The Swiss postal system, in collaboration with California-based drone delivery company Matternet, announced this week that they’re testing a new package delivery service that uses drones as couriers.
The Swiss postal system, in collaboration with California-based drone delivery company Matternet, announced this week that they’re testing a new package delivery service that uses drones as couriers.
Living in a city often means being cut off from the source of one’s food – unless you’re lucky enough to have a garden.
But there are other ways to grow your own fruit and vegetables, even in the confines of a tiny flat. A new book, Edible Cities, celebrates the urban individuals who have embraced growing their own – be it through a balcony garden, or more unconventional means.
Many of them are adherents to the idea of ‘permaculture’ – sustainable agricultural practices that are based on nature’s own processes.
In this extract from Edible Cities, three individuals from different parts of the world explain how they have brought nature into their homes.
Vienna: an inside garden
Tomatoes climbing a window
Where there is light, there can be veg. This domestic project in the heart of Vienna shows how this can be made true even in very little space.
Idea: Doris S. (36) runs a bookshop
Place: 60m2, south facing 2-bedroom flat, top floor of an old tenement block, 2nd district, Vienna
Project: Indoor crops
What inspired you to create your edible flat in the middle of Vienna?
Doris S: “I learned from my grandmother how much fruit, vegetables and herbs can be grown in a garden. I still remember the taste of freshly picked fruit in my childhood. These days, the stuff I buy at the supermarket never tastes as good as that. In my city flat I used to have cress, parsley and basil in pots, which I threw out as soon as they were harvested. Then I watched some videos about urban gardening in New York, which showed that I could do things differently. So I bought big planters and put them on every available surface – on the windowsills, above radiators, on shelves. I painted the planters white which made them look good in my flat. Then I filled them with soil partly from outside, partly from a garden centre, and sowed tomatoes and lettuce.”
What does your indoor garden mean to you?
DS: “It’s great to always have something growing in my flat. Tomatoes are climbing up inside the window like a curtain made by nature. It’s like being in a garden. I also like knowing where my food comes from. I don’t have to buy dried herbs any more, the air in the flat is better and more moist in winter. The tomatoes deter mosquitoes, so I don’t get any of them in the summer now. I thought it would be a lot of work, but it works almost by itself as long as I remember the watering – and the big pots don’t dry out very quickly.”
Do you compost your kitchen waste?
DS: “Yes, and it means I don’t have to replace the soil in the pots nowadays. I simply dig in the scraps or mulch them with fallen or cut-off leaves. It all rots down and I can go on harvesting. My flat gets an awful lot of light, which means I get up to four tomato crops per plant, each year. After each harvest I cut the plants back to a third of their size. I also grow chives and cabbage, and all sorts of herbs.”
Switzerland: a balcony garden
View from the balcony
This is something of a classic for city flats that have no access to a garden but do have a balcony of their own. The planting opportunities shown here should encourage anyone to try the same on their own balcony.
Idea and implementation: Fabienne Frölich (45), theatre promoter, and Markus Poelz (36), permaculture designer
Place: Eisengasse, Basle, Switzerland
Project: Balcony crops
Fabienne’s balcony faces North, so there is not much sun to play with here. Rainwater captured from downpipes is not an option, and the neighbourhood is very tidy-minded, so most of the surrounding balconies look very sterile. Problem or opportunity? Fabienne Frölich’s delightfully designed garden is the visible result of her love relationship with permaculture designer Markus Poelz, whom she met via Facebook.
Markus, what is your background?
Markus Poelz: “It started in my childhood. I grew up in a small village near a lake, where people were always used to producing their own food, timber and firewood. The village had a sawmill, a flour mill and my mother’s little grocery store where she sold produce from the surrounding area. In a way, it’s always been permaculture. I did many different jobs and came to permaculture as a profession in 2002. That was when I had the chance to help with the establishment of the nearby Berta project [Berta is a holiday resort for disabled people and their families, offering activities in nature.] Later I attended courses with Permaculture Austria and Permaculture in the Alps (PIA). The experience of working on a complex project like Berta helped me develop my own practice. Three years ago I moved to Basle and wanted to find out how permaculture could be applied in the city. Fabienne’s balcony was the start. More projects have come up in the meantime, for instance an alpine permaculture farm and some large-scale agricultural businesses. Organic and biodynamic farms are reaching their limits of productivity, so permaculture is the next step.”
