Climate early warning system launched

The western town of Lyss and surrounding farmland was hit by flooding in August Keystone Archive

The authorities have unveiled a complex monitoring tool that will enable Switzerland to better assess the impact climate change is having on the country.

This content was published on September 15, 2007 - 21:01

The new system uses a wide-ranging series of indicators detailing "subtle and often irreversible changes" to the environment over the past few decades.

In a statement released on Friday, the Federal Environment Office said the unique monitoring tool includes 50 indicators.

These focus on the increase of greenhouse gas emissions, the corresponding change to average annual temperatures and precipitation since the 1950s, and the impact this is having on the environment, society and economy.

Some of the data highlight seemingly minor occurrences such as the early blooming of cherry trees alongside more dramatic events like the melting of glaciers.

But the office says the diverse indicators help to illustrate the complexity of climate change and the interdependency of climate, nature and society.

"The ski industry is deploying snow cannon to combat unreliable snowfall while more [farmers] in the lowlands are applying for subsidies so they can install irrigation systems," the statement said.

A final section makes recommendations on how to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change or at least adapt to them.

Hazard zones

It says for instance communities should complete the mapping of hazard zones – areas considered vulnerable to flooding, landslides or rock falls.

And if forests are to play a role as a natural line of defence against extreme weather events than they should consist of mixed, indigenous hardwoods because they are more resistant than monoculture stands of coniferous trees.

The indicators also point out that more has to be done if Switzerland is to meet its goal of reducing CO2 emissions by 10 per cent from 1990 levels by 2010.

Emission levels have stabilised thanks to voluntary efforts by industry and reductions in the agriculture sector, the Environment Office said, but this has been offset by an increase in road traffic and rise in the size of the population.

The aim is to introduce a "powerful and efficient monitoring system", said Markus Nauser of the office's climate unit. Climate change tendencies have been observed but they have to be statistically recorded in order for proper deductions to be made, Nauser added.

The Environment Office admitted that the system was still incomplete but that new indicators would continue to be added.

swissinfo with agencies

Climate indicators

The indicators listed in the monitoring system are based on a collection of data, surveys and statistics as well as the evaluation of mitigation measures.

The climate unit of the Federal Environment Office used as sources:

- Its own statistics on greenhouse gas emissions, and studies on the impact of rising temperatures on Switzerland's rivers and lakes.

- The national weather service, MeteoSwiss, and the Global Climate Observing System Switzerland (GCOS) for its studies on climate change in Switzerland and the impact on vegetation.

- The Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research for the impact of climate change on the natural environment and statistics concerning natural disasters and forest development.

- The Federal Energy Office for its studies on the effectiveness of mitigation measures.

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