The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow is in full swing and the expectations of scientists and the general public are high that after setting numerous goals, the necessary actions will finally follow. However, discussions and negotiations are not only taking place in Glasgow, but also in locations far away from Scotland. In Switzerland, for example, the University of Geneva is providing the “Geneva Cryosphere Hub” for the duration of the conference, forming a bridge from Switzerland to the Cryosphere Pavilion in Glasgow with (online) events open to the public.
Yesterday, after the launch of the Geneva Cryosphere Hub, the first panel discussion was held on “A world without ice – How can scientists contribute to enhancing climate ambition, in Switzerland and beyond?”. We followed the event online.
With stakeholders in Glasgow and Geneva, as well as others connected online, this side event focused on how to raise the level of ambition on climate action to achieve concrete results during the conference. They discussed what new science is needed to improve climate policy in Switzerland and beyond, and the role of scientists in public debates, policy-making processes, and collective action.
The President of the Swiss Confederation, Guy Parmelin, opened the event from Glasgow with words of warning and also praised the great commitment of scientists regarding climate change and its impact on the cryosphere – the cold zones of the Earth such as the glaciers in the Swiss Alps, the Himalayas, the Arctic and Antarctica. Swiss scientists were also involved in the first “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
In the course of the event, which was enriched by several short presentations by scientists and led into a discussion round, it became very clear that the effects of climate change will not only be devastating in regions of the world that are far away for us, but also directly on our doorstep. The flood disaster in Western Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria and also Switzerland in July this year already conveyed this in a tragically impressive way.
Professor Jean-Marc Triscone, Vice Rector of the University of Geneva, reminded the audience that “Switzerland will not remain a protected island,” adding, “Switzerland will suffer the full consequences of this disruption with rapid melting of alpine glaciers and causing changes in availability of water resources. At the same time it demonstrates the need to act everywhere and at all levels to decarbonize our societies and preserve the capacity of our planet to host life.”
In their short presentations, the scientists once again made clear what they have been warning about for months and years. For example, Professor Sonia Seneviratne, a climate researcher at ETH Zurich, pointed out that:
- there will be more frequent extreme weather events worldwide, such as heat, droughts, heavy rainfall and tropical storms, which will be more severe than in the past;
- these events will occur in all inhabited regions;
- each region will also experience the combination of different events;
- the risk of such extremes is much higher with a warming of 2°C than with a warming of 1.5°C;
- we are not safe even with a warming of 1.5°C, but this is the best option we have.
Samuel Jaccard, a professor at the University of Lausanne, added that limiting global warming to 1.5°C will keep us from crossing tipping points, hopefully.
In the mountains in Switzerland and worldwide, temperatures are rising at a similar rate as in the Arctic, causing not only the retreat of glaciers but also the thawing of the permafrost in the high mountains, as Matthias Huss, professor at ETH Zurich and WSL Birmensdorf, clearly described in his presentation. If the ice in the bedrock is missing as cement, mountain slopes lose their stability and tumble down into the valley with destructive force, which is also no longer a future scenario. And if the mountains, as the water towers of the earth, lose their glaciers, not only is there simply no more ice, but in the future there will also be no more water for the people in the valley. Prof. Huss described the glaciers as “ambassadors of climate change” because they visualize the changes.
In the subsequent panel discussion, Professor Markus Stoffel of the University of Geneva tied in with the water issue and asked the question, “Who gets the water when it becomes scarce? Is it used for energy supply, do households or agriculture get it, or is it used for winter tourism to make snow?”
Prof. Stoffel, Ambassador Stefan Estermann, Head of the Prosperity and Sustainability Division at the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Elena Manaenkova, Deputy Secretary General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), and Dr. Sebastian König, Senior Scientist and IPCC Focal Point of Switzerland at the Federal Office for the Environment, concluded in the roundtable that even more data is needed to improve predictions. For example, the network of measuring stations needs to become more dense in order to be able to forecast the effects of climate change on a smaller scale.
Prof. Stoffel made it clear that scientists need to repeat their new findings to policymakers over and over again to make sure the message gets through. Any policy decision affecting the world’s climate should be based on science, Dr. Manaenkova said. Dr. König added that how the narratives are formulated by scientists plays a major role.
From the political side, of course, there are several aspects to consider. Ambassador Estermann said in his closing remarks, “Any solution has to be environmentally sustainable but also economically sustainable and socially bearable. You need to take the people along and you need to take the weakest along.”
Julia Hager, PolarJournal
Link to the Geneva Cryosphere Hub (English and French): https://www.gecryohub.ch