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Knowing how to shape the climate

Jul 13, 2012 / CIPRA Internationale Alpenschutzkommission
Climate protection is possible. It's just that lots of people don't know how to go about it. CIPRA is demonstrating how we can protect the climate and save money at the same time. The whole idea is being trialled in two pilot regions in the Alps
Image caption:
Cycling for the climate: Bolzano is focussing on sustainable mobility and renovating buildings. © Heinz Heiss
"Dealing with climate change costs a fortune," says Helmuth Moroder, grinning as if he were not particularly intimidated by that fact. And yet, what he's saying is quite outrageous. Who in their right mind could even imagine being able to influence the climate? And yet this slender man of medium height, in his checked jacket and glasses, doesn't act like a megalomaniac. Considering he is Bolzano's head administrator, his office is small.
One of the main reasons Moroder was appointed in early 2011 was that he wanted to "change the climate", and he was able to demonstrate to the municipal council that, by spending money on climate change mitigation, it could save even more money. He initiated a historic vote in which, in a rare show of unanimity, all 50 municipal councillors voted in favour of legislation on the "energy-saving renovation of buildings".
Moroder is a big fan of statistics. "This one here is the one that swayed the council," he says, opening a window on his computer. The figures show that over the next twenty years Bolzano can cut its energy costs by EUR 160 m by renovating the town's buildings and developing its local public transport. Of course, Moroder knows full well that in order to achieve such savings a great deal has to be invested first. The walls of houses all over Bolzano need to be insulated; double-glazed windows fitted; tram lines built; and cycle lanes laid out. The advantage is that local tradesmen will all benefit from these construction measures and, after twenty years, all the costs will have been amortised. "Better to invest the money in climate change mitigation than watch it disappear up the chimney."
Whether or not Moroder's energy plan works out depends of course on whether the owners of the buildings in question are willing to make the investments needed for the renovations. Here, too, the municipal council has taken steps. What it boils down to, in a nutshell, is that the legislation will allow building owners in Bolzano to add one extra storey to their properties, providing the energy figures add up. An attractive offer, given how extremely densely populated Bolzano is in a location closely surrounded by mountains. By selling the extra storey, owners will be able to finance the building renovations.
If the plan succeeds, in twenty years' time no building in Bolzano will use more than 50 kilowatt-hours per square metre and year, not even the older buildings, which currently average 200 kilowatt-hours. Every inhabitant will then emit a mere two tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, compared with ten tonnes at present. Extrapolated to a town of 100,000 inhabitants, that is a considerable contribution to "changing the climate". If the same proportion of CO2 were to be reduced worldwide, global climate objectives could be achieved and the average global increase in temperature could be limited to two degrees.
But even in the Alpine region, at least beyond Italy's borders, hardly anyone has heard of the Bolzano initiative. And yet it could so well inspire other municipalities. Together with the other mitigation projects seeking an answer to climate change in the Alpine region. That is why, in July 2011, CIPRA initiated the Alpstar project with a dozen partner organisations. Over the next two years Alpstar will document best practice projects in an online database, promote exchanges between pilot regions through field trips and further education complete with learning materials, and draw up an action plan with the partners in each pilot region.
The guiding vision will be to make "the Alps carbon-neutral by 2050", i.e. a balanced CO2 footprint. On the way to realising that vision the benchmark will be set increasingly higher. Once the experiences gained from examples of best practice among the pilot projects have been documented for individual sectors such as transport or energy generation, they will be used as a benchmark for the Alpine region as a whole.
The need for action on climate change mitigation is all too apparent. Over the past 100 years temperatures in the Alpine region have risen almost twice as much as the global average, i.e. around two degrees Celsius. In the sensitive alpine eco-system the impact of global warming can now be observed in melting glaciers and animal and plant species that are dying out. That impact is set to increase dramatically.

