The greenhouse effect is a phenomenon in which the atmosphere of a planet traps radiation emitted by its sun. It is caused by gases such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, and methane that allow incoming sunlight to pass through but retain heat radiated back from the planet’s surface. Given normal circumstances these gases provide the Earth its average temperature of 15 °C, making life possible. However, extensive industrial activity and the burning of oil, coal and natural gases have extensively increased the amount of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere causing global warming – the increase in Earth’s near-surface air and ocean temperatures.
The world’s average surface temperature has increased by around 0.6 degrees Celsius over the last 100 years. It is expected that the growth will be between 1.4 and 6 degrees Celsius in the 21st century.Carbon dioxide can stay in the atmosphere for nearly a century.
In December 2015, the heads of 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP21). It is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.
Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia signed the agreement which aims to: (1) Hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change; (2) Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; (3) Make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.
The Southern Caucasus lies between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, with the greater Caucasus mountain range as the northern demarcation and the smaller Caucasus Mountains as a southern one. The region spans from the subtropical forests of the south-east Black Sea coast to the high peaks of Greater Caucasus and steppes and semi-deserts of the lowland east. In terms of the UN global Human Development Index of 2005, all three Southern Caucasus countries belonged to the Medium Development Countries with Armenia ranking the lowest (83) followed by Georgia (96) and Azerbaijan (98). All three countries are low income countries, both in a regional and world perspective. The biggest growth is seen by industry and the service sector whilst the agriculture sector has become almost stagnant – or even declined.
The main environmental challenges:
Armenia: Deforestation and illegal logging; Desertification; Use of solid fuels; Access to safe drinking water in rural areas; Management of Lake Sevan;
Azerbaijan: Deforestation; Desertification and land degradation; Deteriorating air quality; Water shortage & insufficient water sanitation;
Georgia: Land degradation, Regional water shortage, Lack of access to safe drinking water.
Precipitation decreases from west to east and mountains generally receive higher amounts than low-lying areas. The absolute maximum annual rainfall is 4100 mm around the Mt. Mtirala in South-West Georgia (Adjara region), whilst the rainfall in southern Georgia, Armenia and western Azerbaijan varies between 300 and 800 mm per year. Caucasus Mountains are marked by sharp temperature contrasts between summer and winter months. The Caucasus Mountains are known for a high amount of snowfall. Snow cover may reach 5-7 meters in several regions of the western part of the Greater Caucasus, such as northern Abkhazia.
The South Caucasus is already showing climate induced changes. All climate models are in agreement that the South Caucasus will become warmer and more prone to natural disasters in the near future. Mainstream climate change should be incorporated into poverty reduction strategies and overall sustainable development of the region. Strengthening climate adaptation by developing participatory National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) and developing pilot field projects on climate adaptation in climate „hot spots‟, investing more in innovative, renewable energy solutions and mainstreaming the climate change issue in media are all needed courses of action in the three countries of the region if they want to tackle the effects of climate change in the area.