied climate adaptation policymaking in countries east of the European Union, especially Belarus, concluded that these countries face new challenges when developing climate adaptation strategies. According to her NGOs are the new champions stepping in to help them reach this goal.

New challenges

The new challenges she refers to include a lack of expertise and experience in multi-level adaptation; low awareness at all levels; high fragmentation of governance; a lack of political will and policy grounds; and a lack of transparency of operation of the official actors — for example, in using international funds — and a traditional governance system that does not allow experiments and flexibility in adaptation planning.

“These countries have a tradition of top-down governance,” Falaleeva clarifies. “In Belarus, for instance, official actors’ responsibilities and mandates are very strict. Climate adaptation, however, means you have to experiment with strategies and measures, and gain experience. But there is no room for experiments because people are afraid to do something wrong. Besides, national authorities still do not fully realise the importance of climate change.”

New champions

“I call NGOs the new champions”, she says, “because they step in, take initiative and raise awareness. They have a lot of knowledge and expertise, and know how to communicate this to stakeholders. They know which stakeholders must be involved to make climate adaptation work, what their roles are and how they should cooperate. They are capable of managing projects independent from national or local authorities, cost-effective and transparent, and can be held accountable by donors and stakeholders. They can serve as bridging organizations, are free to operate and experiment.”

According to Falaleeva, businesses and citizens in these countries don’t see themselves as stakeholders. “This is typical for this region, and partly due to the communistic past. Citizens don’t see themselves as an agent of change,” she states.

Climate change not a priority

Climate change is not a major priority for the people of countries like Belarus or Ukraine, who see economic problems as more important than climate change.

“People don’t see that climate change is about you, your vulnerability and what you can do to become more resilient. There is much press by the government, people don’t think long-term,” says Falaleeva.

International support

On the other hand, vulnerability to climate change is thought to be relatively low. Negative impacts on droughts, floods, forest fires, agriculture, ecosystems, and human health are estimated as low to moderate. In fact, new opportunities may arise for agriculture. But for this to happen, NGOs will be needed to step in for quite some time.

“In the coming years the countries east of the European Union will continue to rely strongly on international support. In this region, the NGOs can be primary partners for international organizations. Not only to raise awareness and for educational purposes, but above all as expert facilities, accountable bridging organizations and platforms for adaptation experiments,” Falaleeva concludes.

This article first appeared on Climate Change Post.

It is based on a contribution by Maria Falaleeva of Ekapraekt / Green Network, who presented at the Third European Climate Change Adaptation Conference, held in Glasgow in June 2017.  The article is third in a series of eight based on presentations given at the conference, and interviews with the scientists. 

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About the author(s)

Gina Lovett

Gina Lovett

Gina Lovett steers content and edits the Daily Planet. For Climate-KIC, she leads content development and thought leadership. She has a background in journalism and higher education, with extensive experience in publishing, producing events and managing strategic projects in the field of climate change, sustainability, design and innovation.