Fabienne, how did you end up with a permaculture balcony?
Fabienne Frölich: “I joined a permaculture Facebook group, where I met Markus. When he saw my balcony he suggested turning it into a permaculture garden. There was no soil, so we had to start from scratch by making compost. We also had to put up a screen, because the neighbours don’t want to see a mess from their windows.”
In brief, these were the steps to create Fabienne’s fairy garden:
Screen: Willow branches were gathered outside the city and stripped of leaves. If you have metal railings you can weave them between the bars as shown in the picture, or turn them into a hurdle. This also serves to shelter the garden from the wind.
Soil: Old baskets and other containers were lined with cardboard and filled with a mix of shredded garden waste, leftover bits of willow, dust from the vacuum cleaner (including lots of cat hair!), old soil from flower pots and hay. A few worms were also added. A few months later the mixture had turned into excellent compost.
Floor: Initially, Fabienne spread leaves gathered in a nearby forest, later she added pebbles. This makes for a very pleasant texture when stepping onto the balcony barefoot.
Planters: Custom built trays house standard flower pots, without damaging the building fabric.
Irrigation: A plastic bottle turned upside down and filled with water can be put into the pots. Other options are commercial drip irrigation or medicinal drip-feed bottles.
Plants: Mostly shade tolerant herbs and vegetables. Potatoes were tried without success, due to the lack of direct sunlight. A selection of plants:
Watercress (Nasturtium officinale)
Vervain (Verbena officinalis)
Mint geranium (Tanacetum balsamica)
Chinese artichoke (Stachys sieboldii)
Mustard cress (Lepidium sativum)
Lovage (Levisticum officinale)
Scurvygrass (Cochlearia officinalis)
Swiss chard (Beta vulgaris ssp. vulgaris)
New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonoides)
Parsley (Petroselinium crispum)
Peppermint (Mentha piperita)
Lettuce (Lactuca sative)
Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)
Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica)
Celeriac (Apium graveolens)
Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Welsh onion (Allium fistulosum)
Sun-loving herbs were placed on the kitchen windowsill, which catches more light.
Fabienne’s small but impressive garden is completed by beech logs with shiitake mushrooms, an insect hotel and a herb dryer made from left-over willow branches.
Fabienne: “The best thing was when I harvested my first own crops – those little potatoes were the best I’ve ever had, and I was pleased as punch.”
The Italian mountaineer’s vast project is a way of both sharing his passion for climbing and mountain life and boosting the economy of the region
High up in the Alps of the South Tyrol in northern Italy, there is a remarkable architectural project: a set of six museums dedicated to mountain culture. Four are in renovated historic buildings, one is purpose-built and the last is under construction.
This has been designed by Zaha Hadid Associates and is set to become one of the most distinctive new buildings in the Alps. Reinhold Messner, the Italian mountaineer behind the museums, is thrilled by what Hadid has done. “She has created a work of art.”
For Messner, a longtime collector of books and memorabilia, the museums are a legacy project, a way of both sharing his passion for climbing and mountain life and boosting the economy of the region. In his earlier career he climbed some of the world’s biggest mountains so the scale of this venture comes as no surprise.
Yet his first foray into museums was rather different. The Museum of Alpine Curiosities opened in 1993 in a small hut near to Mount Ortles. A former climbers’ refuge, known to locals as “the fleapit”, it is a typical piece of vernacular architecture, the kind of stone hut that you see all over the Alps.
Then, in the early 1980s, Messner bought a derelict fortress, Castel Juval, dating to the late 13th century and located in the Vinschgau valley, aiming to create a family home. But after years spent renovating the castle he realised that he only stayed there in the summer so decided to turn it into a museum for the remainder of the year. Adapting a large historic building was not so easy.
