Opinion

Under swollen tides, Venice says more about our future than our past

While tides high enough to submerge Venice used to be rare, occurring every two to three decades, they have now become increasingly regular. Five of the ten highest tides in recorded history occurred over the last 20 years, with the most recent one having occurred just last year. Is this the new normal?

By: Date: November 18, 2019 Topic: Energy & Climate

Hundreds of millions have visited Venice to understand our history, but today it’s a monument to the decades ahead.

As a Venetian, I feel devastated. Seeing St Mark’s Basilica flooded is like watching a family heirloom drift away downstream. While the sight of gondolas being smashed against their moorings, while houses and shops soak has felt like a faceless assault against the Italian way of life. The city is used to dealing with the acqua alta (high water), notably during the winter when storms prowl the Mediterranean and strong sirocco winds — amplified by the narrow shape of the Adriatic — usher waves towards the northwest side of the sea. But this time has been different. It has been a catastrofe.

Take St Mark’s Basilica, which dazzling golden mosaics have narrated for centuries, like an open book, hundreds of stories taken from the Holy Scriptures. This gem of humanity has been flooded only six times in 900 years. Four of these floods have now dampened our doors over the last two decades. The last one was just last year.

The increased frequency is a clear consequence of climate change. Water from melting ice sheets and glaciers has led to a rise in global sea level of around 15 centimetres during the 20th century, creating a desperate challenge for coastal cities across the world. Venice, among the most vulnerable, represents the first case of a potentially long list.

Global warming has already reached 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. There is overwhelming evidence that this is resulting in profound consequences for ecosystems and people. Extreme storms that typically occur once per century could hit the world’s coastal cities at least once a year by 2050. By that time, more than 1 billion people are projected to live in the low-lying areas that will be in the path of those storms. This would amount to having 3,800 Venices’ underwater at the same time.

The dramatic call that loudly emerges from flooded Venice is clear: the world needs to scale-up its climate change mitigation efforts, while also investing deeply into adaptation measures.

On mitigation, the science is stark: limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is the only way to protect humanity the world from the most dramatic impacts of climate change. To remain within this boundary, global greenhouse gas emissions have to rapidly decline, to reach net-zero in 2050. Urgency is dictated by a well-established fact: due to human activities, the global average temperature has already increased to date by approximately 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This is becoming technically and economically possible, as most of the technologies needed to achieve global climate neutrality in 2050 are now available, at ever lower costs. What is needed are policy frameworks able to intelligently promote deep decarbonisation by accompanying the economic and industrial transformation this necessarily implies, and by ensuring the social inclusiveness of the overall process. For this reason, Green New Deals might well represent a sensible policy response to this challenge. Europe will soon start showcasing such initiative with its European Green Deal.

Alongside mitigation actions, measures must also be implemented to adapt to the various impacts of climate change, which occur or may occur in many areas of the planet — e.g., modification of the precipitation regime, reduction of water resources, increase in the frequency of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods and droughts. Economic sectors that depend on climatic conditions, such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, seaside and mountain tourism, health, transport, the energy system, financial services and insurance, may be severely affected by these impacts. Preventive action through the implementation of measures to adapt to certain impacts of climate change are crucial, as the costs of such preventive actions are less onerous from a socio-economic point of view than those resulting from the damage due to the same impacts. In the case of Venice, the Italian government has been discussing a project to keep floodwaters out of the city since the early 1980s. The project, known as MOSE and consisting of a deployable underwater dam system blocking the three entrances to the lagoon from the sea, has been under construction since 2003. After 16 years of work and €5.5 billion spent, it is yet to enter into operation, postponed by bureaucratic complications and corruption. Sadly, as we all see, climate change does not wait for either bureaucrats nor judges.

When work started on the St Mark’s Basilica, the architects, workers and priests must have known that they could never live long enough to see the masterpiece they were building. But that is the story of almost every cathedral in Europe. We do not embark on many projects like these ones nowadays, but today as we fight to save our warming world, we will all have to do so once again.

The Russian poet and essayist Joseph Brodsky once described Venice as “the greatest masterpiece our species produced”. I may be biased, but I suspect we will never surpass it. And yet, our determination to rescue the city will say as much about our species as the imaginations that built it.

For more from the author on the European Green Deal, listen to our podcast:


Republishing and referencing

Bruegel considers itself a public good and takes no institutional standpoint.

Due to copyright agreements we ask that you kindly email request to republish opinions that have appeared in print to [email protected].

Read about event More on this topic
 

Upcoming Event

May
28
13:00

(Em)powering the recovery

What role will the energy sector play in the post crisis recovery and will this recovery be a green one?

