From Cadore to Dubai: even the mountains are keeping an eye on COP 28

The 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) will take place in Dubai (United Arab Emirates) from 30 November to 12 December 2023.  The topic of the climate crisis was the focal point of the annual meeting of mountain hut managers from the ‘core area’ of the Dolomites World Heritage Site. The meeting featured speeches by cryosphere expert Anselmo Cagnati, and Roberto Barbiero, climatologist at the Environmental Protection Agency of the Autonomous Province of Trento, now in Dubai to follow the work of the COP together with a group of young academics.

Tramonto dal Roccolo di Pieve di Cadore, Ph. Alessandra Masi

Ph. Alessandra Masi

The current mountain scenario…

As at previous conferences, the outcomes of the COP will also closely concern the Alpine and Dolomites space. Accelerating our commitments and making them more ambitious, in order to reach the goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement, would lead to the reception of these goals by the EU, Italy and at the local level, including in the context of the World Heritage Site.

The mountains suffer the most from rising temperatures; here, the upper limit set by the Paris Agreement, i.e. 2° above the pre-industrial era, has already been exceeded and, according to data published by the CNR in August 2023, during the most recent normal climatological period (1991-2020), the average annual maximum temperature has been rising at a rate of +0.5°C every ten years.

Reduced snow cover and retreating glaciers expose the rocks to increased solar radiation, and Anselmo Cagnati‘s talk at the annual meeting of World Heritage mountain hut managers provided an overview of the effects of deglaciation in the Dolomites environment: from the symbolic case of the Marmolada, whose glacier is destined to disappear definitively by 2050, to the ever-increasing repertoire of landslides that follow one another every summer/autumn, to the phenomena of instability (debris-flow) that compromise the safety of the slopes, up to the constant rise in the level of permafrost, with the consequent inevitable collapse of the structures that rest on it.

The people involved with hospitality at high elevations, trail management and ski lifts have to deal with all these problems on a daily basis, compounded by the constant reduction in the available water supply.

…and the future scenario

In short, the alpine environment has already been transformed and is one of the most vulnerable and at risk. From now on, adaptation and mitigation strategies will be decisive for those who live and work at high elevations.

The lecture offered by Roberto Barbiero leaves little doubt about the future: compared to other glacial areas, the Alpine arc has been declining much more markedly since 1980; according to the Climate Report, South Tyrol 2018, EURAC Research, glaciers beyond 3000 m will have retreated by 2050, and the snow line is expected to rise by about 700 m by the end of the century. At an elevation of 1500 m, this is equivalent to 80-90% less snow.

As Barbiero pointed out once again, the anthropogenic responsibilities for this situation are unequivocal, and in the coming years, cooperation at both the local and global levels, through work on regional climate change adaptation strategies and plans and provincial energy plans, will be decisive.