“Museums need toilets, fire escapes and ticket booths,” says Messner. “The problem was that I had already converted Juval into a private residence, so it was hard to remake it as a public space.”
In spite of the problems, the success of Juval as a tourist attraction convinced Messner that he could gradually expand his museum project. Over the next two decades he moved into two more historic buildings – a first world war fort at Monte Rite, and Castel Bruneck close to the Austrian border.
Ownership of the buildings remained with local government while Messner financed and ran the museum operation as a private venture.
His principal focus, though, was an ambitious scheme to renovate one of the most famous buildings in South Tyrol: Castel Sigmundskron, a huge rambling complex of fortifications and soaring towers with walls five metres thick. This, he decided, would be the central museum, with the others as satellites around it.
Each would have its own particular theme ranging from religion and mountain mythology at Castel Juval to the history of the Dolomites at Monte Rite. Sigmundskron would be the base camp, introducing visitors to the history of mountaineering and hosting temporary exhibitions.
It took several years and a lot of negotiations with the regional government before work began. Though he’s proud that all his museums run without public funding, the conversion of Sigmundskron and the other buildings cost an estimated €30m, which was split between Messner and the province of South Tyrol.
At the time, there was some opposition to spending such a large amount of public money, but Messner was a shrewd and tenacious campaigner, and as South Tyrol’s former MEP and by far its most famous son, had the contacts and the charisma to get his way eventually.
To help him achieve his architectural vision for Sigmundskron, Messner turned to Werner Tscholl, an architect from Bolzano. “The main problem for me,” says Tscholl, “was the sheer scale of the castle and my desire to minimise the impact on this ancient building.”
The challenge with Sigmundskron and all the castles and forts was to turn buildings designed to keep invaders out into museums that would pull in tourists, while complying with stringent rules about what could and could not be done to historic property.
Reinhold Messner won international fame when he and Peter Habeler made the first ascent of Mount Everest without supplementary oxygen in 1978. He went on to become the first man to climb all 14 of the 8,000m peaks and returned to Everest to make the first solo ascent.
Between 1999 and 2004 he served as an MEP for Italy’s Green party. He has written over 63 books and spent much of his time on his museums.
“I didn’t actually rebuild anything,” he says, “or change the architecture of the castle. All the new elements – spiral staircases inside the towers, walkways along the castle walls, the floors and ceilings of the gallery spaces – were designed to be removable. We made them from black steel, everything was screwed in, nothing welded, so that at some point in the future it can all be removed. We deliberately left the metal untreated, so the exterior elements would rust and blend into the castle walls.”
Work finished in 2006. “Just before it opened,” says Tscholl, “someone asked me, ‘When are you going to start?’ I took it as a compliment. Good architecture is by its nature adaptable for different purposes. These castles were built for war, but a thousand years later they work as museums.”
In the three years that it took for Tscholl to finish the “mother” museum, Messner commissioned another satellite, near the Ortles glacier. It was his first purpose-built structure, located on land that he owned and its style was entirely different.
“For me this landscape is holy. I didn’t want a single cubic metre above ground,” says Messner. A local architect, Arnold Gapp, designed a subterranean chamber that was excavated into a low hill.
Apart from a discreet entrance, the only element visible on the outside is a narrow strip of glass cut into the hillside above. “The museum at Ortles is dedicated to the world of ice so we wanted visitors to feel like they were inside a glacier,” says Messner. “The window at the top is like a crevasse, a break in the ice that allows the light to come in.”
For the sixth and final mountain museum, currently under construction at Plan de Corones, Hadid has taken an even bolder approach, creating a building that is both within and without the mountainside. Her company already has a record for innovative Alpine architecture with four futuristic train stations in nearby Innsbruck as well as the soaring Bergisel ski jump.
The latest venture has been commissioned and financed by Skirama, the company that owns the ski infrastructure in Plan de Corones; as with the other museums Messner will be in charge of all the day-to-day operations.
