Biodiversity

Biodiversity: urgent open letter from 86 scientists of 23 Swiss institutions

Posted on Nov 8, 2022

Author(s)

Aïcha Besser

Communication specialist CLIMACT

Expert(s)

Prof.
Prof. Antoine Guisan

UNIL FBM | FGSE

Biodiversity: urgent open letter from 86 scientists of 23 Swiss institutions

"Compromising the preservation of biodiversity for the sake of the energy transition is counterproductive". This is the urgent appeal made by 86 scientists, all confirmed experts in the field of biodiversity, from 23 Swiss institutions, to the Swiss media on November 7, 2022.

Their objective: make their recommendations heard, in the heart of various current debates on the opposition (or not) between energy/climate policy and the protection of nature and biodiversity.

This text is the original version of the urgent appeal signed by the 86 scientists, it is also available in French/Français, German/Deutsch and Italian/Italiano. Shorter versions of the appeal are also published in the press. Read the article in Le Temps.

Climate change and biodiversity decline are two major crises of our time, both extremely well documented scientifically. As detailed by scientific experts in their presentations to the Swiss Parliament on May 2, 2022, neither crisis can be resolved without addressing the other.

"Climate and biodiversity: two essential and interdependent dimensions of ecosystems

Climate and biodiversity are indeed two essential and interdependent dimensions of ecosystems. Climate controls the distribution of organisms and, in return, biodiversity regulates the climate. As a result, climate change is impacting natural ecosystems whose health is essential for mitigation and adaptation to climate change (e.g., carbon sequestration, water cycle). Healthy ecosystems also play a key role in the prevention of natural disasters (e.g. flood mitigation by marshes and alluvial zones), which are themselves favored by climate change. Biotopes and landscapes of national importance play an important role in this respect. They are well-established federal instruments that have been recognized for decades and are based on the constitution and legal foundations to ensure a future for valuable habitats and species in Switzerland. A sustainable future for our societies is simply not possible without preserving nature and its essential functions (air quality, soil fertility, human health, etc.), especially if climate change continues. If solutions are to be found urgently to address these two crises, it is imperative that actions are taken in concert between these two sectors, so that they are mutually beneficial and, above all, do not conflict with each other.

"Climate change mitigation depends on biodiversity"

While climate regulation is one of the most important services provided by our ecosystems, their proper functioning depends on their integrity, for which biological diversity is the main guarantor. Thus, intact or restored ecosystems, richer in species and ecological interactions, allow better mitigation of the effect of climate change. Since the restoration of ecosystems - an activity that is still rare in Switzerland - produces its effects only in the long term, often after decades, it is essential to focus on the conservation of existing natural ecosystems to mitigate the impact of climate change. This observation, based on scientific evidence, is relevant in view of the increasingly pressing desire to promote and increase the production of renewable energy in the few remaining natural areas of our country. We are thinking here of the proposals for the development of photovoltaic infrastructures in the high mountains, as well as new hydroelectric catchments and the reduction of residual flows in our rivers. 

"Producing more renewable energy is desirable but not at the expense of biodiversity"

The desire to produce more indigenous renewable energy is to be welcomed. It aims to free ourselves from our dependence on imported fossil fuels. However, this energy transition must not be achieved by sacrificing our last natural environments and our biodiversity in danger. This would be tantamount to sawing off the branch on which we are sitting, thereby considerably diminishing our ability to adapt to climate change. New settlements should rather invest in existing infrastructures within our already largely transformed landscapes. Equipping current buildings and infrastructures with solar panels would allow to produce 67 TWh/year, which would represent 110% of the current Swiss electricity consumption. Adding solar panels along roads and railroads, as well as on dams, would allow to produce 15 TWh/year more and of course, important consumption reductions would still be possible by increasing our energy efficiency. On the other hand, degrading natural ecosystems, which are undoubtedly our biggest carbon sinks, would have devastating effects in terms of climate protection. Preserving natural ecosystems is therefore essential to mitigate the impact of climate change and, compromising the preservation of biodiversity for the sake of the energy transition would therefore make no sense. 

"Rethinking spatial planning to reconcile energy, climate and biodiversity"

In addition to the synergies mentioned between climate and biodiversity, natural ecosystems rich in species are also more appreciated than intensively exploited areas. In a country with a strong tourist industry, this issue cannot be ignored. Building new infrastructures in almost untouched ecosystems would lead to a depreciation of these landscapes, while covering our roofs and walls with dams would not cause any damage. There is a real opportunity to rethink land use planning to reconcile energy production with climate protection and biodiversity, and to make Switzerland a pioneer in this field. Switzerland has already sacrificed many of its landscapes and natural environments, which is the primary cause of the collapse of biodiversity. It would be dangerous today to sacrifice even more of them, as this would reduce the capacity of our ecosystems to trap excess atmospheric carbon and mitigate climate change. Did you know, for example, that our peatlands, protected by the federal constitution since 1987 for primarily landscape reasons, offer the best carbon storage opportunities in our country?

"Towards an integrated management of the biodiversity, energy and climate crises"

To summarize, it seems essential to us that the following scientific elements be considered jointly in the current debate on new energy developments: 1) climate change mitigation and biodiversity preservation cannot be solved independently of each other. 2) Biotopes of national importance contribute to this, provided their integrity is preserved. 3) The production of renewable electricity could be concentrated in areas that are already heavily exploited by man, where the necessary technical infrastructure is already available. Switzerland's energy autonomy can be achieved without sacrificing the remaining natural landscapes and their biodiversity.

