How the WWF and ski resorts are protecting the Alps
The WWF, local Alpine organisations and ski resorts are working together to provide conservation to protect the mountains for future generations to enjoy.
Despite the strong presence of human activity, the Alps still offer areas of unspoiled nature, with 831 remote areas still untouched by humans, of which 69 measure more than 100km². At the global and local levels, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working to safeguard this jewel of biodiversity and maintain an intact ecological network.
The Alps is a rich but threatened area of natural beauty. The development of tourism and transport infrastructure, as well as unsustainable urban and agricultural practices, contribute to a global trend of excessive exploitation of Alpine areas. This is why many organisations alongside the WWF have been working for many years in the continued conservation of this area.
Tourism is a central lever for the economic development of the Alpine region and one of the main drivers of urbanisation. Every year, the Alps receive more than 120 million tourists. Spread over more than 300 mountain resorts, there are more than five million beds across the Alps. This impacts mountain ecosystems more seriously than first presumed as these tourist centres are often located in the most fragile and remote areas, formerly protected from urban sprawl.
The WWF tells us “winter sports are the most devastating form of tourism from an ecological point of view”. Which is why it is so important when planning a ski holiday to be conscientious about how to make eco-friendlier choices. Many chalets, such as Chalet Grande Corniche in Les Gets, or Chalet Lhotse or Marco Polo in Val d’Isère, have eco-friendly spa facilities installed, and with train travel to the Alps becoming ever more popular, it is becoming easier to reduce your carbon footprint when on a luxury ski holiday.
The ski resorts in the Alps are also making huge steps to reduce their impact on their environments, such as Val d’Isère and Tignes which, after many positive changes, became the largest ski area in the world to be awarded the Green Globe recognition in 2016, the global certification for sustainable tourism. Les Gets also prides itself on its eco practices, including the provision of a fleet of electric vehicles for holidaymakers in winter 2015, a large reduction of the energy impact of its ski lifts and a number of ongoing conservation projects. Its main project this winter is the protection of the black grouse, a species of bird emblematic of the Alps which, at this time of year, is being threatened by the intense cold and scarcity of food.
The mountains, with the poles, are the environments where climate change is most pronounced on the planet. Temperatures are rising twice as fast in the Alps compared to the rest of the world, with an increase of 1.5°C to 2°C since 1900 and an anticipated rise of 5°C in the best-case scenario by 2100. In terms of climate change, the mountains make the invisible visible. Across the French Alps, glaciers have visibly lost 26% of their surface area and more than a third of their volume in 40 years.
“The key to preserving the Alps lies in the cooperation of the countries concerned,” says the WWF. The chain spans eight countries and has a population of 13 million people united by a common natural wealth and cultural heritage. Four Alpine organisations from WWF’s national offices (Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland) work together under the umbrella of the Alpine Program (EALP) to put in place a comprehensive and cross-border protection strategy for the Alps.
The Alpine Program has identified the most important areas for the protection of Alpine biodiversity: priority protection areas and the ecological corridors that link them together. To achieve the conservation of these areas, the WWF is working with its partners on innovative actions for sustainable use and protection of biodiversity.
The diversity of the wildlife in the Alps, in particular, is incredible. Works by the WWF, the local resorts and neighbouring charitable organisations have helped to bring the gradual return of large carnivores, including wolves, bears and lynx, which had virtually disappeared in the middle of the 20th century. The ibex, red deer, chamois and the marmot can also all be found at high altitudes in the mountains. Additionally, human influence, including some traditional practices dating back to the Neolithic period and modern-day tourism, have shaped a unique cultural landscape, rich in diverse cultures, languages and traditions. However, without taking action the future of the biodiversity within the Alps is threatened.
Each of us can mobilise and act alongside the WWF to face the greatest challenge of our century. It is thanks to the support of donations that WWF can act to safeguard the biodiversity of our planet.
Together, let’s act.
WWF works to preserve ecosystems on all continents. Help them continue their conservation and awareness-raising activities as close to the field as possible.
Please visit their website to learn more about how to donate to WWF.