“We have always enjoyed the challenge of working in extreme environments,” says Patrik Schumacher, Hadid’s principle collaborator on the new building. “Opportunities like this don’t come up very often.”
In Hadid and Schumacher’s design, most of the museum space is underground but the layout is much more sophisticated than at Ortles. After passing through a raw concrete entrance, a long curved walkway takes visitors into the heart of the museum.
There’s no attempt to follow the traditional rules of symmetry and proportion. At the bottom there are three large balconies, offering panoramic views of the surrounding mountains.
Messner wholeheartedly approves, though he admits that he was worried initially about displaying artwork and artefacts on such irregular surfaces. “I like the fact that it is so hidden, that it doesn’t destroy the landscape but works with it,” says Messner.
Schumacher is equally proud of what they have done. “It is obvious how castles dominate the landscape around them,” he says. “We wanted to have the same impact but to stake our claim in a different way, with the mystery and intrigue of the outside, the drama of the interior and then the sheer thrill of walking out on to those balconies with their amazing views.”
There’s a long tradition of modernist architecture in extreme locations. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, Villa Malaparte on the eastern tip of Capri, Richard Neutra’s dramatic Kaufmann House in Palm Springs are today revered as 20th-century classics.
“There’s something exciting about working on slopes, designing buildings with cantilevered elements. Modernism has always loved the horizontal,” says Schumacher.
It is never easy though to work in mountainous areas. Construction costs are high, transport is difficult and the unpredictability of the weather can wreak havoc with schedules. This summer was one of the wettest in memory, with flooding and disruption all over northern Italy.
The sixth museum was due to open this year to mark Messner’s 70th birthday, but though well under way current estimates are that it will not open until summer 2015.
For the industrious Messner, the delays are frustrating but a lifetime spent living and climbing in the world’s mountains has taught him patience. “Every week someone rings me up wanting to open a new Messner museum, but I’m not interested.
This is my last one and I want to finish it, to give visitors somewhere that is quiet, tranquil, not aggressive, something that will promote calm and reflection.” Harking back to the 18th century, he quotes William Blake, the Romantic poet: “Great things are done when men and mountains meet.”
Architects are being drawn to the challenges of creating outdoor sanctuaries for surviving extreme conditions
Count Henry Russell-Killough, the “hermit of the Pyrenees”, was not an everyday 19th-century man. From the 1860s onwards, the principal representative of the Irish branch of the house of Russell relinquished civilisation, instead taking up in the vast, barren expanse of the Pyrenees. According to A Arnold, writing in The Wide World Magazine in 1900, the count worshipped the peaks “as a lover might a mistress”.
Throughout the 1880s he dug seven caves in the side of Vignemale, the highest peak in the French Pyrenees, in which he hosted legendary banquets. On quieter nights the count would climb to the summit with a sheepskin body bag. There, after burying himself under rocks and earth with only his head sticking out, he would remain until dawn, frost gathering on his beard.
Russell-Killough is broadly accredited with the invention of the bivouac, or mountain shelter, in extreme, inhospitable places. Bivouacking — derived from the German words for “night watch” — sprang up with the sport of mountaineering in the late 1800s as climbers found they needed to sleep sometimes on their way to the summit.
A “bivvy” can be a mere bag in the Russell-Killough model. It can be a tent suspended from a cliff face or a tree, or an improvised structure made from branches and leaves. It can also be a hut, traditionally made from wood or metal. In all its forms it represents shelter, a refuge from the elements — a symbol of the most basic provision of architecture.
In The White Spider (1959), an account of the harrowing first ascent of the north face of the Eiger in 1938 — then the most dangerous face in the Alps — mountaineer Heinrich Harrer describes a bivouac near the summit that would be central to the expedition’s success.
