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Executive Summary

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.

Current Situation

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).

Policy Measures

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


The overall health effects of a changing climate are likely to be overwhelmingly negative. Pollution does not only affect the climate but also social and environmental determinants of health – clean air and drinking water, sufficient food and secure shelter. The impact of climate change on health is various and ranges from extreme heat, natural disasters over changes in rainfall patterns and infection patterns to mental health issues because of extreme weather events such as anxiety or depression.

Extreme heat waves can cause heat stress and heat strokes. High temperatures raise levels of ozone which exacerbates cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Aeroallergen levels of e.g. pollen are higher in extreme heat, which can trigger asthma (WHO 2018). Already today household air pollution causes 790 000 premature deaths in continental Europe, corresponding to more than 9000 premature deaths in Switzerland (Lelieveld et al. 2018).
Natural disasters mainly force people living in the global south to move houses. However, in mountain regions in Switzerland it is also possible that extreme weather events such as strong storms or fires cause physical injury. Floods contaminate freshwater supplies, heighten the risk of water-borne diseases, and create breeding grounds for disease-carrying insects such as mosquitoes. Floods also cause drownings and physical injuries, damage homes and disrupt the supply of medical and health services (IPCC 2018). With a warming climate it is more likely that tiger mosquitos will increasingly settle down in Ticino, which would consequently lead to more vector-borne diseases (FOPH 2018).

The whole population will be affected by climate change, but some communities are more vulnerable than others. People living in bigger cities or mountain regions are particularly vulnerable. Children are among the most vulnerable to the resulting health risks because they will be exposed longer to the health consequences. Parallel to the corona crisis the health effects are also expected to be more severe for elderly people and people with pre-existing medical conditions (WHO 2018). Furthermore, little research exists with regard to the short- and long-term impacts of climate change on mental health disorders (e.g. depression and anxiety), and the associated financial costs. Climate change affects mental health in a variety of direct, indirect, and overarching pathways—disproportionately affecting those most marginalized (Hayes et al. 2018).

The lack of awareness in society is alarming with regards to the health risks caused by climate change. The population needs to know what issues are likely to come up and who is most endangered. Some may be able to withstand heat better than others, but health is a state of physical and mental well-being, rather than the mere absence of illness. To maintain this well-being a holistic approach to health care will become more important than ever in a changing climate. This entails informing the population about climate related health risks, focusing on prevention, deepening research on how to build resilience to climate change and policies that secure a sustainable work environment for health-workers and qualitative caregivers.

The adaptation strategy should focus both on primary prevention i.e. reduction of exposure to infection and upcoming disease as well as on secondary prevention i.e. health care with regards to infectious diseases.
Many policies such as building resilient infrastructure for extreme weather events, creating enough green cooling places in cities, monitoring vector-borne diseases are vital to protect a population affected by increasing health risks. One example for resilient infrastructure is the use of gray-water for watering green spaces such as parks. This ensures they do not dry out and lose their cooling effect even in times when water is scarce (ISOE 2020). Future changes in the local climate must always be incorporated into the planning of cities and their infrastructure. Additionally, following the example of Serrières, it is essential to include the local population in the process.

Furthermore, there are synergies between climate change mitigation and adaptation. By building clean energy systems and promoting safe public transportation and active movement – such as cycling or walking as alternatives to using private motorized vehicles – carbon emissions and the burden of household air pollution would be reduced. These alternatives to private motorized vehicles would encourage physical exercise and thus significantly benefit public health. These synergies are win-win situations. However, warning the population about times it is not advisable to do physical exercise outdoors, e.g. during a heat wave, is essential to a holistic adaptation policy.

We demand the enhancement of epidemiological surveillance targeted at specific territories. This is necessary because of the expected expansion of endemic infections and their subsequent emergence in new areas. This would be guided by information from climatic scenarios downscaled to specific regions and their implications in relation to disease cycles.

Meteorological services are highly relevant for the development of early warning systems to protect the population from the impacts of extreme weather events. These systems would guide interventions to increase the resilience of communities affected by disasters and reduce their exposure to infection.

