, Volume 79, Issue 1-2, pp 79-102
Date: 27 Oct 2006

Climate Risks and Their Impact on Agriculture and Forests in Switzerland

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Abstract

There is growing evidence that, as a result of global climate change, some of the most severe weather events could become more frequent in Europe over the next 50 to 100 years. The paper aims to (i) describe observed trends and scenarios for summer heat waves, windstorms and heavy precipitation, based on results from simulations with global circulation models, regional climate models, and other downscaling procedures, and (ii) discuss potential impacts on agricultural systems and forests in Switzerland. Trends and scenarios project more frequent heavy precipitation during winter corresponding, for example, to a three-fold increase in the exceedance of today's 15-year extreme values by the end of the 21st century. This increases the risk of large-scale flooding and loss of topsoil due to erosion. In contrast, constraints in agricultural practice due to waterlogged soils may become less in a warmer climate. In summer, the most remarkable trend is a decrease in the frequency of wet days, and shorter return times of heat waves and droughts. This increases the risk of losses of crop yield and forage quality. In forests, the more frequent occurrence of dry years may accelerate the replacement of sensitive tree species and reduce carbon stocks, and the projected slight increase in the frequency of extreme storms by the end of the century could increase the risk of windthrow. Some possible measures to maintain goods and services of agricultural and forest ecosystems are mentioned, but it is suggested that more frequent extremes may have more severe consequences than progressive changes in means. In order to effectively decrease the risk for social and economic impacts, long-term adaptive strategies in agriculture and silviculture, investments for prevention, and new insurance concepts seem necessary.