“We managed to drive a single piton into a tiny crevice in the rock,” he writes. “We bent it downwards in a hoop, till the ring was touching the rock . . . First we hung all our belongings on it and, after that, ourselves.” The climbers fashioned a seat out of rope slings and dangled 4,000ft above the snowfields at the base of the precipice. “It is absolutely no exaggeration to say that we all felt quite well and indeed comfortable,” Harrer adds. They brewed a cup of tea.
For decades climbing was a pastime for gentlemen and wayfarers but in recent years, with the invention of state-of-the-art climbing equipment, handheld GPS tracking technology and a 21st-century strain of voracious wanderlust, it has become a lucrative and thriving business.
Out on the mountain, though, things can quickly unravel. In April, two French climbers, a father and a son, were forced to abandon their ascent of Mont Blanc because of bad weather. They took shelter in Refuge Vallot, a bivouac hut located at 4,362 metres that can sleep 12 climbers. The pair rationed their food until rescuers arrived three days later.
To scale mountains you need courage, stamina and skill. For architects, too, mountains present a host of challenges. Charlotte Perriand was one of the first illustrious architects to engage seriously with the bivouac. Born in 1903, Perriand spent her childhood between Paris and her grandparents’ home in the mountainous region of Savoie, before becoming one of the most influential designers of the early modernist movement.
In 1937, following a tenure at Le Corbusier’s studio, Perriand collaborated with André Tournon on the Shelter Bivouac, an 8 sq metre refuge for six people on Mont Joly. Inspired by the vernacular architecture of Savoie, the structure was prefabricated and built around a tubular steel frame.
Perriand used aluminium components because they were lightweight and easy to transport yet robust. To mitigate the cramped conditions, the beds were removable and functioned as benches in the day, while cubic stools doubled as storage.
The challenges associated with building in harsh climates continue to interest architects. David Garcia, founder of Map Architects, based in Copenhagen, researches habitation in extreme environments; places such as the Arctic, the Alps, the Amazon rainforest and the desert. Garcia’s approach is highly technical so as to “build on new sites with a higher level of specificity”.
In the Arctic he shot lasers into the night air to map ice particles that are invisible to the naked eye but which accumulate in buildings. Map designed a tent to withstand environments where the temperature fluctuation is high, as it is in the mountains. When the temperature outside the tent drops, the fabric contracts, trapping the heat inside.
“I think what’s interesting is that when you are in these [extreme] contexts it’s much easier to lose your frame of reference and it becomes obvious you can’t build like you would everywhere else,” says Garcia. “When you move to these regions, which we probably will be doing more and more as the population grows and places become more accessible, we will be invading these new contexts. We have to try to do it in the least aggressive manner.”
Not all strive for harmony. Last year Leapfactory, a practice based in Turin, unveiled the Gervasutti Hut in a rocky region in the upper Fréboudze Glacier on the Italian side of Mont Blanc. The modular structure, which resembles the body of a toy tin plane, replaced a 60-year-old timber bivouac and was opposed locally for its “futuristic” appearance.
Painted red and silver, it is, by design, a beacon to be seen for miles. Leap describes it as “new alpine accommodation”. Unlike most bivouacs, which offer few modern comforts, the Gervasutti hut is a roomy 30 sq metres, has a kitchen, solar power and internet connection, as well as a big round window to appreciate the Val Ferret.
For Hanif Kara, a structural engineer and co-founder of AKT II in London, mountain shelters are interesting because they pose difficult questions, such as: “Can we find a way to build on mountains without taking people up there?” Traditionally, the materials for mountain shelters would be strapped to the backs of donkeys or carried up on foot. The modern equivalent is the helicopter, which is less time-consuming but comes at a price.
“My interest was to find a way of building with fewer resources, keeping construction economical but also [to build] with speed,” says Kara.
Together with Ljubljana-based Ofis Architects and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Kara designed a bivouac — known as a “bivak” in Slovenia — on Skuta, the third-highest peak in the country’s Kamnik Alps. The structure’s interconnected terraced modules are composed of a steel frame with timber panelling.
Kara used computer modelling to ensure the structure can withstand avalanches in terms of the impact force — when the snow hits the structure — and the static pressure, or the weight of the snow as it builds up on top. Eight “anchors” or very deep screws help to keep the hut in place.