A general approach to adaptation that can have health benefits is the enhancement of social capital. This involves the organization of a network of resources and the strengthening of social linkages that can help to reduce vulnerability and increase community resilience. Assessments have pointed to the advantages of social capital for adaptation (Ebi and Semenza 2008) but the barriers for its development have not been fully assessed (Huang et al. 2011). Research has shown that belonging to a social network can have a protective effect against heat-related illness (Naughton et al. 2002) and population groups that are excluded from access to resources and decision making, i.e. groups with low levels of social capital, in the adaptation process are in turn more vulnerable communities (Cutter and Boruff, n.d.) A concrete example for the building of social capital is the project in Serrièrre from the BAFU. Something like this could prove to be especially significant for senior citizens. It’s our aim that there will be more research on how to build resilience to climate change.

Maintaining a strong health care sector, i.e. avoiding excessive austerity measures, is essential to combating negative health effects from climate change. Care jobs have the potential to be green jobs. Caretaking as it is practiced for example in hospitals or retirement houses requires fewer resources and CO2 emissions tend to be lower compared to sectors involved in the production or distribution of goods. A green job refers to any occupation that is part of the sustainability workforce: a job that contributes to preserving or enhancing the well-being, culture, and governance of both current and future generations, as well as regenerating the natural resources and ecosystems upon which they rely. These green job occupations stand in contrast to work in industries that result in the degradation of ecological systems and the social, cultural, and political institutions that support them. Additionally, it’s important to have more funding for research concerning the relationship of climate change and mental health in order to address these issues properly in the future.

The policies should be put in place as soon as possible to prevent as much damage to the health of the population as possible. Following the Covid19 crisis on one hand, there might be a strong movement from health workers demanding more funding, on the other hand more awareness for the importance of health staff among the population. Thus, it would be a good time to prepare the health system for future climate change related challenges.


All these policies would have a long-term positive impact for public health and living conditions in Switzerland.

Social Compatibility

The population would be informed better by the monitoring systems and would be provided tools to build resilience for themselves and their communities.

Questions and Uncertainties

  • How much will this transformation cost in the end? And how much will it cost if we miss to do this transformation?
  • What concrete measures other than the enhancement of social capital can build resilience to climate caused health issues?

Policy 12.2: Sustainable Alternatives for Tourism

Demanding that subsidies go towards ski resorts developing sustainable long-term alternatives for tourism without artificial snowmaking and mass tourism.


In the Alps the glaciers provide the clearest evidence of the changes brought because of global warming. In recent decades many Alpine glaciers have shrunk to half their earlier size (Bundesamt für Umwelt (2019). The consequences are rock falls, landslides and more mudslides. Global warming is further accentuated by what is referred to as the feedback effect: like a mirror, glaciers reflect solar energy. If the surface area of the mirror is reduced, the amount of reflection also decreases, and the sun heats up the planet even more. There are other reasons why the Alps are particularly impacted by climate change: the warming effect is more pronounced over land masses than over water. This phenomenon is particularly observable in the northern hemisphere, the location of most of the Earth’s landmass – including the Alps.
The Alps are not just a victim, but also a contributing factor to climate change. Alpine regions consume around 10% more energy per capita than the European average (CIPRA 2012). Since most of the buildings in the Alps are in need of renovation, one of the keys to mitigating climate change lies in the construction industry and proper renovation (CIPRA 2012).

Tourism and transport are two other problematic areas for the climate in the Alps. Accounting for over 93% of traffic, motorized road traffic bears a key responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions caused in the Alps. The motor car is used for 84% of holiday travels to the Alps. This is an area where there is an urgent need for innovative ideas and solutions; after all, the Alps are one of the most important holiday region in Europe, and many livelihoods depend on the tourism industry (CIPRA 2012).
Since 1864 the temperature in Switzerland has already risen by 1,8 degrees, roughly twice as much as the global average (Akademien der Wissenschaften Schweiz 2016). The CH2018 report comes to similar numbers. In conclusion there are already some, but in the future many more ski regions will be unable to continue offering their current version of winter tourism without artificial snowmaking.

Snowmaking machines consume very high amounts of water and energy, thus have high financial costs and also impact alpine ecosystems by i.a. changing the chemical composition of the soil (Casagrande et al. 2019). They do not solve the problem, but only delay the effects of climate change. The water required for snowmaking could be used for agriculture, households or hydroelectric power plants instead. Competition over water has already begun to emerge in some mountain areas of Switzerland and will certainly increase in the future. Not only is artificial snowmaking environmentally unsustainable, it will not be economically sustainable as secure snow regions decrease and thus costs of snowmaking increase.

