The mountain areas of the future? “inhabited and sustainable”

On 16 February, Corriere delle Alpi and Nord Est Economia invited administrators, entrepreneurs and representatives of the associations of the Veneto mountains to the elegant Palazzo Bembo in Belluno for a discussion on the topic, “The new mountain: the region, tourism and communities—how will they respond to the challenges of climate change?”

Il Pelmo e la Val Fiorentina

Ph. Alessandra Masi 

Different points of view emerged from the debate, with a certain convergence, however, on the need to face adaptation to the climate crisis, favouring a slow, seasonally adjusted utilisation of the mountains and a means for the inhabitants to continue to live there while being able to count on adequate services. UNESCO Dolomites Foundation director Mara Nemela stated, “The landscape is more than just the background against which infrastructure exists, and the challenge we have before us is to define forms of development that are relevant to the community and in keeping with the ongoing change.”

Adaptation—time to decide

In his address, Fabrizio Brancoli, director of the Veneto newspapers Gedi and Nord Est Economia, focused on the heart of the problem—how to imagine the future of regions with a well-established tourism industry in the face of climate change? Lorraine Berton, president of Confindustria Belluno Dolomiti, addressed the topic, data in hand, recalling how the duration of snow cover in the Alps has decreased by an additional 5.6 per cent during the last decade alone. This is why Confindustria is working on important research projects: “Belluno has all the credentials for becoming a point of reference regarding the impact that climate change has, and will have, on the region and the communities that inhabit it”, she concluded. In a video message sent to the participants, Veneto regional president Luca Zaia defined the issue as “very delicate”, highlighting the fact that, without a human presence, there is no future for the mountains, and that it is necessary to focus on investments and services to curb depopulation.

The administrators: resilience thanks to services

The two round tables, coordinated by co-director of the Venetian newspapers GNN Paolo Cagnan, deputy director of Corriere delle Alpi Luca Traini, and Nordest Economia journalist Roberta Paolini, allowed for two comparisons—one on a policy/administrative level and the other on an economic/environmental level. Francesco Calzavara, Councillor for Planning, Budget and Local Authorities for the Veneto Region, spoke on the issue of mountain governance, inviting us to think in terms of a vast area and to try to combine regional identity with administrative efficiency. Roberto Padrin, president of the Province of Belluno, recognised the ways in which the climate crisis is changing everything: “We saw it with Storm Adrian, and now the biggest problem is that of drought.” According to Padrin, the law of the mountains and Belluno’s autonomy must be revisited, but there is no shortage of resources, thanks to the PNRR (National Recovery and Resilience Plan) and the Fund for Neighbouring Municipalities. A renewed request for the government to designate the elevations or geographical boundaries within which it no longer makes sense to invest in skiing came from Marco Bussone, president of UNCEM (National Union of Municipalities, Communities and Mountain Organisations). He also reflected on the role of the relationship between the city and its valleys in view of the Milan-Cortina Olympics of 2026.

Environmental and economic sustainability

The data on mountain tourism trends brought by Massimo Feruzzi (JFC Mountain Observatory) confirm the increased attendance that began during the pandemic years and encompasses not only traditional skiing but also free and slow activities such as ski mountaineering, snowshoeing and hiking. It fell to Valeria Ghezzi, national president of ANEF (National Association of Ropeway Operators), to voice the views of the lift operators: “The issue of sustainability is more ideological than real”, said Ghezzi. “Abandoned mountains are dangerous and at risk of hydrogeological instability; rather than a changeover of lifts, we should be talking about development.” A counterbalancing argument was presented by Legambiente Veneto president Luigi Lazzaro: “Even the Bank of Italy points out that it is better not to invest in low-elevation structures; artificial snow is not the answer. We ask you to respond to the outcry from science with a solution which, of course, must also include tourism and economic sustainability”.

UNESCO Dolomites Foundation director Mara Nemela, focused on the need to adopt the point of view of the values of UNESCO recognition, “which was not handed down from above, but sought by local communities. Our work is dynamic and must be wedded to the needs of changing communities, including those changes that are due to the climate crisis. It is in the interest of the communities to keep the region intact, because the landscape is more than just the background against which infrastructure exists, and the challenge we have before us is to reject forms of development that are close to the communities. UNESCO recognition embraces different realities, and the answers must go beyond the local dimensions. We shouldn’t only think about the system of slopes and lifts”, concluded Nemela, “but also about the system of trails and mountain huts, because this is the cornerstone of visits and awareness of the World Heritage Site”.

Finally, Renato Frigo, president of the Veneto chapter of CAI, focused on the relationship between the plains and the mountains: “When the people who live in the plains also feel that the mountains belong to them, they have more respect for the mountains, as well as a deeper experience of them; the mountains must be developed a bit but this must be done well, and they must not become a district of the plains”.