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How is climate change impacting Switzerland, and how can people protect themselves against its consequences?

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Climate change is also noticeable in Switzerland – there is an accumulation of natural disasters. There are increasing numbers of losses due to avalanches in winter, floods caused by heavy rainfall, extreme droughts and heatwaves in summer. Is it possible to insure against the consequences of climate change? 

Climate change is the greatest risk all over the world

According to AXA's assessment, climate change will be one of the principal risks in coming years. In fact, the insurer rates climate change as the greatest risk worldwide.

The five main global risks until 2025 are climate change, cyber security, geopolitical uncertainties, the use of natural resources, and social dissatisfaction together with local conflicts.

Five greatest risks over the next five to ten years. Source: 2019 AXA-Eurasia Group Future Risks Report

What signs of climate change can we already observe?

Switzerland is constantly becoming warmer

Since 1864, when temperature measurements in Switzerland began, the average temperature in the country has risen by 1.9 degrees Celsius. There has been a particularly sharp increase in temperatures over the last 30 years.

Since 1864, average temperatures in Switzerland have risen by 1.9 degrees Celsius

Source: MeteoSwiss, from the article «How climate change affects Switzerland», SWI swissinfo.ch, Alexandra Kohler, 25.07.2019

Over the last 150 years, temperatures in Switzerland as a whole have risen twice as fast as the global average. The impact of warming on the northern side of the Alps is considerably greater than on the southern side.

Warming in Switzerland over the last 150 years

Source: MeteoSwiss, from the article «How climate change affects Switzerland», SWI swissinfo.ch, Alexandra Kohler, 25.07.2019

Winters are becoming warmer and there are fewer and fewer frost days. In 1890, for example, Davos still experienced 231 frost days. But in 2018, only 161 days below 0 degrees were measured. 

In Davos, frost days are decreasing

Source: MeteoSwiss, from the article «How climate change affects Switzerland», SWI swissinfo.ch, Alexandra Kohler, 25.07.2019

Because of Switzerland's geographical location, the impact of climate change on our country is more severe than the international average. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The world's oceans attenuate warming. Conversely, this means that inland countries such as Switzerland are not cooled by the water.
  2. And as a general rule, warming is more severe in regions located nearer the North Pole than in those on the Equator. Switzerland is located in the middle latitudes of the globe, so it is impacted more severely by warming.

You can find out more at swissinfo.ch: «How climate change affects Switzerland»

Switzerland's future climate

Interview with Prof. Dr. Christoph Raible, Professor of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Berne

"Don't wait for the politicians – people must try to play their own part! Everyone has to make their own individual decisions about preventing or reducing carbon dioxide. For example, people could choose not to consume products from very distant countries. "

Prof. Dr. Christoph Raible

Professor Raible: what are the key messages about climate change in Switzerland?

Climate change is man-made, and we are experiencing it right now. If we do not take any climate protection measures, we must expect severe consequences – and that applies to Switzerland, too. Temperatures will rise sharply, and extreme precipitation events will increase.

Which climate scenarios can we expect in the future?

Warming will increase sharply. We will experience more days with temperatures above 30°C. Without climate protection measures, the situation will become very alarming – especially for the Mittelland.

Why is the Mittelland impacted so severely?

The Mittelland is a relatively low-lying region, so temperatures are bound to rise there. At higher altitudes, of course, the threshold of 30 degrees cannot be reached so easily.

Here, you can watch the entire interview with Professor Dr. Christoph Raible on "Climate change and the insurance market":

What does the future look like for Switzerland?

The number of summer days will increase

By 2060, there will be a significant increase in summer days (when temperatures above 25 degrees are measured) if no steps are taken to counteract climate change. Without climate protection, the average number of summer days in the Mittelland would increase to between 60 and 95 – and on the valley floors in Ticino, the figure could possibly be over 120. With climate protection, the number of summer days per year could be limited to between 40 and 75 in the Mittelland while in Ticino, only the lowest altitudes would experience over 100 summer days.

