Climate Change Adaptation: The Experience of Ukrainian Cities

UNDP Ukraine
7 min readNov 5, 2020

It has been very hot at the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources in the autumn of 2020, but not only because of the abnormally warm weather. In October, the Ministry finished accepting applications from those wishing to participate in the development of a framework National Adaptation Strategy until 2030. Assistance in the working group coordination and, in fact, in writing the strategy itself, will be provided by the EU/UNDP EU4Climate project — this will make it possible to include the best international practices and the EU’s experience in climate adaptation planning.

Photo: Pixabay

Two approaches will be important for writing the Strategy. These are to take into account the vulnerabilities and needs of various sectors of the economy — energy, agriculture, construction, etc. — as well as the vulnerability and needs of the cities, because the Strategy will need to be implemented mainly by cities. The cities’ practical experience in implementing measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change will thus be an integral part of the Adaptation Strategy implementation, and serve as an example for other cities.

The majority of cities in Ukraine have begun their journey towards climate change adaption and mitigation through signing the Covenant of Mayors — an initiative of the European Commission aimed at jointly counteracting climate change. Covenant signatory cities have undertaken to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by the end of 2020. The story below describes the way Ukrainian cities are achieving this goal.

Experience of Zhytomyr

To achieve its climate goal, Zhytomyr developed a 10-year sustainable energy development plan. In essence, it was necessary to determine how the city itself will be able to meet the obligations it assumes. When the plan was prepared, it showed that its implementation would cost about EUR 104 million. That amount is impracticable, given the city’s development budget is a mere UAH 70 million (about EUR 2 million). Nevertheless, the city decided to try and launch the process.

We started moving. When we did, it turned out that when you know where you’re going, opportunities appear, as well as people who are ready to help you in that, and money to implement the plan,” says Tetyana Zyatikova, Head of Department of Infrastructure Projects, Energy Efficiency and Promotions of the Zhytomyr City Council.

At first, they undertook small-scale projects, such as heat insulation in kindergartens and schools. These were followed by larger ones when money from international funds began to come to the city. That expanded opportunities, but at the same time threw up new challenges. For example, one of the requirements of the Swiss partner-donor was to introduce the European Energy Award — a system for city energy policy management that the city successfully obtained.

Photo:Olha Salipa

In Ukraine, only Vinnytsia had that experience. They are the first city that was certified and implemented that management system. Apart from Vinnytsia, we had nobody to ask how it all works, so we consulted with them,” says Zyatikova.

To receive the Award, Zhytomyr developed a Municipal Energy Plan and started its implementation. The results will be summed up at the end of 2020, but the city has won a silver European Energy Award already.

Eight years ago, two people worked on energy efficiency in Zhytomyr. Now an entire Department handles that matter, engaging others. Zyatikova believes that in a big city “a whole army of people” must be engaged in energy efficiency and climate change adaptation:

“We need both to work ourselves and to engage the Oblast Administration, other cities, journalists, schools and universities. So we set up an inter-agency group that meets every Friday for open discussions. Everyone can attend, offer an idea or join a current activity.”

At present, the Department works on a new Sustainable Energy and Climate Development Action Plan. For that purpose, a risk analysis was carried out by a wide range of specialists. The Head of the Department says:

“Talking to the Heads of Departments is not enough. We tried to assess these climate risks for the city by talking to people who work in the city, those who are involved in water supply and various environmental issues, have experience and understand the matters of climate and environmental protection.”

Zhytomyr residents suspected that water would be a big problem for the city, as the city draws its water from a single river, which is now very shallow. Zyatikova says that this became very clear when there was no winter snow and there was a period without rain — when it started raining, the river did not fill. Other evidence included the disappearance of water in wells at the city outskirts and the nearby villages. It just disappeared.

The dynamics of climate change and natural disasters were also studied at the meteorological station. For example, strong winds, heavy rain, and thick black ice are typical for Zhytomyr.