A possibility would be to invest in year-round activities that are not dependent on snow such as mountain biking or hiking trails. As public concern for environmental protection increases, programs that care for nature, plant trees, protect biodiversity or holiday camps where participants can help in sustainable alpine agriculture might become more attractive. The goal of any policy should be to include everyone disadvantaged by climate change, to be creative and innovative and encourage ski regions to prepare for the future. Therefore, it is necessary that subsidies that go to ski resorts aim at developing sustainable and long-term alternatives for tourism without artificial snowmaking.

In addition, no further subsidies will be given to short-term business models in ski regions that fail to take environmental sustainability into account. Money, which is provided, should primarily be used to help ski regions diversify their offerings towards whole year solutions to make them more resilient to temperature rises. This can be achieved through measurements, which really evaluate the social and environmental impact of a project.


No additional money is needed. It just has to be used more effectively and under stronger measurements. The Federal Parliament pledged to give CHF 30 million (SECO, 2012) for the years 2020-2023 to Innotour.


This policy would save many ski regions from future financial difficulties due to a decrease in snowfall and water scarcity issues due to a subsequent increase in snowmaking. Additionally, it would facilitate the transition towards sustainable tourism in the Swiss alps. Furthermore, it would protect alpine ecosystems from the various negative impacts of artificial snowmaking infrastructure and reduce energy consumption.

Social Compatibility

For working people in the sector of winter-tourism the ProGJ (see chapter Economic and political structure) needs to find suitable alternatives.

Policy 12.3: Legal Framework to Support Climate Refugees


Climate change already has a significant effect on migration and this effect is expected to dramatically increase in the future. The impacts of climate change are numerous. Limited natural resources, such as drinking water, are likely to become even scarcer in many parts of the world. Crops and livestock struggle to survive in the most affected areas. Places where conditions become too hot and dry, or too cold and wet, threaten livelihoods and exacerbate food insecurity (UNHCR n.d.). Due to multiple factors such as thermal expansion and melting ice sheets, the sea level is expected to rise substantially and displace millions living in coastal areas (Bamber et al. 2019). Furthermore, Stanford researchers suggest that intensifying climate change will increase the risk of armed conflict (Mach et al. 2019).

Despite efforts to adapt to the changing environment, individuals around the world are being displaced by the effects of climate change and thus forced to relocate in order to survive. New displacement patterns and competition over depleted natural resources can spark conflict between communities or compound pre-existing vulnerabilities (UNHCR n.d.).
According to the UNHCR report, people who are displaced across borders in the context of climate change and disasters may in some circumstances be in need of international protection. The refugee law therefore has an important role to play in this area. UNHCR is providing protection and assistance for many people displaced by the effects of climate change and disasters, among other drivers, and is working to increase their resilience. Legal advice, guidance and the development of norms to support the enhanced protection of the rights of people displaced in the context of climate change related disasters is therefore needed.
Policymakers have to elaborate the definition “people displaced in the context of disasters and climate change” in the future because it will have severe consequences on which people get help and which do not. To give an idea, this definition could include all people who were forced to leave their homes because of direct natural disasters or economic consequences because of climate change that made it impossible to stay. Furthermore, the definition could also include all refugees who are displaced already and cannot protect themself from natural disasters, heat waves, air pollution, fires etc.


There is no big need for additional financing.


This policy would have a direct impact on all people considered a person displaced in the context of disasters and climate change. They would be protected and supported by Switzerland with legal advice, guidance and the development of norms.

Social Compatibility

Since there would be more people in Switzerland it could offer a positive chance for diversity and immigrants could bring their knowledge to Switzerland. However, society reacting with hostility towards new people is thinkable too, as happened in 2016 with the refugee movement from Syria. On the other hand, Switzerland’s low birthrate is expected to further decrease, like in many industrial countries (FSO n.d.) People displaced in the context of disasters and climate change could help make up for laborers in sectors where there might be lack of personal.

Questions and Uncertainties

  • What exactly constitutes “persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change”? Climate change is one of many intersecting factors that have an impact on migration. We acknowledge the complexity and multicausality of migration and highlight the need for more research in this area.
  • Furthermore, targeting assistance to “persons displaced in the context of disasters and climate change” would ignore those who were displaced by natural disasters that were not climate change related – such as earthquakes in Haiti or Sichuan – as well as those who were left behind. It would also ignore the needs of many other displaced peoples who flee state collapse, such as in Afghanistan and Iraq, but are not covered by the refugee convention. How should Switzerland address this unequal treatment?
  • Furthermore, research should also focus on reducing the environmental impact of refugee settlements and ensuring sustainable responses to displacement.