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The Alps as a climate laboratory

The retreat of the glaciers clearly shows climate change in the Alps. © Michael Gams, CIPRA International

Without climate protection measures the average temperature in the Alps will increase by up to 4.5 degrees by 2050. New initiatives give rise to hope, with the latest United Nations climate report drawing further attention to the topic.

What happens when the Earth becomes 1.5 degrees warmer than in pre-industrial times? The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) answers this question in its latest report. In the Alps, however, the temperature has already risen by two degrees, as confirmed by Reto Knutti, Professor at the Institute for Atmospheric and Climate Science of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH), Zurich, and co-author of two reports produced by the IPCC. «In the latest scenarios for Switzerland we assume warming of 2.5 to 4.5 degrees by mid-century. These are of course major changes.» The effects will be wide-ranging: 90% of the Alpine glaciers will disappear, with consequences for the outflows. While this will not lead to drinking water shortages, «if summer temperatures and precipitation changes maintain this course, as the scenarios show, we will no longer be able to continue irrigating as we wish». Low-lying winter sports resorts are also at risk: «In fact it has to be admitted that everything under an altitude of 1,500 metres is economically unsustainable in the long term». There is also an increased chance of rock falls and landslides owing to the permafrost thawing.

Climate protection initiatives

The melting of the glaciers is one of the clearest signs of climate change. The Glacier Initiative was therefore established in Switzerland in the summer of 2018. The aim is to collect declarations of support for a people's initiative in order to anchor the requirements of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, such as the phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050, in the Swiss Federal Constitution. The list of supporters is long and goes well beyond the archetypal environmental scene. Computer science engineer Daniel Germann, from Rickenbach near Wil, is one of them: «Global warming is the biggest problem facing humankind. The answer is clear and simple: stop burning fossil fuels.» Unfortunately, politicians prioritise the economy over people and nature and are incapable of adopting this measure themselves. «The glacier initiative is urgently needed.»

The Austrian politician Helga Krismer is meanwhile gathering votes for a petition for a climate referendum. The «Alpine Climate Board» of the Alpine Convention too is working on shared climate goals for all Alpine countries, while a joint conference of the network formed by the «Alliance in the Alps», the «Alpine Town of the Year» and CIPRA International, to be held on 7-8 November 2018 in Innsbruck, will also be addressing climate visions. The event marks the starting signal for an Alpine partnership of local climate actions.

 

Sources and further information:

www.de-ipcc.de/256.php (de), www.alpconv.org/en/organization/groups/AlpineClimateBoard, www.klimaschutz-schweiz.ch/ (de, fr), www.klimavolksbegehren.at (de),  www.iac.ethz.ch/people/knuttir