Climate and sustainable development: a morning of studies at USI for high school students

Institutional Communication Service

A morning of studies organised by “Sale in zucca, pensare e coltivare il futuro” - the institute’s project of Lugano 1 High School – was held on 15 January 2019. The event coordinated by professors Manuela Varini and Ludovica Cotta-Ramusino in collaboration with USI and the Natural Sciences Society of Ticino, brought together about 450 second and third-year students to tackle issues such as global warming, sustainable technologies and economy, with the help of experts. The event is also part of the conference series "Energy, climate and sustainable development" promoted by USI Institute of Economics (IdEP) and supported by the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences and éducation21.

This study day furthers the objective of the conference series, which aims to introduce the younger generation to experts in the field. A chance for discussion on topical issues, facilitated by the university context. Marco Gaia, Head of the South Regional Centre of MeteoSwiss, was among the guest speakers. In his opening remarks he underlined a crucial aspect, which was later reiterated by the other speakers: ""The timely and decisive actions we are called upon to take to manage the consequences of climate change must be the result of collaborations that bring more expertise into play: not only climatologists are involved, but also economists, lawyers, engineers, biologists and chemists who, working together, can develop zero-emission technologies".

The focus of the morning was in fact C02, which is inevitably emitted at every combustion to produce energy. One of Switzerland’s objectives is to become a country free of greenhouse gases by 2050, on the grounds of scientific findings on the subject. But how much does carbon dioxide affect our country's energy balance? "According to data from the Federal Office for the Environment and Statistics," explains Marco Gaia "in 2018 some 30 million tons of CO2 were emitted in Switzerland, around 50% from fuels and 50% from other fossil fuels. It should be noted that 54% of the energy used in Switzerland comes from fossil fuels (oil and its derivatives, natural gas), 20% from nuclear power plants, 12% from hydroelectric power and the remaining 14% from various sources". It is interesting to understand how much Switzerland climate change is affecting Switzerland compared to the rest of the world. The phenomenon is particularly evident when you look at the increase in temperatures: "Since 1864 - when systematic measurements began in Switzerland - the average annual temperature has increased by almost 2 degrees Celsius, about twice as much as the rest of the world. The increase has not been linear, but has accelerated over the last 30-40 years. The precipitation regime is also showing the first signs of change, although not as noticeable as with temperatures: precipitation tends to intensify" stated Gaia.

Prof. Valentina Bosetti from Bocconi University spoke about the economics of climate change, drawing students' attention to one of the first economists to deal with climate change models: the Nobel Prize for Economics 2018, William Nordhaus. In this way students were able to understand the impact environmental challenges are having on the economy (damage function) and the related "social cost of carbon". Prof. Marco Mazzotti of ETH Zurich also spoke about renewable energies and new technologies for sustainable development aimed at capturing and storing C02. In order to understand the impact of an energy source, the direct and indirect use of fossil fuels should be taken into account: inside a building, for example, we use heating (direct production) and use electricity (indirect use, if combustion took place at the time of production). USI-ETH Prof. Massimo Filippini reiterated these concepts illustrating the main tools of energy and climate policy, including the so-called "soft push policies", " soft" rules that push the individual to change behavior, to choose the best for himself and for society. An example are the energy labels applied to cars and household appliances.

During the study day there was also plenty of room for students to interact with the experts. Most of the questions asked were on the real international constraints dictated by treaties such as Kyoto, on the consequences of the profits of the world's major powers brought by oil and on details of how the new low-emission technologies work. 

The conference series "Energy, climate and sustainable development" promoted by IdEP launched in December 2019 and will carry on with its third conference on 9 March 2020, once again at USI. The upcoming conference, open to the public, is also organised by the "Sale in zucca" project of the Liceo Lugano 1, in collaboration with IdEP and the Natural Sciences Society of Ticino, which is dedicating the entire year 2020 to the theme of sustainability. "It is important to raise awareness on such issues starting from the new generations, and encourage them to put into practice, in their own households, the knowledge acquired" explains Prof. Massimo Filippini.