Climate change will have immense consequences for European ski tourism, scientists are forecasting in new research warning that ski resorts are “highly vulnerable to snow scarcity, which is increasing due to climate change”.
With a global warming of 2°C above the pre-industrial level, there will be a “very high risk” of snow shortages for about half of the ski resorts in 28 European countries, according to a study published in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change in August.
If more and more attempts are made to keep ski tourism going with the help of artificial snow-making, this will increase the demand for water and energy, and thus carbon emissions – and thus accelerate the climate crisis even further, say the researchers.
Moreover, artificial snow-making can only take place at sufficiently low temperatures. The scientists led by Samuel Morin of the Centre National de Recherches Météorologiques in Grenoble wrote that it is therefore necessary to reconsider whether it really makes sense to maintain the high dependence on winter tourism in certain regions.
According to the study, Europe is the most popular spot for skiing, with about half of all ski resorts worldwide located here and at least 80% of the ski resorts with more than one million users per year are in Europe.
The study looks at the situation for 2,234 such areas in Europe at a warming of up to 4ºC, at which temperature virtually all (98%) of Europe’s ski areas would have a “very high risk” of insufficient snow, with large regional differences.
All ski resorts in the German Alps would run out of natural snow at three degrees. According to the analysis, if the temperature rise were limited to 1.5°C, about one third (32%) of Europe’s ski resorts would be severely endangered.
This proportion could be limited to between 14 and 26% with the use of snow machines. However, a number of climate experts now assume that a limit of 1.5°C would hardly be achievable even with the greatest immediate efforts.
“While it represents a modest fraction of the overall carbon footprint of ski tourism, snow-making is an inherent part of the ski tourism industry and epitomises some of the key challenges at the nexus between climate change adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development in the mountains, with their high social-ecological vulnerability,” the researchers wrote.
The researchers suggested it was also questionable whether CO2-intensive tourism activities such as ski tourism in its current form are at all compatible with the necessary far-reaching measures needed to limit global warming to below 2°C.
Even if a significant proportion of European ski resorts could continue to offer ski tourism for a long time, it would be a major challenge for the destinations to make the necessary contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the team writes.
Commenting on the study, Paul Peeters of the Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands writes that the size and number of European ski resorts is expected to decrease as a result of the dwindling snow cover in most mountain areas.
For many affected mountain regions, a shift to other forms of tourism may therefore make more sense, both economically and environmentally, he argues. – dpa