Following this week’s compromise Lima Climate Change agreement, which basically keeps the global initiative on track with governments promising to bring forward their commitments until next year’s pivotal Paris conference, the question now is whether this will finally mean real action. It’s taken a long time for politicians and select business interests to acknowledge that climate change is indeed happening and that the human race is largely responsible, regardless whether we live in Chicago, Beijing or Zermatt.
While some scientists maintain that it may already be too late with the ice caps and glaciers melting, plus ocean surges sweeping across low-lying islands and coastal areas, others argue that there is still time to implement mitigating measures. But only just.
This means no longer putting off until tomorrow what has to be done today. As pointed out in Lima, governments must urgently adopt more drastic measures to reduce carbon emissions, whether stepping up cleaner, alternative energy sources, obliging industry to cut back on their pollution, or developing more accessible public transport systems and bike lanes, particularly in cities, to reduce vehicle use.
Here in Switzerland, as with the rest of Europe and North America, we have experienced the warmest year in history, or at least since 1880 when records first began and if December continues to be remain warm. This has resulted in even more rapid declines of this country’s Alpine glaciers. While conditions may not necessarily affect this winter’s mountain skiing – the irony is that snow conditions may even improve – climate change will have an increasingly tangible impact on weather conditions, such as increased rain or drier summers, leading up to the end of this century.
Meteo Suisse, the Swiss weather service, offers an interesting site developed with Zurich’s Federal Polytechnic (ETH), showing the kind of change that has already occurred during the 19th and 20th centuries, and what we can expect in the years to come. (See more information)
Even if only hypothetical, based on current and future greenhouse emissions, what is certain is that the temperature will continue to rise in all parts of the country and in all seasons. While this may benefit certain aspects of Switzerland’s economy, such as wine production, it could produce havoc elsewhere.
According to the site, all indications suggest that Swiss climatic conditions will undergo significant, even extreme changes resulting in hotter summers and more droughts. There will be far greater uncertainty with regard to precipitation, such as periods of sudden heavy rains. The mountains, too, can expect to see more rain rather than snow provoking increased flooding, particularly in long-lying areas and plains. Further detrimental weather conditions, such as more hail and hurricanes, will also occur threatening devastation for fruit farming and other forms of agriculture.
When compared to 1980-2009 recorded figures, Swiss Meteo offers several scenarios. The first suggests that with only limited mitigation, average Swiss temperatures can be expected to rise between 2.7 and 4.1 degrees centigrade by 2100. In turn, summer precipitation will drop by up to one quarter. A second scenario points to an even more aggravated situation provoked by even less mitigation with less rain and higher temperature rises of up to 4.8 degrees. With effective mitigation measures, however, the warming will only lead to a rise of between 1.2 to 1.8 degrees coupled with a less than 10 percent drop in precipitation.
Climate change is clearly already affecting our lives, so we need to be better prepared – and informed. This is one thing that the Swiss newspaper Freiburger Nachrichten is seeking to do. As part of a new programme to persuade young people to read newspapers, and thus better understand what is happening in the world, it is working with Fribourg schools to provide 15 high school classes free subscriptions for an entire year. The idea is not only to cultivate new readership but also to broaden world perspectives of young people.
The experiment, which on the editorial side, includes offering stories more relevant to their generation, has been received positively by students. According to Martin Steinmann, a local teacher, reading a newspaper offers them a chance to access information that they would not normally obtain by relying solely on the internet. This form of experiment has been introduced in France and suggests that the ailing newspaper industry needs to work more closely – and imaginatively – with schools if it wishes to develop new readers and retain a viable future for itself.
Edward Girardet, Managing editor. firstname.lastname@example.org