By Tim Radford
The microstate of Andorra, a tiny Catalan principality in the Pyrenees between France and Spain, could be a victim of global warming.
Researchers from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia report, in the journal Climate Research, that a warmer world could mean a shorter skiing season – and economic stress for the citizens of Andorra.
Tourism is big business in Andorra: it survives as a duty free shopping centre and tax haven, enclosed by EU states but not an EU member, and is host to 10 million visitors a year, many of them in winter.
The principality has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, and its 85,000 citizens have one of the longest life expectancies. But warming scenarios of 2°C and 4°C could change the picture.
Tourism generates 80% of Andorra’s GDP. Snow falls would be unpredictable, and fewer visitors would check into the lower altitude resorts.
“The rapid decrease in glacier mass, quantity and frequency changes of snowfall, level variations and biodiversity distribution are examples of how mountain ecosystems are highly sensitive,” said Marc Pons, leader of the study.
The researchers assessed the snow cover at each of the resorts at altitudes of 1,500, 2,000 and 2,500 metres. To guarantee enough snow to attract snow tourism, the resorts have invested in snow machines.
In the case of a 2°C temperature rise, the ski season would be 30% shorter but only the lower slopes of one resort, Pal-Arinsal, would be affected.
In a 4°C scenario all three resorts would suffer badly at the lower altitudes, and not even snow machines could save the situation for Pal-Arinsal.
A 15% fall in visitors would cost the Andorrans 50 million euros each season, the researchers calculate.
This article was produced by the Climate News Network