Challenge Climate Change
Experts are convinced that the changes in the climate will have serious effects in various areas on Swiss water supply and water management.
The August 29, 2008 conference of Academia Engelberg in Grafenort, Canton of Obwalden, addressed the impact of climate change and the required measures for water management, agriculture, forestry, and for tourism.
Experts like Prof. Wolfgang Kinzelbach, ETH Zurich; Bruno Schädler, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (BAFU); Dr. Walter Hauenstein, Swiss Water Management Association; Ulrich Bundi, Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology (EAWAG); Franz Steinegger, Swiss Tourism Association; and others pointed out the urgent need for action.
The conference is a follow-up event of Academia Engelberg Foundation’s 7th Dialogue on Science on the subject of water.
Professor Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern and Co-Chair of the Working Group Science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
“Climate change affects not only the temperature, but the temperature changes every variable in our climate system.“
He is convinced that the changes in water are more important and have a much greater impact. Moreover, adapting is becoming increasingly expensive and difficult. As an example, he cited the fact that in 2008, both the Northwest and the Northeast Passages of the Antarctic are ice-free and navigable for the first time.
He demanded a faster and more consistent implementation of measures. “What sounds like a corset and restriction offers great potential for economic development and innovation, for instance in the construction and energy sectors.”
Climate change means change. Wolfgang Kinzelbach of ETH Zurich named the relevant numbers.
“By 2050, the temperature increase in Switzerland will amount to a projected two degrees. We have to expect more precipitation in winter (+10%) and less precipitation in summer (-15%). As a result of the warming, there will be less snow.“
Professor Kinzelbach sees the positive consequences of this in the lower demand for heating energy, the ability to raise crop production, and that the leisure industry will benefit in the summer.
The panel of experts agreed that it is not possible to make blanket statements about Switzerland with its diverse topography.
Dr. Bruno Schädler of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment was convinced that the impact of the floods in the Alpine region is different from the ‘Mittelland‘ region (central plateau).
Dr. Walter Hauenstein of the Swiss Water Management Association pointed to another problem with the complex topography.
“Increased inclusion of hydro-power for climate protection would be desirable but has its limitations with respect to expansion potential and is hampered by the environmental conflict of interest.“
Ulrich Bundi, former Director of the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dübendorf predicted that Switzerland as Europe’s water reservoir is facing a paradigm shift in the environmental field.
“It used to be a question of protecting the water resources. Today, sustainability is paramount (ecologically, economically, socially). With urban development, rising economic use, idealistic use, and climate change, the pressure on water management is increasing even more.”
“We lack cross-sectoral approaches and the question must be asked whether the system is efficient.”
In terms of a vision for water management in 2030, he recommends securing the use of water for all, protecting against flood risks, preserving the ecological functions of water bodies and, consequently, their recreational function.
Dr. Kurt W. Rüegg, Lucerne Power Company (ewl), is convinced that the Swiss can meet water supply needs in spite of climate change.
“Local adaptation strategies are needed and the supply of water must be systematically based on multiple sources and cross-linked.”
“It is important to us that drinking water is the priority in terms of resource conflict. In agriculture, the adaptation of products and irrigation technology is paramount.”
Professor Peter Rieder of ETH Zurich discussed the consequences of climate change and the opportunities for agriculture.
The winners of climate change are located in the northern hemisphere, the losers in the southern hemisphere.
For Switzerland, this means longer growing periods at higher elevations and, in part, fewer health hazards.
Conversely, incidents of heavy precipitation will increase, the risk of erosion is greater, and agriculture is faced with new pests.
“In tourism, the impact of climate change is most visible, for example, in the retreat of the glaciers. But also, rising energy costs, for example for flights and cable cars, will play a major role in the future,“ explained Franz Steinegger, President of the Swiss Tourism Association.
“In terms of snow guarantee with the rise in temperature, however, Switzerland is still well positioned. Our ski areas, in contrast to those in Austria and Germany, are at relatively high altitudes.“
He warned against trivializing the effects of climate change but also said that “you can’t call an end to the world every month”.
Peter Lienert, Head Forester for the Canton of Obwalden, pointed out one ‘positive‘ effect of climate change.
“Storms ‘Lothar‘ and ‘Vivian‘ created advantages for the forest management structure. The rejuvenation and innovations in the forestry sector would not have come about without these storms.“
“Although a lot of capital was lost, we are better off today. Now it is important to adapt the silvicultural objectives to climate change to prevent the forest as an important supplier of CO2 from losing its protective function against avalanches and falling rock.”
Donators and Partners
The ETH Board is responsible for the strategic leadership of the ETH domain and assumes the supervision of its institutions. Its close relationship with the ETH Council has contributed to the successful continuation of Academia Engelberg Foundation since 2000.
The Foundation promotes research into the connecting human fundamentals of science. Academia Engelberg Foundation and the Foundation for Basic Research in Human Sciences have entered into a cooperation agreement for the period 2011 to 2015.
Helvetia is a quality-oriented comprehensive insurance company with over 150 years of experience. Academia Engelberg Foundation is convinced it will be able to use important synergies from the partnership starting in 2015.
A partnership with the University of Lucerne has existed since summer 2013. Since 2016 we have also a parthership with the Faculty of Economics and Management of the University of Lucerne. Through these partnerships, synergies are used and joint projects are tested and realized. The University of Lucerne currently consists of three faculties: the faculties for Theology, Culture and Social Sciences, and Law.