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Climate change: why the Alps are particularly affected

Oct 01, 2012
Temperatures in the Alps have risen by just under 2°C over the past 120 years, almost twice as much as the global average. And they are set to rise even more. Researchers are predicting a further 2°C increase over the next forty years. At first glance that might not appear particularly dramatic. But all it takes is a change of a few degrees to significantly affect the climate.

In the Alps it is the glaciers which provide the clearest evidence of the changes wrought by global warming. In recent decades many Alpine glaciers have shrunk to half their earlier size, and by the end of the century all the glaciers of the Alps, with a few exceptions, may well have melted away. The consequences are rock falls, landslides and more mudslides. Global warming is further accentuated by what is referred to as the feedback effect: like a mirror, glaciers reflect solar energy. If the surface area of the mirror is reduced, the amount of reflection also decreases and the sun heats up the planet even more. There are other reasons why the Alps are particularly impacted by climate change: the warming effect is more pronounced over land masses than over water. This phenomenon is particularly observable in the northern hemisphere, the location of most of the Earth’s landmass – including the Alps.

But the Alps are not just a casualty; they are also one of the contributing factors to climate problems. The facts researched by CIPRA as part of the cc.alps project show that mankind plays a key role. The Alps consume around 10% more energy per capita than the European average. Private households are among the biggest energy guzzlers, with heating accounting for by far the biggest share. And since most of the buildings in the Alps are in need of renovation, one of the keys to mitigation of climate change is the construction industry.
Tourism and transport are two other problem areas for the climate in the Alps. With over 93%, motorised road traffic bears the main responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions caused by traffic in the Alps. The motor car is used for 84% of holiday travel to the Alps. This is an area where there is an urgent need for innovative ideas and solutions; after all, the Alps are one of the most important holiday regions in Europe, and many livelihoods depend on the tourism industry.

These are just a few facts that show that it is high time for a re-think in the Alps. Climate change is one of the century’s biggest challenges. For the natural environment, the people who live there, and trade and industry in the Alps, it is a cause of dramatic developments. But we need to think a step further and ensure that our responses to climate change are ecologically compatible. This is where CIPRA comes into play with its cc.alps project Climate change: thinking one step further. CIPRA is taking a closer look at climate response measures in the Alps and underlining the measures that can contribute effectively to a reduction in global warming and climate change mitigation while complying with the principle of sustainability.