Climate change is causing glaciers – such as the Theodul Glacier near Zermatt – to melt.
Hardened fronts in the melting ice: Switzerland and Italy fought over a hut on the Testa Grigia, the Graukopf, a rock hump at an altitude of 3479 meters. Climate change has melted the glacier there – and with it fueled the question of where exactly the border is now. The two countries have been discussing the possible border since 2018. Because of climate change, the Italian mountain hut was half in Switzerland.
The reason for this is the so-called watershed rule. This states that in the mountains the watershed, i.e. the mountain ridge, determines the border. The Testa Grigia hut would therefore actually be largely located in Switzerland today. Where there is no natural boundary, around 7,000 boundary stones mark the artificial boundary line. This is reasonably fixed. But the natural boundaries are constantly changing, due to rockfalls, storms – or climate change.
In return, Switzerland also receives land
The new natural border suddenly brought problems for the hut boss. Because the mountain guide association wanted to convert the hut, it was not clear where the plans for the construction project should be submitted: in Switzerland or in Italy?
As the “SonntagsZeitung” reports, the two countries involved have agreed: the hut remains Italian. The newly defined boundary largely follows the previous boundary stones. Only where the hut and an Italian weather station are located does it take a new course, which was determined in the negotiations. In return, Switzerland receives a piece of land a few kilometers away that previously belonged to Italy and where two ski lifts from the Zermatt mountain railways led.
The Federal Council will decide in 2023
In order to reach an agreement on the border issue, the border commissions of the two countries met in Florence in November 2021 for an exchange lasting several days. “During the negotiations, a solution was outlined together,” says Sandrine Klötzli from the Federal Office of Topography to the “SonntagsZeitung”.
But now the competent authorities in Switzerland and Italy still have to approve the compromise made by the border commissions. The corresponding Federal Council application is expected in 2023 at the earliest.
Switzerland is growing
A similar case occurred more than two decades ago on the Swiss-Italian border at the Furggsattel above Zermatt: With the retreat of the Theodul Glacier in 2000, the border had to be corrected there. Since then, the chairlift station has been on Swiss territory.
At least when it comes to territorial gains, Switzerland as a whole should benefit from climate change: the glaciers are mainly on the northern slopes. If they melt, the watershed shifts to the south – the area of Switzerland expands. Alain Wicht, from the Federal Office of Topography, told Blick last year how much Switzerland can expand its territory as a result. (you)