Speakers: Kadri Simson, Francesco Starace and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Why OMT is not the solution for Italy right now

The Outright Monetary Transactions tool is not well suited for Italy right now. Italy needs fiscal support both by itself and by the EU. Italy and the rest of the EU need a fiscal bazooka. We should find a way of backstopping our economies immediately.

By: Maria Demertzis Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: March 16, 2020
Read article Download PDF More on this topic
 

External Publication

The effect of digitalization in the energy consumption of passenger transport: An analysis of future scenarios for Europe

The paper evaluates the effects on energy consumption of digitalization in transport. Digitalization needs a tailored policy support to avoid higher energy consumption.

By: Simone Tagliapietra and Michel Noussan Topic: Energy & Climate Date: March 16, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

CANCELLED: India-EU Partnership: New Vistas for the Next Decade

Policymakers, academics and private sector actors from the EU and India come together to work on common issues and explore further areas of cooperation.

Speakers: Yamini Aiyar, Suman Bery, Navroz K Dubash, Alicia García-Herrero, Rajat Kathuria, Partha Mukhopadhyay, Ananth Padmanabhan, Georgios Petropoulos, André Sapir, Shyam Saran, Simone Tagliapietra and Marc Vanheukelen Topic: Global Economics & Governance Location: India International Centre, Lodhi Gardens, Lodhi Estate, New Delhi, Delhi, India Date: March 12, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

On gains, losses, and trade-offs: the case of Border Carbon Adjustment

How will the border carbon adjustment be implemented and what will be the implications?

Speakers: Gabriel Felbermayr, André Sapir and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 5, 2020
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

The Sound of Economics Live - The Brussels effect: How the European Union rules the world

This was a live recording of an episode of the Sound of Economics, Bruegel's podcast series. The discussion centered around the book of Anu Bradford, The Brussels Effect.

Speakers: Anu Bradford, Ashoka Mody, Giuseppe Porcaro and Guntram B. Wolff Topic: European Macroeconomics & Governance Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: March 3, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Blog Post

To save the Italian economy from the Coronavirus, Rome prescribes a stimulus

Faced with a difficult prognosis, the Italian government has prescribed a three-step strategy to treat the worse economic symptoms of the Coronavirus. The medicine is money and the dosage is €4.5 billion

By: Simone Tagliapietra Topic: Global Economics & Governance Date: March 3, 2020
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Opinion

Why border carbon adjustment is important for Europe’s green deal

The European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen is pursuing ambitious environmental targets, notably to reach zero net emissions across the EU by 2050. This transition requires pricing emissions to incentivise producers to develop greener alternatives, while avoiding putting domestic producers at a disadvantage.

By: Guntram B. Wolff Topic: Energy & Climate Date: November 27, 2019
Read about event More on this topic
 

Past Event

Past Event

Enhancing climate policy through co-creation

First PARIS REINFORCE Stakeholder Council Dialogue

Speakers: Haris Doukas, Ajay Gambhir, Georg Zachmann, Dirk-Jan van de Ven, Jorge Moreno, Alexandros Nikas, Vangelis Marinakis, Glen Peters, Alexandre Koberle, Marc Vielle, Andrea Herbst, Rocco De Miglio, Annela Anger-Kraavi, Baptiste Boitier, Lorenza Campagnolo, Zsolt Lengyel and Joeri Rogelj Topic: Energy & Climate Location: Bruegel, Rue de la Charité 33, 1210 Brussels Date: November 21, 2019
Read article More on this topic More by this author
 

Podcast

Podcast

How to make the European Green Deal work (Part Two)

Nicholas Barrett and Guntram Wolff discuss industrial policy and the social consequences of the green deal with Grégory Claeys and Simone Tagliapietra.

By: The Sound of Economics Topic: Energy & Climate Date: November 14, 2019
Read article More on this topic
 

Opinion

Four pillars to make or break the European Green Deal

The recipe for a successful European Green Deal is as simple as it is breath-taking: to intelligently promote deep decarbonisation by accompanying the economic and industrial transformation this necessarily implies, and by ensuring the social inclusiveness of the overall process.

By: Simone Tagliapietra, Grégory Claeys and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate Date: November 14, 2019
Read article Download PDF
 

Policy Contribution

How to make the European Green Deal work

Ursula von der Leyen has proposed a European Green Deal that would make Europe climate neutral by 2050. With this Policy Contribution, the authors provide a first analysis on how to make this initiative work.

By: Grégory Claeys, Simone Tagliapietra and Georg Zachmann Topic: Energy & Climate, European Macroeconomics & Governance Date: November 5, 2019
Load more posts