A transport turnaround
Schaan, Liechtenstein. 4.30 pm. A No. 70 bus is pulling up at the stop on Bendererstrasse, right in front of the headquarters of the dental technology company Ivoclar Vivadent. It's the change of shift, and a cluster of employees are waiting to board the commuter bus. Its schedule is geared to the working hours of the businesses on the industrial estate. The Principality's companies attract workers from all over the region, with around half coming from across the borders in Austria or Switzerland. That is why Alpstar has defined the three-border region as a pilot region for its "commuter traffic" agenda.
Viktoria Müller, 20, is an accountant at Ivoclar and has a 20-minute commute every day from Feldkirch across the Austrian-Liechtenstein border to Schaan and back. In the past she would have had to change at Postplatz in Schaan and waste a lot of time. "Without the No. 70 bus I would take the car," she says. The Vorarlberg Transport Authority set up its commuter buses to entice motorists like Viktoria Müller. The launch of the buses was preceded by intensive research. Gerhard Kräutler of the Vorarlberg Transport Authority recalls the procedure: "We visited the companies, studied the times at which the shifts change and how long it takes employees to get changed and make their way to the bus stop."
So a "wind of change" is now blowing through Vorarlberg. In this federal province, acceptance for initiatives such as these is high. New transport concepts and sustainable forms of economic activity are being trialled everywhere, even by private companies. Early in the morning in front of the 30 m high glass façade of the Haberkorn trading company a dozen or so employees are pulling up on their company bicycles, provided by the company itself. After arriving by train at the railway station, they cycle to work, cutting the travelling time from a ten-minute walk to a two-minute cycle. The company also provides season tickets. As a result many employees now leave their cars at home.
"By taking the train and using the company bicycle, I have cut the mileage on my car by 10,000 kilometres a year," says Helmut Wetschko. He is Head of Logistics and lives in the town of Klaus some 22 km away. What's even more important to him than any ecological number crunching is quality of life: "Taking the train gives me plenty of time to read." He is currently reading Afghanistan: Where God Only Comes to Weep, which every morning and every evening whisks him away on a half-hour journey to Central Asia.
In a bright seminar room at the Vorarlberg Energy Institute a dozen key players representing local transport authorities, administrations, transport associations and foundations are meeting to address the issue of transport strategies in Vorarlberg, Liechtenstein and the Canton of St. Gallen. They are seeking to draw up a single transport and communication strategy throughout the three-border region from the multitude of individual initiatives such as commuter buses and company bicycles. The workshop has been organised by CIPRA together with the Vorarlberg Energy Institute. CIPRA itself has been commissioned by Liechtenstein and St. Gallen to carry out the mobility campaign in those regions while the Energy Institute is to do the same in Vorarlberg. During the course of the project Alpstar partners from other pilot regions will come to Vorarlberg to take a look on site at the results of the campaign, and vice versa.
Wolfgang Pfefferkorn sums up the group's objective as follows: "Ultimately we want to bring about a change in people's mobility patterns." Wolfgang Pfefferkorn, Alpstar project manager at CIPRA, is fully aware that a goal as ambitious as this one requires an unconventional approach. His partner Martin Reis of the Energy Institute concurs: "People have to see that there is a benefit in changing their attitude. In the long-term the attitude change defines a social norm, for instance the fact that cycling becomes part of the lifestyle rather than being scorned as a means for poor people to get about."
The participants juggle ideas and experiences: Perhaps commuters would like to have WiFi access? That way they could follow the news or check their emails on their laptop on the way to work. High-quality bicycles and electric cars might appeal to people because of their aesthetic design. The group defines a geographical triangle for which a mobility strategy is to be drawn up. Buchs in Switzerland, Feldkirch in Austria and Schaan in Liechtenstein make up that triangle's three corners.

The benchmark
The Alpstar database containing examples of best practice is not limited to the pilot regions alone. For example: listed under the heading of Energy and Citizens' Participation is the district of Goms in the Canton of Valais, which has successfully positioned itself as the "Swiss Alps' first energy region" and is also working together with CIPRA as part of an EU leader project. In the 13 municipalities with around 5,000 inhabitants it has established beacon projects such as a fleet of electric cars for tourists, photovoltaic installations on avalanche barriers, wood-chip heating systems and wind power plants. Each project avoids having to buy in energy produced outside the Goms district and promotes the activity of local manufacturers and tradesmen when it comes to installing and servicing the plants. And while household expenditure goes down, the revenues of local companies go up.
Alpstar is collecting and evaluating current examples of best practice across the Alps. Its ambition is that, by 2050, what is exemplary today will have become the minimum acceptable standard throughout the Alpine region.
In Bolzano head administrator Helmuth Moroder has seen how an ambitious vision can gain traction and generate its own momentum. "Achieving a carbon-neutral status by 2030 was an objective we formulated in our candidature for Alpine Town of the Year 2009," says Moroder. "When we were actually awarded the title, we had to do something. So we drew up the energy plan," recalls Helmuth Moroder, who was a Green municipal councillor at the time.
He is now keen to see what sort of dynamics Alpstar will generate. He knows just how tough times are: "For the first time in decades people are now economically worse off than the generations before them." Good, pragmatic ideas are in demand. But judging by his smile, it would seem he is not overly concerned by the challenges ahead.

Tilman Wörtz (text) and Heinz Heiss (photos), Zeitenspiegel Reportagen

Alpstar: contributing towards a carbon-neutral Alpine region
13 partners from the Alpine region, including the Alpine Town of the Year Association and the Vorarlberg-Liechtenstein-St. Gallen pilot region, are working together to find effective ways of reducing CO2 emissions throughout the Alpine region. Through AlpStar, CIPRA aims to work together with project partners to help implement the climate action plan drawn up by the Alpine Convention, which CIPRA itself initiated. The project is scheduled to run from July 2011 to March 2014 and has been endowed with a budget totalling EUR 2.8 m, with the EU contributing EUR 1.9 m. -