Snowy Alps will be a distant memory unless we act fast

<span>Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty</span>
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty

It has been nearly four months since any rain fell in the Piedmont region of the Italian Alps. This follows a winter in which snowfall was only one-third of what it normally is, and the meagre snowmelt combined with lack of rain has reduced the River Po to a trickle. It is the worst drought the region has experienced in 70 years, but a scenario that is likely to become increasingly commonplace in the future.

A study has shown that the number of snow days (days where snow lies on the ground) in the Alps will halve by 2100 if greenhouse emissions remain high. Mountains at 2,500 metres will lose 76 days – nearly three months – of snow days, while at lower altitudes snow days will almost disappear, with an average of just five snow days a year at 500 metres. The southern Alps will be particularly badly hit, with serious implications for water availability downstream.

But the study, published in Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, also shows that rapid emissions cuts (in line with the Paris agreement) would save more than 80% of snow days in the Alps. The current crisis in the Italian Alps, where ships can no longer navigate the river and water is having to be trucked in, is a clear call to action.