“We study those risks to correctly describe and characterize them. We are currently working on a Sustainable Energy and Climate Development Action Plan, which, in addition to energy, will include climate measures, risk assessment, and adaptation measures,” Zyatikova says.

In December 2019, the city began developing climate change adaptation measures, and it is currently preparing a document that assesses the city’s adaptation to climate change.

“We are currently working on strategic documents that will help the city to adapt to climate change, and reduce its negative impact on the climate, as human economic activity is one of the biggest factors that cause climate change. That is why we need to take into account the opinion of experts from various subject areas related to this topic,” Zyatikova says in summary.

Photo: Olha Salipa

Experience of Khmelnytsky

Khmelnytsky expects that by the end of 2020 the conditions of the Covenant of Mayors will be met and the amount of CO2 emissions in the city will be reduced by 20 percent. That is 210,000 tons, half of which is produced by the Khmelnytsky landfill for solid waste.

An investor was attracted to help solve the problem, and degassing of the landfill was launched. How Is it done? At the landfill, the gas produced by the garbage is pumped out and channelled to installations that, in their turn, convert it into “green” electricity.

“This enabled us to reduce CO2 emissions by almost 100,000 tons. So we have a very clear example of positive changes because our landfill is located in the city, directly affecting our climate,” said Natalia Plekanets, Head of the Energy Management Department at the Khmelnytsky City Council.

The city is not stopping there, and now plans to build a waste processing plant near the landfill. Khmelnytsky will become the second city in Ukraine after Lviv to take steps towards that goal. They plan to switch from burying waste to recycling, with only 10 percent of waste ending up at the landfill.

“We needed an alternative to the landfill. That is how the idea of a waste processing complex emerged,” says Plekanets.

To build the complex, the city has bought land plots near the landfill. A plan to obtain a loan from the EBRD (European Bank for Reconstruction and Development) was agreed, and the project’s implementation will start in 2022. Meanwhile, the issue of waste sorting in the city is being resolved. By the end of this summer, containers for separate waste collection were installed at all waste collection sites in Khmelnytsky. They are already present in all schools to teach children to sort from an early age.

Photo: Olha Salipa

The City Council established an Energy Management Centre. Every city resident can get a free consultation at the Centre. On what issues? Plekanets explains:

“Any decrease in energy use leads to a reduction in harmful emissions into the atmosphere. They tell how to use energy wisely and how to reduce energy consumption, and accordingly — adapt to climate change”.

At the request of an apartment building residents, the City Council can conduct free thermal imaging to identify problem areas and suggest solutions. At the same time, a co-financing program functions, which made it possible to complete thermal insulation in 15 high-rise buildings over three years.

“I have been working in this area for ten years now, and I will say that when I started, nobody wanted to deal with energy efficiency. But then we became participants in a heat supply project and received investor support. That was how it all started.

The support from abroad helps with constant learning and keeping abreast of new approaches. When we improve our professional level, we can implement changes in the city without fear, knowing what to do and how. And we see that they are beginning to get pretty good results,” Plekanets says.

Photo: Olha Salipa

Examples of such good results include energy management in all budget-financed institutions. They are almost 300 facilities where energy managers conduct daily monitoring of energy consumption:

“We develop consumption standards and monitor them. If there are overspends, we analyse them, finding the reason. We offer energy efficiency and energy-saving measures to improve the situation in the institution. That smoothly running process helps us reduce the burden on the city budget,” Plekanets says.


The EU4Climate initiative is funded by the European Union and implemented by the United Nations Development Programme. It supports countries in implementing the Paris Climate Agreement and improving climate policies and legislation. Its ambition is to limit the effects of climate and make citizens more resilient to them. It will assist the EaP countries to integrate the low-emissions and climate resilience objectives into development policies and plans, to improve and consolidate climate policies and legislative alignment.

Author: Yuliya Hudoshnyk. Edited by: Euan Macdonald, Viktoriia Yashkina, Yulia Samus, UNDP



UNDP Ukraine

UNDP’s mission in Ukraine is to support the country’s resilience in the face of war and to promote a fully inclusive, digital and sustainable recovery.