State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Border Issues Arise from Global Warming

When people think of global warming and glacial melting, they often think of sea levels rising, coasts moving inland, and cities flooding and disappearing. Something that they rarely think about is the changing of borders between countries. However, this is exactly what is currently occuring in the Alps between Italy and Switzerland.

In an article written on CNN, the border dispute between Switzerland and Italy is discussed. Due to the increased global warming caused by the release of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the glaciers in the Alps are melting. These glciars had been used to determine the border between Switzerland and Italy, but with the recent melting, the accepted border no longer coincised with the terrain in that area.

The two countries are cooperating to try to fix the border dispute. It has already been determined that the area that is currently in dispute is not inhabited by people, so there is no need to worry about a change in citizenship or other issues. They have come to an agreement that has been passed in Switzerland, but they are still waiting final approval on the side of Italy to have the borders come into effect.

In the coming years, it will be interesting the see if there in an increase in these sorts of disputes. Will we see more disputes in the Alps area? Will such disputes surface in the United States with the Appalachian Mountains or the Rockies? This idea of border alterations due to the metling water in the glaciars is likely to become more and more relevent as the glaciers continue to melt. It is promising that Italy and Switzerland made a peaceful and collaborative approach to addressing this problem that can serve as a precentent in cases of this nature to come.

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Meaghan Daly
Meaghan Daly
15 years ago

Certainly, there are likely to be large increases in disputes related to melting glaciers – although I would speculate that most of the conflict will center around actual surface water supplies, which are likely to decline with decreased seasonal runoff.

There are also some regions where both border disputes and water supply issues could play a major factor – such as along the Indo-Tibetan border that traverses the Himalaya, where there is already a history of tense relations in both realms.

Michelle Shevin
Michelle Shevin
15 years ago

Meaghan brings up a great point– Jennifer is right to commend Italy and Switzerland on a peaceful resolution to this border dispute, but what happens when the problem arises in an already tense area? Further, while melt and shifting borders tend to compound these problems, droughts can make them even worse.

Georgia and Tennessee have had border disputes over water for over 200 years, and severe drought in Atlanta last year prompted Republican lawmakers to consider invading Tennessee. It is easy to laugh at GA and TN, after all, national unity is one of the only things that does seem stable. However, these problems are no laughing matter in other parts of the world.