The Dolomites forging climate resilience
In The News
16 Nov 2021
The Italian Dolomites, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are actively pursuing adaptation measures based on a systemic approach as part of their fight against the climate crisis. Under the Deep Demonstrations programme “Forging Resilience in Dolomites”, the authorities of four Dolomite provinces have for the first time jointly discussed climate change adaptation measures. The portfolio of co-designed actions touches on areas such as transboundary cooperation, education, youth mobilisation and democratisation of climate action in rural areas.
This long-term process, which began in 2019, aims to support communities in the Dolomites to foster the resilience to extreme climate-related events. It also addresses the economic and financial uncertainties and the resulting social changes. The process brought together partners such as the Edmund Mach Foundation, the Innovation Hub Trentino and the University of Trento, Department of Civil, Environmental and Mechanical Engineering (DICAM).
The Dolomites area, comprising four territories: the Veneto Region, the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia and the Autonomous Provinces of Trento and Bolzano, is known for its high natural, artistic and cultural heritage and has been recognised as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 2009. These landscapes attract several million visitors every year, but also experience an aggravation of extreme weather events such as landslide and debris flows, storms, heavy rains and droughts.
Climate lesson learned
In 2018, the region was hit by a severe storm, Storm Vaia (or Storm Adrian) which caused massive damage to the mountain ecosystem. The winds, which reached 220 km/h, knocking down about eight million cubic metres of timber, and massive rain that caused flooding, killed eleven people in two days. The storm affected the forest-timber value chain and related activities such as tourism and agriculture. This highlights the dramatic consequences that extreme weather phenomena have on the environment, the economy and people’s lives in the region.
“We have been concerned for many years about how climate change is affecting our region and how nature is changing. That is why we decided to join the EIT Climate-KIC community in 2017, but we focused even more intensely on resilience after storm Vaia hit our land. This raised the issue of resilience – the community was shocked and became determined to improve adaptation measures to prevent damage of this scale in the future. This turning point convinced us to move forward with the collaboration and to join the Race to Resilience programme.” – says Alessandro Gretter, Senior Technologist from the Edmund Mach Foundation.
The storm also brought together a sub-regional community of residents and institutions who decided to act together to repair the storm damage by planting new trees or reusing the damaged wood to make speakers or other products out of the fallen timber.
Together for a better tomorrow
The devastation caused by Storm Vaia has also prompted regional authorities and regional institutions to adopt resilience measures and develop adaptation strategies. This has led to an unusual cross-border collaboration between municipalities in the four regions, which until this point had been isolated from each other and not working together.
“There has been an amazing collaboration of people from different provinces and different sectors of society like city governments, business, education, sitting around the same table for the first time, and envisioning a sustainable future together. It gave them the opportunity to talk to each other, to collaborate and to think outside the box. These climate challenges do not care about administrative boundaries. The problem can only be solved if we manage to build a relationship that goes beyond them.” – adds Gretter. At that point, there had been a lot of micro-level activity in the region, but through the process, stakeholders concluded that resilience should be addressed at the system level.
Building an inclusive community
The collaboration has developed a portfolio of activities focused on three main areas: forestry and agriculture, tourism and community engagement. Activities related to forestry focus on promoting long-term conservation and biodiversity while maintaining productivity, mapping ecosystem services at the local level and modeling and forecasting the impacts on forests, promoting the development of insurance scheme for the forest ecosystem services (with the pathfinder project “Holistic Resilience”). The project also focuses on promoting sustainable tourism, flexibility and sustainable management of tourist flows, and how to mitigate and compensate the impacts of tourism.
The initiative also aims to identify strategies and tools to support innovation in mountain areas, but also new technologies and new collaborations for warning systems that can reach remote areas. Current activities also focus on engaging citizens and tourists in mitigation strategies, as well as skills and capacity building among the younger generation.
The power of youth
“Social innovation is more than relevant. Building an active community and investing in youth is forward thinking because they will become our leaders one day. Young people in the Dolomites already feel empathy for the topics of climate emergency. The idea is to involve youth from different parts of the Dolomites, not only from bigger cities but also from rural, scattered regions.” – Gretter comments on mobilisation of the younger generations. Since people in rural regions are more vulnerable to extreme weather events, the project emphasises democratising climate action in non-urban areas. This requires greater engagement from the local community, but according to Gretter, there is already a big shift in mindset that is taking place over the years.
In order to mobilise the younger generation and get them more involved in community building activities, educational and cultural programmes are being carried out to find talent and draw their attention to climate change. For a number of years, there has been an educational programme for young people, giving selected participants the chance to attend the UN climate change conference. This year, twelve Trentino university students and researchers had the opportunity to attend COP26. The idea is to gain knowledge and experience and upon their return to put their new ideas into practice locally. To engage people in climate action, partners in the region also organise Climathon and many more initiatives.
EIT Climate-KIC is proud to be a partner of the UN High Level Champion’s Race to Resilience campaign, which is working to step-up global ambition for climate resilience in the run-up to COP26 and beyond. For more on the Race to Resilience partners and initiatives, or how to get involved, see here.