9th Aug 2022

Italy glacier tragedy has 'everything to do' with climate change

  • The Marmolada is one of the most popular peaks among hikers and mountaineers (Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl)
Listen to article

In the early hours of Sunday afternoon (3 July), a huge chunk of the Marmolada glacier in the Dolomites (northeastern Italy) broke off with a tremendous roar.

The collapse of what is technically called a serac triggered an avalanche of rocks and ice that fell at 300 kilometers per hour, sweeping away several hikers. Some were marching toward the summit, some were descending.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

An Italian witness, who narrowly escaped the avalanche, called it "a sea of ice". Running would have been hopeless; he embraced his Israeli partner and they huddled together as the avalanche passed within a short distance of them.

At present there are seven confirmed victims and eight injured, two of whom in serious condition. Besides, at least 13 hikers are missing, both from Italy and elsewhere in Europe (according to still unconfirmed information, they could be Czechs, Germans, and Romanians).

Experts rule out the possibility of finding anyone alive. Access to the entire area is forbidden: the glacier is extremely unstable and dangerous, and new collapses are feared.

For that reason, rescue teams are using drones to pinpoint locations for helicopter intervention. On Monday afternoon, however, even the drones had to stay on the ground for several hours due to bad weather.

Italian media quoted rescuers telling of "mangled remains amid a shapeless tide of ice and debris". All of Italy is in shock.

For many in the country, and especially in the northern regions, going to the mountains in summer is a way to escape the unbearable heat of the cities and chill out.

The Marmolada is one of the most popular peaks among hikers and mountaineers.

Prime minister Mario Draghi decided to leave Rome on Monday despite tensions with the Five Star Movement leader Giuseppe Conte. He headed to Canazei, an Alpine village at the foot of the Marmolada mountain.

"This is a drama that has some unpredictability, but it certainly depends on the deterioration of the environment and the climate situation," Draghi stated, surrounded by local administrators and rescuers. "The government must reflect and take action," he said.

Paolo Bernard owns a newsstand in Canazei.

He told Euobserver that "the whole village is shocked. To my memory nothing like this, so unbelievable, has ever happened, there has never been the collapse of such an amount of mountain. Of course, in winter there can be avalanches, and unfortunately, sometimes someone dies because of them. But now you have to be more careful in summer too."

Another resident said she felt like crying. "This exceptional heat has killed many innocent people," she said.

Italy has suffered for weeks from emergencies related to the climate crisis. A severe drought is bringing farmers in the north to their knees and has dramatically reduced the water levels of the Po River, which flows from the mountains in the northwest across the Po Valley and into the Adriatic Sea.

The whole country has been gripped by an abnormal heat wave for the past two weeks.

Yet, so far, the Draghi-led government has shown little attention to environmental issues: for instance, not much has been done to encourage farmers to use smart irrigation systems, or for the building of water catchment basins.

Wake-up call

But what happened on the Marmolada might be a wake-up call for Italian politics.

Although some assure that the collapse of the glacier could not have been predicted, climatologists, mountain experts and glaciologists agree in blaming the tragedy on climate change.

South Tyrolean and world-famous mountaineer Reinhold Messner told a news agency that "these seracs fall because of gravity, of course, but the real original cause is global warming, which melts glaciers and makes it more likely for a serac to break off".

"This tragedy has a lot, indeed, everything to do with climate change," Giorgio Vacchiano, a forestry researcher at the University of Milan with extensive knowledge of the Italian mountains, explained to EUobserver.

"The day before the detachment the temperature on the Marmolada summit reached 10 degrees, one of the all-time highs", he said.

According to the researcher, the drought affecting Italy in recent months, as well as Storm Vaia in 2018 or the extraordinary floods in Venice in 2019 are important signs.

"The Mediterranean basin is warming at about twice the rate of the global average, which is why we are already seeing these serious effects of climate change in Italy", Vacchiano said.

Author bio

Valentina Saini is a freelance journalist specialising in Italian social issues and politics, gender issues and the Middle East and North Africa region.


ECB rate-setting versus green climate goals

Following the European Central Bank's unanimous decision earlier this month to end negative interest rates by September, nervous private investors and speculators immediately started selling their government bonds.

Droughts prompt calls to cut water use amid harvest fears

With the prolonged lack of rain and high temperatures, fears have emerged over water shortages and droughts decreasing crop yields — prompting calls to use less water and reuse urban wastewater for agricultural irrigation.

Brazil pitches itself as answer to Ukraine war food shortages

Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is pitching his Latin American country as the answer to the world food crisis following the war in Ukraine. The traditional wheat importer has now exported three million tonnes of the grain so far in 2022.


Exploiting the Ukraine crisis for Big Business

From food policy to climate change, corporate lobbyists are exploiting the Ukraine crisis to try to slash legislation that gets in the way of profit. But this is only making things worse.

News in Brief

  1. Rhine river on the brink of closure for shipping
  2. Moldova sees 'prelude to war' with Russia-backed forces
  3. Taliban preventing Afghan evacuations to Germany
  4. Amnesty regrets 'distress' caused by Ukraine report
  5. Energy companies warn UK gas exports to EU are contaminated
  6. EU set for clash over rules on political adverts
  7. Three grain ships due to leave Ukraine on Friday
  8. EU on track to reach gas-storage November target

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Italy poised to elect far-right rulers
  2. UN chief demands access to nuclear plant after new attack
  3. Greek PM embroiled in spyware scandal
  4. How Ukraine made the case anew for an EU army
  5. 'We must take back institutions', Orban tells US conservatives
  6. Putin must lose Ukraine war, Nato chief says
  7. Let Taiwan's democracy shine brighter
  8. Droughts prompt calls to cut water use amid harvest fears

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us