Switzerland

Switzerland HAS a long-standing tradition of environmental awareness and protection and has been active in bringing the debate on climatic change to the forefront of international environmental affairs. Switzerland was a strong supporter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change from its inception in 1988 and an important negotiator for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, leading inter alia to the Kyoto Protocol. Climate research is high on the agenda of Swiss academia, with recognized expertise in paleoclimate reconstructions, climate modeling, and impacts studies. In 1987, the Swiss Academy of Science set up a unique scientific platform at the interface of science and policy (ProClim, the Swiss Forum on Climate and Global Change) to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to decision makers and to the media.

The keen awareness of Switzerland to climatic change is the result of many climate-driven changes in the Alpine environment already being perceptible, such as the retreat of mountain glaciers. The climate of Switzerland is rendered complex by the interactions between the Alpine topography and atmospheric flows and the competing influences of a number of contrasting climate regimes that converge into the region (the Mediterranean, continental, Atlantic, and polar systems). Temperatures have risen by up to 3.6 degrees F (2 degrees C) in many parts of Switzerland since 1900—well above the global average 20th-century warming of about 1.3 degrees F (0.7 degrees C).

Future climatic change in the Alps will be a complex aggregate of decadal- to century-scale forcing factors related to the North Atlantic Oscillation, the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, and the anthropogenic greenhouse effect. Regional climate models suggest that by 2100, Swiss winters will warm by 5.5-9 degrees F (3-5 degrees C) and summers by 1112.5 degrees F (6-7 degrees C); in parallel, precipitation is projected to increase in winter and to sharply decrease in summer. Strong heat waves similar to the 2003 European event are likely to become the norm by 2100, and both drought and intense precipitation are projected to increasingly affect the country.

The effects of climatic change on Switzerland will change the natural environment and economic activities. Alpine glaciers may lose between 50-90 percent of their current volume, and the average snow line will rise by 492 ft. (150 m.) for each degree of warming. Hydrological systems will respond in quantity and seasonality to changing precipitation patterns and to the timing of snowmelt in the Alps, with a greater flood potential in spring and drought potential in summer and fall. More extreme events will trigger frequent slope instabilities, and at high elevations, melting permafrost will compound these problems. The distribution of natural vegetation will change as plants seek new habitats with similar climatic conditions to those of today. A rapidly warming climate will result in a loss of mountain biodiversity, as not all species are capable of adapting to change. The direct and indirect effects of a warming climate will affect important economic sectors such as winter tourism, hydropower, agriculture, and the insurance industry, which will be confronted with more frequent natural disasters. Climate-related health risks (allergies, pollution) are expected to increase, with consequent economic effects resulting from prolonged morbidity and absenteeism.

SEE ALSo: Climate Change, Effects; Drought; Floods; Kyoto Protocol.

BIBLIogRAPHY. Martin Beniston, Climatic Change and Impacts: A Focus on Switzerland (Kluwer Academic/ Springer, 2004); Carla Riccarda S. Soliva, et. al., Greenhouse Gases and Animal Agriculture: An Update: Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Greenhouse Gases and Animal Agriculture, Held in Zurich, Switzerland between 20 and 24 September 2005 (Elsevier, 2006).

Martin Beniston University of Geneva, Switzerland

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