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Switzerland puts Climate Law to the Test at the Ballot Box

Climate bill has wide support to address climate change

As a parliamentary counterproposal to the "Glacier Initiative," the "Climate and Innovation Act" will have an opportunity to be written into law in Switzerland on Sunday, June 18th. Voters across the twenty-six cantons within the country will cast their ballots in favor of or in opposition to the potential law, which seeks to overhaul the energy resources available.



On Sunday, June 18th, the referendum for the Swiss climate bill (in German only) passed with nearly 60% affirmative votes (in German only). With a turnout of around 42%, the largest support came from canton of Geneva (74%) followed by Basel City (73%), Neuchâtel (70%), Vaud (69%), and Jura (63%). The primarily German-speaking cantons of Uri, Obwalden, Glarus, Appenzell Inner Rhodes and Nidwalden all rejected the bill with slight majorities. The historic vote is a critical, step in the country’s climate policies. First Climate will continue to follow the developments in Switzerland and share updates as they become available.

Solar panels on alpine hut in Pennine Alps, Switzerland
© anatoliy_gleb —

Historically a nation of fuel imports, Switzerland’s reliance on pollution-prone energy sources presents significant challenges to a national low-carbon goal. Initiators of the climate act argue that such dependance creates an unsustainable path for both the country’s energy security and for the climate at large. Due to its landlocked location and the mountainous terrain of the alps, the country is expected to be strongly hit by the effects of climate change – melting glaciers, heatwaves, reduced annual rainfall for example. For the supporters of the current initiative on climate politcs, the vote poses a unique opportunity to position itself for the future of its national energy security and for mitigating the worst effects of climate change.

The central pillar of the plan is getting Switzerland to net zero by 2050 by avoiding greenhouse gas emissions and utilizing negative emissions technologies. Other key pillars are adapting to and mitigation of the effects of climate change and directing financing resources to low-emissions technology development to counter climate change. The ambitious plan recommends CHF 2 billion (about 2 billion euros) disbursed over ten years to replace gas and oil heating systems with more climate friendly alternatives. Also included is a complementary innovation promotion package that would target building an infrastructure to fully replace fossil-fuel heating systems with heat pumps and remote heating networks and electrifying transportation resources possible. This switch over may cost around CHF 200 million parceled out over six years. It also defines specific, interim decarbonization paths for the construction, transportation, and industry sectors.

Apart from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, all other major national parties stand behind the principles and propositions of the potential law. The original proposal in the Glacier Initiative stated national objectives and interim benchmarks to reduce carbon emissions and was originally penned by the Swiss Association for Climate Protection (dt. "Verein Klimaschutz Schweiz"). The Association sought to eradicate greenhouse gas emissions and totally restrict the use of fossil fuels. Conversely, the proposed law now being voted on sets a path for easing investment in innovative technologies and the creation of industry related jobs, for instance in photovoltaic or wind power plants.

Arguments from Proponents and Opponents

Supporters say the proposal stays the course already set by the Paris Agreement. Their strategy is not to replace fossil fuels with synthetic alternatives, but rather to promote a full scale electrification of the national transportation and heating industries. The law could, consequently, help close the gap between energy supply and demand by boosting domestic energy supply through wind and solar farms. These alternatives are expected to reduce costs in the long-term.

Whereas factions against the climate law are concerned that exiting the fossil fuel industry may lead to massive increases in energy needs and a considerable hike in household energy costs. However, the act includes an extensive development plan for renewable energy supply, whereby the subsequent efficiency gains will drive a significant drop in overall energy demand.

Voting on Switzerland’s energy future

This weekend’s vote is expected to end in approval of the climate act as the most recent polls from gsf.bern predict between 53-63% affirmative vote. Jonathan Schwieger, Head of GHG Accounting and Reporting, and based in the Zurich office of First Climate says, “Switzerland has a unique opportunity to firmly be on the right course for energy security and national climate action. Phasing out fossil fuel sources and propelling the nation to develop low-carbon energy and technology solutions will have long-term positive impacts for the Swiss people and the planet. I am excited about the prospects of a new climate law.”

First Climate intends to report on the outcomes of the vote in the near future.



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