“We’re looking at ways of using automated machinery to build in harsh environments — drones to transport and ‘crabots’, a mixture between a crane and a robot, that you can remotely operate to construct for you,” says Kara.
Funding for the Skuta project fell short so helicopters, not drones, eventually airlifted the bivouac into place in August. Yet AKT II continues to investigate automated remote construction and hopes it can be applied to isolated regions in impoverished countries.
Ofis Architects, meanwhile, is building three other mountain shelters. “Bivaks in our county have a great tradition,” says co-founder Spela Videcnik.
“The oldest [such] shelter, built 120 years ago, is on the highest mountain in Slovenia. It’s a symbol of our country.”
A bivouac for Kanin mountain — set to be lifted into place as soon as a military helicopter can be spared from the refugee crisis on Slovenia’s borders — can sleep up to eight people and will service an area popular with extreme skiers.
The wholly wooden structure cladded in metal sheets will look “silver-ish”, says Videcnik, so that in winter it reflects the snow and in the summer it complements the rocky terrain. Metal grips will latch on to the mountain.
“It’s a structural challenge because in some ways it has to withstand really strong winds and on the other hand we don’t want it to destroy nature,” she says. “We treat the existing terrain as a holy thing that needs to stay intact.”
The Kanin bivak is both a nod to the vernacular architecture of Slovenia and something entirely modern. Here, traditional bivaks have few or no windows so as to conserve heat. In contrast almost an entire side of the new Kanin structure is glass. Ofis works with Guardian, a glass company in Luxembourg, to produce vast panes that can withstand intense wind.
“The glass we use is very thick, I would say almost bulletproof,” says Videcnik. “We wanted to make a big window with a big view of the sky and the scenery because for me it’s just about that: to enjoy being alone, up there and away from everyone.”
Photographs: PFRCF Collection/Alamy; Peter Wells/Alamy; Janez Martincic; Mattuzi Francesco; David Garcia; Corey Rich/ Aurora; Ullstein Bild/Getty Images
Remains found at the foot of Switzerland’s Matterhorn glacier have been identified as two Japanese climbers who disappeared 45 years ago.
DNA tests showed the bones belonged to the men, who went missing on the mountain in August 1970, police say.
The remains were discovered at an altitude of about 2,800m (9,200ft) in the Alps last September.
They are the latest to be found on the 4,478-metre (14,692-foot) Matterhorn as ice melts.
The Japanese consulate in Geneva identified the climbers as Michio Oikawa and Masayuki Kobayashi, AFP news agency reports. They were 22 and 21 respectively when they went missing.
The consulate assisted police to track down family members to help compare their DNA profiles.
As Alpine glaciers melt because of global warming, the remains of long-lost climbers have increasingly been emerging from the shrinking mountain ice.
A mountain rescue pilot discovered remains and climbing equipment belonging to British climber Jonathan Conville, missing since 1979, in 2013 near the peak of the Matterhorn.
Last year the body of a Czech climber who disappeared 40 years ago following an accident was found on in the Bernese Alps.
The world’s billionaires are flocking to the French Alps this ski season, where deluxe “super chalets” are renting for over $40,000 a day.
These vacation homes rent for such extraordinary prices because they offer luxurious amenities such as personal chefs, butlers, nightclubs, and more.
Of course, the mega-wealthy clientele love it.
One such home is Le Petit Palais chalet in the Three Valleys area of the Alps — a stunning, modern chalet that was only just completed back in 2012. The owner, Dennis Crema, told the Wall Street Journal he values the chalet at over $60 million.
But instead of selling the home, Crema rents it out on a week-by-week basis for anywhere from €100,000 ($125,000) to €240,000 ($300,000) at the height of ski season. That averages to over $40,000 a day, and the reservation requires a deposit of 50% of the total price.
The six-floor, ski-in/ski-out home has its own chef, pool, wine cellar, cigar room, nightclub spectacular views, and over 18,000 square feet of space.
