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Swiss issue key climate report

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A government panel has issued a set of findings and recommendations on how to minimise the impact of climate change.

This content was published on March 14, 2007 - 13:54

The report released on Wednesday by the Advisory Body on Climate Change (OcCC) details the effects rising temperatures will have on ecology, agriculture, health, tourism, water supply and infrastructure in Switzerland by 2050.

OcCC president Kathy Riklin told journalists that the consequences were manageable, but a series of adaptations had to be made.

"What's new is that we are now able to quantify changes to the climate," Christophe Frei, a researcher at MeteoSwiss, told swissinfo.

The long-awaited report predicts that output of mountain hydroelectricity plants (60 per cent of total domestic power generation) could decrease by around seven per cent, since they will have to rely more on rainwater and less on melted snow.

The findings and recommendations contained in the "Switzerland in 2050" report are based on an expected temperature rise of two degrees Celsius in autumn, winter and spring, and three degrees in summer, compared with 1990.

Their recommendations are also based on forecasts of an increase of precipitation in winter by ten per cent and decrease in summer by 20 per cent.

The report says Switzerland can expect more frequent extreme weather patterns, resulting in floods and mudslides in winter and spring, and summer heatwaves.

In winter, mid-range mountain regions will receive more rain than snow, whereas those areas above 2,000 metres will get heavier snowfalls, affecting the tourist industry.

Nuclear power

But overall, available water resources will dwindle. As glaciers slowly melt away, around 75 per cent of water from glaciers is expected to disappear by 2050. This will lead to tough competition for water resources among industry, the eco-system, consumers and regions.

"Given the expected competition over limited water during hot summers, there have to be rules over the sharing of water resources and integrated planning," said Bruno Schädler from the Federal Environment Office.

Less water will also affect nuclear power plants (38 per cent of total domestic power generation), which rely on water from Swiss rivers to cool the reactors and may have to reduce output.

At the same time the authors expect renewable energies, especially those from wood and wind, to grow to around ten per cent of Switzerland's total energy supply.

The temperature changes will lead to a shift in demand for electricity – less in winter and more in summer, in particular for air conditioning. Buildings and homes will have to be adapted to become more energy-efficient, providing better ventilation and protection from the sun.

Heatwaves

Heatwaves and higher ozone concentrations will take a toll on people's health, with more heat-related illnesses and deaths, and the spread of tropical diseases. The Swiss economy will also have to adapt working conditions and hours to cope with higher temperatures in summer.

The Swiss tourism industry will be particularly affected by climate changes. Hotter summers are likely to attract more holidaymakers to the mountains and lake regions, while low-lying ski resorts are expected to disappear as the snow line rises. High-altitude resorts will benefit, but will also have to cope with a mounting pressure for holiday homes.

If water supplies remain sufficient, agriculture should benefit from a small increase in temperature as longer vegetation periods result in greater harvests. But farmers will have to deal with the spread of weeds, pests and extreme weather conditions.

Over the long term, animal species in Switzerland will change to adapt to the global warming. Flora and fauna will increasingly resemble those from more southerly regions. Species more sensitive to the changes in temperature will move into higher areas and others, which are less mobile, will reduce in numbers or die out.

The report also concludes that rising temperatures, a greater frequency of storms and larger fluctuations in precipitation will have a significant impact on the insurance business. In the event of more frequent, severe natural disasters, it says that insurance premiums must be increased or the coverage narrowed, and preventive measures taken.

Land use planning and building standards, in particular in mountainous regions, must be adapted according to the severity and frequency of events.

swissinfo

In brief

The Advisory Body on Climate Change (OcCC) was appointed in 1996. Its role is to formulate recommendations on questions regarding climate and global change for politicians and the Swiss government.

It issued its last report in 2002.

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Recent climate change initiatives

In the latest IPCC report issued at the beginning of February, scientists said it was "very likely" - or more than 90% probable - that global warming was man-made. The report predicts a "best estimate" that temperatures would rise by between 1.8-4°C in the 21st century, within a likely range from 1.1-6.4°C. The study projects a rise in sea levels of between 28-43cm in the 21st century.

On February 21 the Swiss cabinet presented its new energy policy that focuses on energy efficiency, renewable sources and large gas-fired power plants as well as nuclear power.

On March 8 European Union leaders backed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 compared to 1990 levels. EU leaders also agreed to increase renewable energy use by 20% and set a 10% minimum target on biofuels use in transport.

Four days later, Swiss environmental groups and centre-left political parties launched a proposal aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 30% by 2020. At present Switzerland has pledged a 10% reduction in CO2 levels by 2010.

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