Comparison of summer days in Switzerland: Observations for the 1981-2010 normal period with the average estimate for 2060 if no climate protection measures are taken.

Source: NCCS (ed.) 2018: CH2018 - Climate Scenarios for Switzerland. National Centre for Climate Services, Zurich; www.klimaszenarien.ch

There are fewer days with fresh snowfall

At present, snow falls in the central High Alps on an average of over 100 days per year. By 2060, many places in the Alps will experience fewer than 80 days with fresh snowfall each year if no climate protection measures are taken. The number of days with fresh snowfall in the Mittelland will fall to well below 20 without climate protection.

Comparison of days with fresh snowfall in Switzerland: Observations for the 1981-2010 normal period with the average estimate for 2060 if no climate protection measures are taken.

Source: NCCS (ed.) 2018: CH2018 - Climate Scenarios for Switzerland. National Centre for Climate Services, Zurich; www.klimaszenarien.ch

The number of frost days is decreasing significantly

In the high mountain regions, there is still frost on one third of all days at present; by 2060, the number of frost days there will decrease by well over 50 if no climate protection measures are taken.

Comparison of frost days in Switzerland: Observations for the 1981-2010 normal period with the average estimate for 2060 if no climate protection measures are taken.

Source: NCCS (ed.) 2018: CH2018 - Climate Scenarios for Switzerland. National Centre for Climate Services, Zurich; www.klimaszenarien.ch

To learn more about climate scenarios for Switzerland, go to the website of the National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS).

 

Which natural perils will increase because of climate change?

The number of natural perils will increase due to climate warming. More frequent and more intensive extreme weather events must also be expected in the future. There will also be an increase in the natural perils occurring in regions and during seasons that have been spared from loss events until now.

Because of increased temperatures, the rising snowfall line and changes in precipitation, the following risks can be expected to increase in the future:

  • Increasing risk of high water
    It is highly likely that the occurrence of high water in winter will become more frequent throughout Switzerland. This is due to the increase in total precipitation during winter, together with the rising snowfall line. The high water risk could also increase in spring and early summer due to snow melt over large areas coinciding with intensive precipitation.
  • Decreasing slope stability and more frequent mass movements
    In the steep terrain of the Alpine valleys, the acceleration of glacial melting and the slow thawing of the permafrost are leading to decreased slope stability. The probable consequence will be an increase in landslides, rockfalls, rockslides and mud/debris slides (mass movements) in the coming decades. The risk of landslides is also heightened by the possible increase in heavy precipitation and the rising snowfall line.

Insurance against damage by natural forces covers damage caused by natural hazards

According to a UN report in 2011, Switzerland is the world's best-prepared country for natural disasters. One of the core elements of Swiss risk management to counteract natural perils is insurance against damage by natural forces: this gives Switzerland insurance against natural perils that is unique in the world. Insurance against damage by natural forces covers losses and damage arising from high water, flood, storm, hail, avalanche, snow load, rockslide, rockfall or landslide. It provides virtually comprehensive insurance coverage. Nowadays, 99% of all buildings – together with furniture and facilities (known as movables) – are insured against damage from natural forces.

What can I insure, and where can I insure it?

  • Buildings:
    In 19 cantons, buildings are insured against fire damage and damage from natural forces through the cantonal buildings insurance. In the cantons of Geneva, Uri, Schwyz, Ticino, Appenzell (IR), Valais, and Obwalden – known as the GUSTAVO cantons – and in the Principality of Liechtenstein, these types of damage to buildings are covered by building insurance from private insurance companies.
    Depending on the value of their house for insurance against damage by natural forces, homeowners pay the same premium, regardless of where their house is located. In other words: even owners of homes in risk areas do not pay higher premiums.
  • Furniture and facilities:
    Damage from natural forces to furniture and facilities can be covered by private household contents insurance, or by property insurance for companies; in the cantons of Nidwalden and Vaud, protection must be arranged through a cantonal insurer.

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