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Climate change: Melting glaciers shift the border between Italy and Switzerland

Climate change
Theodul glacier is melting – and changing the national border between Switzerland and Italy

Romantic panoramic view of Lower Theodol Glacier and Matterhorn

© Ruth Tomlinson/Picture Alliance

Climate change is changing geography. Politicians usually don’t care about that. But in one special case, the melting of the Theodol glacier is now causing political debates.

Lucio Tocco, owner of Rifugio Teodulo mountain hut, has to ask himself which side he’s really on these days. On Swiss or Italian? The reason for this is the Theodol glacier, near which is the hut, which is already located on the Italian side. The glacier has been melting for decades, dislocating the national border between Switzerland and Italy.

The former boundary line ran along the drainage gap. A point where melt water flows on either side of a mountain towards one land or another. At the time of its construction in 1984, Rifugio Teodulo was still entirely on Italian soil. But due to the glacier melting, two-thirds of the inns, including most of the 40 beds and the restaurant, are now on the south side of Switzerland.

Melting glaciers is actually not a political issue

Alain Wicht is Chief Border Officer at Swisstopo and is responsible for 7,000 border markers along the 1,935-kilometre border between Inner Switzerland, Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Liechtenstein. Between 1973 and 2010, the Tudol glacier lost nearly a quarter of its mass. This exposed the bedrock of ice, altering the watersheds and forcing the two neighbors to redraw a 100-meter portion of their boundary. A process that, according to Weicht, is quite natural and usually organized without politicians.

Now that the little mountain hut is involved, things are getting complicated as it adds “economic value” to a country that usually relies on tourism. Witchet’s Italian counterparts declined to comment “due to the complex international situation.”

But even in such cases, there is a simple solution, Jean-Philippe Amstein, former Swisstopo president, told The Guardian. The countries concerned exchange plots of land of the same size and value. But in this case, he says, “Switzerland is not interested in acquiring a piece of the glacier,” and “the Italians are unable to make up for the loss of the Swiss region.”

The border has always been a contentious issue between Switzerland and Italy

There were already diplomatic talks about the border in 2018. However, at that time it was about a cable car station that was to be built a few meters from the largest ski area in the world. In 2021 the parties agreed in Florence. However, the details are still confidential and will remain so until the Swiss government approves the outcome. According to the Guardian, this will not happen before 2023.

However, there is good news for the 51-year-old in charge of the mountain hut. The resort will still be Italian because the owner has always been Italian. “The menu is Italian, the wine is Italian, and the taxes are Italian,” he says.

Only on maps from Swisstopo does the solid pink strip of the Swiss border initially remain a dashed line as it passes through the shelter.

source: “Parents”

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