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The Ice Pearl Under Threat: Chamonix and the Climate Change

As mountainous regions are the most affected by the climate change, the city of Chamonix worldwide known as a touristic winter destination at the base foot of the French Mont Blanc is under risk. The melting of the mountains ice may lead the city to an environmental and economic collapse which pushes local authority to find solutions and try to avoid the worst-case scenario.

Tourist Magnet Mont Blanc

Millions of visitors visit the Alps region between the borders of Switzerland, Italy and France every year. The French Official Tourism Website informs that Mont Blanc is the third most visited natural sight in the world, the highest peak in Europe and became globally famous after hosting the first Winter Olympic Games in 1924.

After the games, the Mont-Blanc region became known for its winter sports facilities. Chamonix receives millions of tourists, selling 6 million hotel nights a year, almost 50 times more than its population. The numbers show the important role of tourism in the economy and explain why local authorities are locally fighting climate change.

Climate Change in Mountainous Regions

Despite the important tourism economy, the region is facing a major challenge: climate change. According to NASA (United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the temperature on Earth has increased 1.8°F since 1880. This may not seem a lot, but it actually is. Comparing the average temperatures of the ice age and now we see that the difference is between only 5 and 9 degrees, showing that small differences in temperature can completely transform life on Earth.

An official report on Mountains and climate change suggests that global warming has not been felt in the same intensity around the world. The temperature changes affect some regions more than others: “future temperature increases are expected to be stronger over land than over the ocean, stronger at high latitudes than in the tropics and, in the tropics, stronger at high altitudes than near the ground”, which means that “For certain mountain regions, for instance the tropical Andes, this could accelerate the melting of glaciers and reduce water supplies in the long term.”. According to Irene Alvarez, expert on climate change in mountainous regions, the rise of temperature in the Alps is leading to a new set of problems: the warmth is changing entire ecosystems dynamics, altering the quantity of ice in mountains’ peaks and the landscapes completely, becoming more grey and green instead of white. In the long term, this may lead to the extinction of flora and fauna species and transform the landscape of the region.

Chamonix at the Center of the Problem

As the city is dependent upon the tourism economy, the municipality of Chamonix developed a set of public policies towards sustainability. Public transportation, housing, energy production and consumption are the main areas covered. One important measure is the provision of free public transportation, that already counts 2 million users per year, avoiding locals and tourists to use cars and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. The municipality is also implementing solar panels for heating and reducing the use of materials such as wood in civil construction. Hydropower facilities are being installed and the production of power with waste is being considered. In addition, awareness campaigns are being implemented. Targeting visitors and students, they explain the fragility of mountains and the necessity to care about the environment.

The municipalities of the region are further trying to include the Mont-Blanc valley and alpinism as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list. This could bring more visibility to mountainous regions, especially the Mont-Blanc, improving the protection and conservation levels of the mountain.

Partnerships: one viable solution

The process of scaling down international agendas to the local level means that actors need to join forces. Academia is important for collecting and measuring the data needed for the creation of efficient public policies. Local government formulates policies to address the challenges. And the private sector is fundamental to the implementation of the policies in partnership with the municipalities.

The consequences to climate change in the Mont-Blanc valley is an interesting case to be studied under the approach of scaling the UN 2030 Agenda, focused on the sustainable development goals. The various public policies already implemented may show how seriously the issue has been treated. It may also show how inclined those actors are to work along to address the problems.

Climate change in Mont-Blanc valley is a menace to the entire economic and social system. It is, thus, important that civil society in all levels, enterprises and the municipalities unite and work together to avoid the deepen of the consequences. The region is already dealing with serious challenges related to climate change and its innovations should be replicated to other regions around the globe. This could result in different environmental outcomes, if not completely positive, at least less negative forecasts to areas under the climate change menace.

 

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Marcelo Gomes

Graduado em Relações Internacionais com atuação em comércio exterior e pesquisa de consultoria. Mestrando do programa de Inovação, Desenvolvimento Humano e Sustentabilidade da Universidade de Genebra, na Suíça, focado em projetos de inovação e de sustentabilidade. Experiência em organização de eventos, relações públicas e relações governamentais. Proatividade, liderança e foco em resultados são algumas de minhas características profissionais mais evidentes.

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