City of Riga

Description of case study area

The case study area covers territory of the capital of the Latvia, City of Riga comprising 307 km2. The city's land use structure is as follows: built-up area 67.2 km2 (22 %), industrial areas 47.6 km2 (15.5 %), streets 25.9 km2 (8.3 %), forests and parks 57.5 km2 (18.7 %) (from them waters 48.5 km2). Riga is situated in the central part of Latvia on the sandy plains of the Coastal Lowlands. Number of inhabitants is 735 000 and GDP per capita in 2002 was 4418 LVL. The climate of Riga is very much influenced by temperate air masses from the Atlantic Ocean, associated with extensive cyclonic air flows.

Riga is the major centre of finance, and industrial, educational activities in Latvia. There happens major cultural activities and it is centre of sport in Latvia. In Riga there is significant number of theatres, concert halls, but also universities and research institutions. The territory of Riga is covered with an intensive net of meteorological observations. The longest records related to climate are records of ice break on River Daugava started in 1530, but regular observations of temperature started in station Riga-University in 1788.

Results of the case study

At the same time due to its location in vicinity of Riga Gulf and in lowland in the mouth of three major rivers Daugava, Gauja, Lielupe, Riga is especially vulnerable in respect to impacts of climate change. Unless the high climate change impact risks and possible threats, it could be recognised that awareness of stakeholders and inhabitants can be considered as low. Despite that at the national level the Climate Change Mitigation Programme 2005 - 2010 is well functioning, the adaptation approaches in both in national and local levels are generally missing in Latvia.

Figure 1: Riga from Bird's-eye view photo: J.Vitins

Most important climate change impact risks in case of Riga are:

Besides, also other climate change risks can significantly affect not only welfare of inhabitants, but can be considered as major threat for development of Riga, especially considering high economic importance (major ports), recreational business, importance of climate change for water supply systems etc.

Figure 2: Long term changes of precipitation and temperature in Riga, according to data of Riga-University meteorological station

Figure 3: Long term variability of discharge in the River Daugava (data from Latvian Environmental, Geology and Meteorological Agency)

The water runoff of the River Daugava is 20.5 km3, mean discharge is 454 m3/sec near Daugavpils and 645 m3/sec in the river mouth (1881-2004). In Latvia the flood risks are associated with spring floods, ice and slush jamming, wind-induced surges in the downstream of rivers and with the safety of dams in the valley of River Daugava.

Figure 4: Storm surges water levels January 8-9, 2005. (G. Eberhards, 2006, data from Latvian Environmental, Geology and Meteorological Agency)

If critical water level (1,7-1,9m) will be reached Daugava islands and Spilve meadows in the west north part of Riga City will be flooded. If there an accident in Riga Hydropower station might occur, the water level will rise in 1,5 -10 hours. It is calculated that water level will reach from 1,1m up to 2,6 m above the average at the area that are located 1 km south from Daugavgriva (data by SIA Naftas servis, 2004). In such situation the islands of Daugava River and lower parts of river coast will be flooded.

Figure 5: Impacts of winter storm January 2005 in Riga City: flooded park in central part of the city . Photo: Ivars Kruze

winter storm January 2005 in Riga City
Figure 6: Impacts of winter storm January 2005 in Riga City: flooded lower parts of Daugava River coasts. Photo: Maris Dambergs

The most damaging changes (wind and wave erosion) are associated with storms, when the wind speed in the coastal belt can exceed 20-25 m/s and the water level can rise by more than 1m above the mean level.
In 1709 it reached 4,68 m above the mean water level in Riga. This data is recorded historic maximum water level in Latvia. In 19th century rivers were regulated and deepened, dams and dykes were built. Since then such high water level rises are not observed in Latvia.
In 1969 with the strong storm and the wind speed of 40 m/s the water level reached 2,29 m. In the winter storm in 2005 respectively wind speed was 30 m/s and water level reached 2,13m. In the Strategic Impact Assessment of the draft Riga Spatial Plan 2005-2006 experts mention that strong winds are causing coastal erosion. It is strengthen by the impact of leisure walking along the sea coast.
By the intensive coastal erosion the movement of sand is increasing, particularly that can be observed in the coastal meadows, forests and settlements. Particularly vulnerable is historical fishermen settlement Vecaki, now the part of Riga City in the north east. Vecaki inhabitants in the past have been struggling with the movement of sand (planting of protective pine forest on the dunes in 19th century by the community) and with the future increase of coastal erosion this area of Riga City might be under the cover of sand again, if no precautionary measures will be taken.

