Even with a warming of less than 1.5°C, we will be confronted with consequences of the climate crisis. We propose measures on how we can face these consequences.
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Some abbreviations are used in this chapter. You can find explanations of all abbreviations in the glossary.
We need to adapt to the changing climate. We have to do it as mitigation measures are not sufficiently effective to contain global warming to acceptable levels. Adaptation needs to be re-thought in the process and integrated in the climate action plan. Especially because adaptation will define the level of impact and risks we will sense in Switzerland and elsewhere.
Within the climate change adaptation research community there is a growing tendency to discuss adaptation using the language of transformation, reflecting a sense that the current status quo will not secure a sustainable future, especially in light of the lack of sufficient progress to mitigate the causes of anthropogenic climate change (Barrott et al. 2015).
The concept of transformative adaptation offers hope that as a society we are capable of ‘big change’ in a world that increasingly demands reinvention and innovation in response to a myriad of interconnected pressures, thresholds and boundaries. However, these terms may also threaten our sense of stability; a steady change from business as usual may be far more palatable than change which may require us to question what we value and the way we live (Barrott et al. 2015).
The interconnections between players in any given system are complex, and poorly designed attempts. Changes can have negative unintended consequences or introduce new failures or inequalities. This means to inquire into a system of interest, to understand the history of that system (e.g. around sources of control, legitimacy and knowledge) and challenge the assumptions that underpin existing structures and ways of doing things. Reproducing ‘solutions’ without assessing what holds the current system in place may result in simply reinforcing existing failures and inequalities. By developing a more detailed sense of the system as it currently exists, we can design interventions and feedback mechanisms that enable us to learn how ideas for system improvements are put into practice (Barrott et al. 2015). Our Vision is that Adaptation measures enable us to build resilience, while seeing the bigger picture and interconnections of future problems. This can only be reached if people living in Switzerland know about future scenarios and the government, the cantons and organizations work together to protect working areas, vulnerable places and vulnerable people.
Adaptation is a complex and multi-dimensional process which involves many actors and is often very local. On one hand we are concerned by a common belief that Switzerland is in the privileged situation of not having to adapt to climate change to protect itself from storm surges, floods, droughts, heat waves and forest fires like in other countries. On the other hand, the entire Swiss population felt the strong storms and the changing climate in February 2020 and in recent summers of extreme heat.
There are some larger risks where even experts are not sure yet how the outcome of these risks will be. A study released by the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications examined the risks to the country’s infrastructure as a result of the climate crisis. An increase in the number of heatwaves, rockfalls and landslides will cause more damage to rails and roads (FOEN 2019c).
Rising temperatures will require investments in the reconstruction of roads that can withstand heat. Damage caused by low temperatures will decrease. In the rail sector, extreme temperatures and storms will require a reduction in train speed, which could result in expensive delays. Higher temperatures, irregular rainfall and drier summers are already reducing the output of nuclear and hydroelectric power plants. The authors of the report above estimate that by 2050, the energy sector will lose hundreds of millions of CHF in revenue. Damage to roads and railways caused by global heating, and the consequences for hydro- and nuclear power plants, can cost up to CHF 1 billion per year (FOEN 2019c). However, the authors acknowledged that there are considerable gaps in knowledge and that these forecasts must be treated with caution.
Mountain regions will probably face large problems with water management in agriculture and winter tourism. Multi water reservoirs for artificial snowmaking, agriculture and hydroelectric power plants could not be filled anymore by melting snow.
Climate change is a reality to which Switzerland, like other countries, must adjust. Even with success in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, the climate will continue to change over the coming decades. Therefore, it will be necessary to adjust to new conditions and deepen research on unclarities with regards to certain risks!
With this in mind, the Federal Council has developed a strategy and an action plan in order to adapt to climate change. The aim is that authorities, businesses and the public take up this challenge together.
2019 a pilot program started with a total of 50 projects running in all parts of Switzerland, under the overall responsibility of the Federal Office for the Environment. In six sectors there are several promising projects.
Increase in Heat Stress
Current climate scenarios are not only based on an increase in average temperatures. Maximum temperatures will increase even more dramatically, in particular during summer in urban areas. High temperatures and more frequent heat events have far-reaching consequences for humans, ecosystems and the environment. Critical situations occur in particular during more intense heat waves, as these place a strain on the population and can be life-threatening for elderly and sick people, people in need of care, and also small children and pregnant women. Hence, there is a need to develop strategies to face those problems.
Serrières on the Way to New Freshness
Because of its topography and altitude, the area around Neuchâtel can already be considered to be a heat island, a problem typical for cities. This is also valid for the industrial quarter of Serrières which now receives additional attention thanks to this project. The project is trying to locally implement the strategy of the Federal Council for adaptation to climate change. We chose to present this project, because beside concrete measures, they try to include the local population. The aim of the project is to put especially vulnerable people, i.e. children and old people, in the center, as they will be the main group who will suffer because of increasing heat periods. With attractive measures, this project also tries to encourage people to influence public space. Testing new living forms should strengthen social bounds and the support between neighborhood residents, meaning that they are better prepared for extreme weather phenomena. The industry quartier of Serrières should become a research and application area for testing different solutions to limit heat storage through alternative surface covering and more grassing. Furthermore the project wants to include the research and integration of passive air-conditioning options through architecture, pergolas, shading, sprinkling etc. and natural cooling methods as “free cooling” through the river Serrière (NCCS 2019).
