By Amy Holden

The issues surrounding the future longevity of Venice have been known to the world for many years, however, given the increased awareness given to climate change in the last 2 years, the issue has only been heightened. Given the positioning of Venice, and the desire by so many to holiday there, just how much longer can it survive, and is there really any plausible solution that will save it?

Reinforcing its label as a high-profile victim to sea level rise, in November 2019 Venice made the headlines again as it experienced the highest water levels in 50 years, causing more than 2/3 of the city to be flooded. Yet this January has seen the canals nearly dry, given the low-tides- highlighting how complex the effects on Venice will be, and how big of a grasp climate change truly has on the city.

The unique landscape of Venice- composed of 118 islands inside a lagoon, allowing the Adriatic Sea to enter at 3 points- makes it already vulnerable to climate change. However, it is impacted not only by sea level rise, but also the increase in wind, waves and storms that climate change entails. 

Despite this, some, including Venetians, believe that it was direct human actions that further harmed the city. Many believe that the creation of deep-canals in the 1960s damaged the ecosystem, while dredging also occurs to keep ship routes open, as such the geography of the area is not solely to blame for the increased impact climate change has on the area.

As said above, the need for intervention in Venice has been recognised, with many plans to help reduce the impacts, to keep Venice a practical destination for decades to come. One of the largest, and most controversial of these is the MOSE project. Originally supposed to cost €1.6 billion, and be completed by 2014, the 78 movable floodgates now have a completion date of 2022 and a price of over €5 billion.  

While its name implies a division of the sea, it is highly controversial for a number of reasons, one of the largest being when it will become redundant by the agent it sought to stop. Calculations show that just a 30cm increase in sea level will force the gates to be closed for 70 hours a month; a 50cm increase would increase this to 166 hours, causing large obstructions to cruise and shipping boats. Furthermore, given the level of high-tides seen, it is suggested that MOSE will be ineffective by 2040, making many question the worth of it (given the construction time and cost), as well as it inhibiting the cleaning of the lagoon that occurs naturally by said tides.

Other plans again show the issues in keeping Venice afloat both literally (given that it is expected to be underwater by 2100) and as a tourist destination that brings around 30 million tourists a year. One of the more obvious suggestions would be a new port, outside of the lagoon however, this would further pollute the environment. 

Given the infrastructure surrounding Venice, journeys often begin or end there, meaning that simply moving the port would require transport to and from the city, creating more pollution and delays, rather than helping to solve the original issues. 

Thus, the government has been looking for less-concrete methods at managing the issues, such as a 2017 decision to limit the size of cruise-liners. A decision that will take effect this summer is a tax for tourists between €3-€10 to help offset high costs Venetians face for mundane services, and by 2022 there are plans for booking to be necessary to visit. It is examples such as these that highlight the fragile balance needed between the tourist sector and the environmental impacts in Venice, as the city too many remains a popular destination to travel.

Whilst climate change has grown more prominent in recent years, for some, seeing St Mark’s Basilica standing in a flooded square adds novelty to their trip, rather than being a worry. The struggle between tourism and climate change is something that has more to show, with Venice being only one example, given its unique circumstances. Hard engineering methods such as MOSE provide controversy and may not be enough with the future of the environment being so unprecedented and it is the resident venetians who are aware more than anyone that, despite solutions being up in the air, the need for one is painfully clear.

Image credit: Shaun Dunmall

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