Signatories of the open letter

Dr. Antoine Guisan, Professor, University of Lausanne

Dr. Raphaël Arlettaz, Professor, University of Bern

Dr. Edward Mitchell, Professor, University of Neuchâtel

Dr. Marco Moretti, Senior Scientist, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Maria J. Santos, Professor, University of Zurich

Dr. Thomas Sattler, Project leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Nicola Schoenenberger, Director, Conservatory and botanical garden of the City of Geneva

Dr. Pascal Vittoz, Lecturer, University of Lausanne

Dr. Christine Alewell, Professor, University of Basel

Dr. Nadir Alvarez, Professor, University of Geneva

Dr. Sven Bacher, Professor, University of Fribourg

Dr. Norman Backhaus, Professeur, University of Zurich

Dr. Jordi Bascompte, Professor, University of Zurich

Dr. Bruno Baur, Professor em., University of Basel

Dr. Ariel Bergamini, Group leader, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Louis-Felix Bersier, Professor, University of Fribourg

MSc Simon Birrer, Group leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Pierre Bize, Group leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Steffen Boch, Researcher, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Aurélie Boissezon, Researcher, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland

Dr. Fabio Bontadina, Co-Director, SWILD - urban ecology, wildlife research, communication

Dr. Matthias Bürgi, Research unit leader, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Philippe Christe, Professor, University of Lausanne

Dr. Thomas Crowther, Professor, ETH Zurich

Dr. Jurriaan de Vos, Senior Scientist & Principal Curator, University of Basel

Dr. Patrice Descombes, Curator, Botanical museum of Lausanne

Dr. Peter Duelli, Professor em.

Dr. Stefan Eggenberg, Lecturer, University of Bern

Dr. Nicolas J. Fasel, Scientist, University of Lausanne

Dr. Montserrat Filella, Scientist, University of Geneva

Dr. Luca Fumagalli, Lecturer, University of Lausanne

Dr. Madeleine  Geiger, Researcher, SWILD - urban ecology, wildlife research, communication

Dr. Andreas Gigon, Professor em., ETH Zurich

Dr. Gregory Giuliani, Senior scientists, University of Geneva

Dr. Sandra Gloor, Co-Director, SWILD - urban ecology, wildlife research, communication

Dr. Catherine Graham, Group Leader, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Andrin Gross, Head of Swiss Fungi, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Daniel Hegglin, Co-Director, SWILD - urban ecology, wildlife research, communication

Dr. Barbara Helm, Professor and Group leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Patricia Holm, Professor, University of Basel

Dr. Jean-Yves Humbert, Lecturer, University of Bern

Dr. Alain Jacot, Senior Scientist, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Barbara Jaun-Holderegger, Lecturer, Pädagogische Hochschule Bern

Dr. Jukka Jokela, Professor, ETH Zürich

Dr. Ansgar Kahmen, Professor, University of Basel

Dr. Roger Keller, Senior Scientist, University of Zurich

Dr. Seraina Klopfstein, Lecturer, Curator of Entomology, Natural History Museum of Basel

Dr. Pius Korner, Project leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Fränzi Korner, Group leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Christian Körner, Professor em., University of Basel

Dr. Gregor Kozlowski, Professor, Director, Jardin Botanique de l'Université de Fribourg

Dr. Cornelia  Krug, Senior Scientist, University of Zurich

Dr. Thibault Lachat, Professor, Bern University of Applied Sciences

Dr. Andreas Lang, Senior scientist, University of Basel

Dr. Anthony Lehmann, Professor, University of Geneva

Dr. Brigitte Marazzi, Senior scientist, Natural History Museum of Canton Ticino & Info Flora, Lugano

MSc Sylvia Martinez, Project leader, University of Basel

Dr. Heinz Müller-Schärer, Professor, University of Fribourg

Dr. Martin K. Obrist, Senior scientist, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Beat Oertli, Professor HES, University of Applied Sciences and Arts Western Switzerland

Dr. Christian Parisod, Professor, University of Fribourg

Dr. Gilberto Pasinelli, Director of Research, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Jean-Nicolas Pradervand, Project leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Sergio Rasman, Professor, University of Neuchâtel

Dr. Christian Rixen, Senior Scientist, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Sabine Rumpf, Professor, University of Basel

Dr. Michael Schaepman, Professor, University of Zurich

Dr. Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, Professor, University of Zurich

Dr. Michael Schaub, Group leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

MSc Hans Schmid, Group leader, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Bernhard Schmid, Professor, University of Zurich

Dr. Ole Seehausen, Professor, University of Bern & Eawag

Dr. Irmi Seidl, Professor, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL and ETH Zürich

Dr. Claudio Signer, Project leader, lecturer, Zurich University of Applied Sciences ZHAW

Dr. Mauro Tonolla, Professor, Institute Director, University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI)

Dr. Matthias Tschumi, Senior scientist, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Marcel van der Heijden, Professor, University of Zurich

Dr. Luca Vetterli, Scientist (retired)

Dr. Matthias Vögeli, Senior scientist, Swiss Ornithological Institute

Dr. Christian Widmann, Professor, University of Lausanne

Dr. Alex Widmer, Professor, ETH Zurich

Dr. Yvonne Willi, Professor, University of Basel

Dr. Sonja Wipf, Head of Department of Research and Monitoring, Swiss National Park

Dr. Nicolas Wyler, Curator, group leader, Conservatory and botanical garden of the City of Geneva

Dr. Florian Zellweger, Project leader, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Dr. Niklaus Zimmermann, Senior Scientist, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL

Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator (free version)

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