Figure 7: Results of the coastline monitoring: coastal erosion, (Eberhards et al, 2006)

The risk of coastal erosion in the future is expected and it will be widespread in Latvia shoreline. It is changing with the coast sections where accumulation is occurring and almost equally observed both along the open Baltic Sea coast (69% of its coast length) and along the Gulf of Riga (66% of its coast length).
Land use planning and comprehensive building regulations in Latvia has a long history embedded in German, Swedish and Russian traditions. Riga City Planning office has about 125 year's history. The present democratic and integrated spatial planning system is established by the governmental regulations since 1994 and the Spatial Development Planning Law since 1998 (in 2002 it was replaced by the Spatial Planning Law and Regional Development Law). Spatial planning is considered to be an important instrument for environmental and risk and safety protection, particularly precautionary measures, as well as for local community and stakeholders' involvement in the decision-making process. Local municipalities have major role in this process, as they utilize spatial planning instruments to regulate and promote development as far as their functions allow and they are ones issuing permits for constructions, land use transformations and various economic activities. This is done in the framework provided by the laws and national regulations and the regulations of the higher level spatial plans prepared by the national government, planning regions and district (rayon) municipalities. Particular role of the spatial planning preparation process are devoted to the coordination of the various sectoral interests as there are foreseen the process of consultation with the statutory consultees represented by the state institutions and organizations as well the owners of infrastructure and providers of crucial services including private ones.
Spatial plans are approved by the councils of regional and local municipalities and planning regions. The national government has the right to veto the plans and to send back for improvements if the laws and policies of the higher level spatial plans are violated. This power is delegated to the minister responsible for regional development and local affairs. The national spatial planning is foreseen by the Spatial Planning Law but until now almost none of the prepared draft spatial development guidelines are adopted. The spatial planning system in Latvia is under development, and is continually being improved and adopted to the new needs. Guidelines for the climate change adaptation policies are not included in the statutory planning regulations. Although often climate change adaptation is one of the requirements issued by the Ministry of the Environment and its regional authorities to be included in the tasks of the spatial plan's preparation and used as the ministerial request for the municipal and regional plans to be approved.

Figure 8: Excerpt from the Riga Spatial Plan of 2006 showing the mouth of the River Daugava and the shelter belts: the Riga Bay sea and River Daugava coasts are covered by the zoning (striped blue in colour) of coastal protection shelter belt that are at the minimum 150 m inland up to including areas in the flood plain and beach and dune areas (Data Riga City Development Department)

Strategic Impact Assessment of Riga Spatial Plan (2005) underlines the Guiding Principles for Sustainable Spatial Development of the European Continent (Council of Europe, 2000) that calls for restricting the development in ecologically sensitive and flooded areas. The environment report gives negative evaluation to municipality's proposals to develop potentially flooded areas in Riga City.

Figure 9: Sea level rise map for the Riga city coastal zone (data provided by the ASTRA project and Riga City, prepared by A.Locmanis, 2007)

To reduce climate change risks and to support development of the adaptation strategies at national level and at Riga City's municipality level the following activities have been implemented within the ASTRA project:

Description of project partner:

Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences of the University of Latvia is founded in 1944. At present faculty covers three study lines - geography, geology and environmental science. The total number of students is750, staff of the faculty, including research personnel is 75; total number of research papers per year are approx. 140. Staff of the faculty participates not only in around 30 national and many EU as well as USA funded projects, but also in applied projects. The Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences is one of the main institutions in Latvia dealing with studies of long-term changes of climate and its variability. It has also experience on spatial and natural resources studies. The studies are carried out by Department of Geography and Department of Environmental Science focussing on climate change impact to inland water ecosystems and coastal processes at the Baltic Sea and Riga Gulf. The Faculty is closely cooperating with the Institute of Biology, the Institute of Aquatic Ecology and other research institutions as well as with Ministry of Environment and the Northern Vidzeme Biosphere Reserve.

Faculty of Geography and Earth Sciences (left)
and Faculty staff during a meeting (right)


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