Increase in Summer Drought
With an increase in temperatures, water reservoirs that are currently bound as snow and glacial ice are disappearing. At the same time, longer rain-free periods can be expected. This development is contrasted by a sharp increase in water demand on hot days. Although our country has large reservoirs, water can become scarce in local regions in summer. These changes have an impact on ecosystems and all water users and competitive situations can arise. This mainly concerns agriculture, which is dependent on a sufficient supply of water.
Water Management: Watering in Mountain Regions
In Val de Bagnes there is still enough water. In times where there is no rainfall, meltwater can cover the requirements. But this situation is expected to change. The aim of this project is to estimate requirements and the availability of water for different users until the year of 2100. We chose to present this project because it focuses on “large risks” in mountain regions and tries to research benefits and risks of multipurpose water storage, i.e. for artificial snowmaking, drinking water, agriculture etc. in mountain regions. The project can contribute to making the necessary changes in the supply network for this area (NCCS 2019).
Increase in Flood Risk, Decrease in Slope Stability and more Landslides
Climate change causes more frequent and more severe floods in Switzerland. Moreover, in the Alps, melting glaciers and thawing permafrost compromise the stability of the ground. This results in more landslides, rockfalls, rockslides and debris flows. In medium and low altitudes, heavy rainfall and retreating snowlines increase the danger of erosion and flow slides. This among other things endangers settlements, transport routes, infrastructure and agricultural land.
Natural Hazards: Dangers Resulting from Thawing Rock Faces
Permafrost soils do not only stabilize the ground but also a lot of rock faces on steep mountain slopes. Especially in the canton of Wallis where people tend to live close to steep mountain slopes, rock rushes and landslides pose a potential danger. We chose to present this project because it illustrates how vulnerable many mountain regions in Switzerland are and how urgent the need for adaptation is. The aim of this project is to create a risk map which can be used for risk management and danger prevention. In order to this the rock faces will be assigned in risk categories depending on their damage potential (settlements, touristic infrastructure, traffic lines etc.) Another aim of the project is to show possible economic and environmental chances from future developments (NCCS 2019).
Changes to Habitats, Species Composition, and the Landscape
The changes in temperature and rainfall affects the habitats of animal and plant species. This results in local changes in species composition. These changes are likely to have a negative impact on ecosystem services (e.g. soil fertility, protection from erosion, carbon storage), at least in the beginning. Positive effects are only to be expected in the long term, if at all. The changes mainly concern forestry and agriculture, where they create new conditions for cultivation and production.
Protected Areas in Times of Climate Change
Protected areas restrict the land use of specific areas, thus enabling threatened species to survive in the intensively used landscape. But protected areas for nature and landscape will change as well as a consequence of climate change. The abundance of species and their habitats will change. The question will come up if today’s protected areas will still contribute to preserving biological diversity from specific species. A project in the canton of Graubünden tries to research if and how biodiversity can be maintained in a changing climate. We chose this project because there is not much research in the field, even on the international level. Generally, big parks are a good solution because different habitats remain connected. But for the comparatively small protected areas in Switzerland there are no known concepts yet that consider climate change (NCCS 2019).
Spreading Invasive Species and Diseases
Climate change promotes the spread of invasive species. These can cause extensive damage in agriculture and forestry. Furthermore, the health of humans and animals can also be endangered by the arrival and spread of new pathogens and disease vectors.
Spreading from Forest Pests
The number and distribution of pest organisms on forest trees are rising in Switzerland. On one hand new species are arriving and on the other hand indigenous species are getting more aggressive. There are several reasons for that: the barrier effect of the alps is decreasing. Global trade and the mobility of people is still increasing, bringing more species into Switzerland. Furthermore, many trees will get more susceptible to pests because of a changing climate and the direct influences of human activity.
This project aims to research more deeply when climatic thresholds will be crossed for specific species and where dispersion areas for forest pests are. Through better prognosis, future risks could be recognized earlier, and treatment options could be created. We chose to present this project because forestry is an important sector in adaptation (erosion control, protection forests, natural cooling) but as well in mitigation (negative emissions). So it’s important to get informed about how forests can change in the future and what trees should be chosen to ensure the well-being of forest ecosystems (NCCS 2019).
Raising Awareness, Information and Coordination
The people affected need to be informed about the consequences of climate change in order to adapt in a targeted way. Many municipalities, regions and cantons are only starting to develop possible solutions and create networks. The necessary knowledge is often dispersed and does not specifically target the groups concerned. Adaptation to climate change will only succeed if all players collaborate across technical and organizational borders.
Raising Awareness: Exchange Between Cantons and Municipalities
This project aims to consider a concept for larger exchange and coordination between cantons and municipalities which are involved in the pilot program of the federal council. This should promote knowledge transfer and exchange of experiences between the cantons. We chose to present this project because it tries to enable cantons to announce their adaptation strategy on a local level and include local actors in the process (NCCS 2019).
Swiss climate adaptation policy must account for individuals and sectors most disadvantaged by climate change. In addition to the project of the Federal Office for the Environment we focus our policies on certain vulnerable groups and regions that will suffer earlier from climate change and have limited adaptive capacities. It is the aim that people, who are negatively impacted by the changes first, do not have to bear adaptation costs themselves.
Policy 12.1: Focus on Prevention, Build Resilience and Invest in the Health System
Policy 12.2: Sustainable Alternatives for Tourism
Policy 12.3: Legal Framework to Support Climate Refugees
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