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ENVIRONMENT

‘Victory’: Hunger striking dad ends Swiss climate struggle

A man ended a 39-day-long hunger strike outside the Swiss parliament on Thursday, declaring "Victory!" after the MPs agreed to be briefed by scientists on the latest climate change research.

This file photo taken in Bern on November 28, 2021 shows Swiss Guillermo Fernandez holding a sign reading
This file photo taken in Bern on November 28, 2021 shows Swiss Guillermo Fernandez holding a sign reading "Hunger strike for the climate for our children" as he poses during his hunger strike next to the Swiss House of Parliament. Photo: FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP

Guillermo Fernandez, who says he has lost 20 kilos since launching his hunger strike on November 1 to push for Swiss MPs to take climate change seriously, ended his fast by gingerly eating a banana outside the parliament building. “Victory!!!!” he announced on Twitter under the hashtag: “PapaNoLongerOnHungerStrike!!”.

UPDATE: How Switzerland’s flood planning helped it avoid disaster

“Finally the parliament will be confronted with the truth!” His announcement came after the president of the lower house of parliament Irene Kalin, of the Green Party, announced that scientists had been invited to brief MPs on May 2, 2022 about the latest research from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

When he launched his hunger strike 39 days ago, Fernandez declared that he was terrified for his three children’s future after seeing the IPCC’s bombshell “code red” report last August warning the Earth is on a pathway towards catastrophic warming.

Last month, Fernandez declared on Twitter that he was on “hunger strike for my children’s climate. I ardently desire to live, but I am willing to die if it can protect them.”

Since then, he has been sitting bundled up in the cold outside the Swiss parliament building in Bern refusing to eat. Dozens of scientists had come out in support of his strike. But some parliamentarians interviewed by the Tribune de Geneve daily voiced unease on Thursday at his methods, and insisted they were already well-informed about the climate crisis.

“I wouldn’t use the term blackmail, but it is similar,” Vincent Maitre of the Centre Party said.

“Here, were are debating the climate challenges, but the democratic process takes time. It is not as easy as flipping a switch,” said Pierre-Andre Page of the populist rightwing Swiss People’s Party, Switzerland’s largest party.

Adele Thorens of the Greens however insisted that if Fernandez had seen his demands met, “it was because those demands were reasonable,” she told the paper.

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ENVIRONMENT

Swiss glaciers melting away at record rate

Switzerland's glaciers lost six percent of their total volume this year due to a dry winter and repeated summer heatwaves, shattering previous ice melt records, a report revealed Wednesday.

Swiss glaciers melting away at record rate

The study by the Cryospheric Commission (CC) of the Swiss Academy of Sciences laid bare the drastic scale of glacial retreat — which is only set
to get worse.

“2022 was a disastrous year for Swiss glaciers: all ice melt records were smashed,” the CC said, adding that a two percent loss in 12 months had
previously been considered “extreme”.

Three cubic kilometres of ice — three trillion litres of water — have melted away, the report said.

“It’s not possible to slow down the melting in the short term,” said glaciology professor Matthias Huss, head of Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland,
which documents long-term glacier changes in the Alps and is coordinated by the CC.

If carbon dioxide emissions are reduced and the climate protected, “this might save about one third of the total volumes in Switzerland in the best 
case, he told AFP.

Otherwise, the country “will be losing almost everything by the end of the century.
century”.

Saharan dust speeds melt

At the start of the year, the snow cover in the Alps was exceptionally light, then a large volume of sand dust blew in from the Sahara Desert between
March and May, settling on the surface.

The contaminated snow absorbed more heat and melted faster, depriving the glaciers of their protective snow coating by early in the European summer.The continuous heat between May and early September therefore ravaged the glacial ice.

By mid-September, the once-thick layer of ice that covered the pass between the Scex Rouge and Tsanfleuron glaciers had completely melted away, exposing bare rock that had been frozen over since at least the Roman era.

And in early July, the collapse of a section of the Marmolada glacier, the biggest in the Italian Alps, killed 11 people and highlighted how serious the
situation had become..

According to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report published in February, the melting of ice and snow is one of the 10 key threats from climate change.

Smallest glaciers hardest hit

“The loss was particularly dramatic for small glaciers,” the CC said.

The Pizol, Vadret dal Corvatsch and Schwarzbachfirn glaciers “have practically disappeared — measurements were discontinued”, the commission
said.

In the Engadine and southern Valais regions, both in the south, “a four to six-metre-thick layer of ice at 3,000 metres above sea level vanished,” said
the report.

Significant losses were recorded even at the very highest measuring points, including the Jungfraujoch mountain, which peaks at nearly 3,500 metres.

“Observations show that many glacier tongues are disintegrating and patches of rock are rising out of the thin ice in the middle of glaciers. These
processes are further accelerating the decline,” said the report.

“The trend also reveals how important glaciers are to the water and energy supply in hot, dry years,” the report stressed — something to consider given that hydroelectricity provides more than 60 percent of Switzerland’s total energy production.

The glacial meltwater in July and August alone would have provided enough water this year to completely fill all the reservoirs in the Swiss Alps.

But Huss said that if the country experienced this year’s meteorological conditions in 50 years’ time, “the impact would be much stronger, because in
50 years, we expect that almost all glaciers are gone and therefore cannot provide water in a hot and dry summer”.

Melt reveals macabre finds

The melting of the glaciers has also had some unexpected consequences.

Hikers are regularly making macabre discoveries as bodies are being freed from the ice they have been encased in for decades or even centuries.

The melting can also be a boon for archaeologists who suddenly have access to objects that are thousands of years old.

Meanwhile, the melting of a glacier between Italy and Switzerland has moved the border that ran along the watershed, forcing lengthy diplomatic
negotiations.

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