There are seven bedrooms and it can fit between 12 to 15 guests. If that’s not enough, Le Petit Palais also connects to its sister villa, Le Petit Château, via a large underground parking area.
Le Petit Palais is a part of the Courchevel 1850 ski resort and is closest to the Bellecôte slope, perhaps the most popular slope due to its connection to a nearby village with lots of shopping and restaurants.
© AFP/File Philippe Desmazes
Innsbruck (Austria) (AFP) – With temperatures rising faster in the Alps than the rest of the world, alpine countries are working together to adapt to climate change and hope to set an example.
A recent Austrian climate change report found that the country’s temperatures had risen twice as fast as the global average since 1880, with the number of sunshine hours in the Alps increasing by 20 percent.
While this may please holidaymakers or locals enjoying longer summers, it is also likely to cause more landslides and forest fires, affecting the agricultural sector and local economy, the Austrian Assessment Report found.
“Just imagine, you have a relatively narrow valley and in that small space, you have a street, a railway line, maybe power lines and some houses. If a landslide hits there, there will be serious damage,” Georg Rebernig, managing director of the Austrian Environment Agency, told AFP.
“Preventing this is what we’re trying to do when we talk about a strategy for the Alps,” he said ahead of UN climate talks in Lima on December 1-12 meant to pave the way towards a global climate pact next year.
Rebernig’s office is part of the C3-Alps project, which groups ministries and research institutes from alpine countries — mainly Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France — to discuss ways to tackle climate change.
It is only one of several European initiatives promoting the sharing of information and experiences in the Alps, a mountainous region of around 200,000 square kilometres (80,000 square miles) with a population of 14 million.
“The effects of climate change can be seen and felt… we have to look ahead, take action,” said Karine Siegwart, vice director of the Swiss federal office for the environment, also part of C3-Alps.
“This is a cross-border problem and it requires cross-border collaboration.”
A UN report earlier this month warned that Earth was on a likely trajectory for at least 4 C warming over pre-industrial times by 2100 — a recipe for worsening drought, flood, rising seas and species extinctions.
Alpine countries are already shifting their focus to adaptation solutions, acknowledging that climate change will not be stopped or turned around anytime soon.
“We have to take climate change very seriously. But we also need local support and to sensitize communities and the population, because the effects of climate change will be felt at a local level,” said Siegwart.
Low-lying resorts have long invested in snow cannon to ensure white slopes during the ski season but some have radically changed their marketing strategies — like Switzerland’s Stockhorn ski region, which dismantled its ski lifts to refocus on winter hiking and snowshoeing.
Rather than building flood defences, authorities in northern Austria relocated some 250 households which sat close to the Danube and were badly hit by flood waters in 2002. The move cost more than 90 million euros ($110 million).
“Danger zone plans” are regularly drawn up to identify no-build areas at risk of floods, landslides or erosion, while the mountainous Tirol region has invested some 125 million euros to build avalanche defences over 17.5 kilometres (11 miles) of roads, so they can remain open all year round.
Meanwhile, farmers in Germany are being encouraged to grow crops that are more resistant to heat and dry spells.
Glaciers, the most common symbol of climate change in the mountains, have shrunk by 15 percent in Austria over the last 15-20 years, according to Andrea Fischer, a glacier expert at the Interdisciplinary Mountain Research Institute in Innsbruck.
Snow levels and flora are moving up mountains and river water is dwindling as glaciers retreat.
But regions and local communities can cope with the changes, Fischer told AFP.
“Mankind is used to always adapting and dealing with difficulties. The idea of a stationary environment is pleasant… but it’s not life. Life is about permanent adaptation,” she said.
Alpine countries are still drafting strategies to deal with climate change but they can already be a model for others, Rebernig said.
“If you look at other mountain regions, they’re often not strong economic regions. The Alps are different,” he said.
If local authorities can work together and gather the necessary research early on, “then other regions who didn’t have these means will be able to learn from this”.
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