Amid melting glaciers, Swiss vote on new climate law

AFP , Sunday 18 Jun 2023

The Swiss, feeling the impact of global warming on their rapidly melting glaciers, on Sunday backed a new climate bill aimed at steering their country towards carbon neutrality by 2050.

Electoral poster in Switzerland
A photograph taken in Lausanne on June 18, 2023 shows an electoral poster reading in French Invest in our future , Yes, Climate Law June 18 . The Swiss, feeling the impact of global warming on their rapidly melting glaciers, were voting on June 18, 2023 on a new climate bill aimed at steering the country towards carbon neutrality by 2050. AFP


Near-final results showed almost 59 percent of voters supporting the new law, which will require Switzerland to slash its dependence on imported oil and gas, scaling up the development and use of greener and more homegrown alternatives.

Voters also overwhelmingly backed adopting a global minimum tax rate of 15 percent for multinational corporations in a second referendum, with nearly 79 percent in favour, with full results in from all but one of Switzerland's 26 cantons.

Voter participation in the referendums stood at around 42 percent.

Recent opinion polls had indicated strong but slipping support for the climate bill, amid an anxiety-infused campaign around electricity shortages and economic ruin driven by the populist right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP).

Supporters insisted the law was needed to ensure energy security and independence, and to help address the ravages of climate change, highlighted by the dramatic melting of glaciers in the Swiss Alps, which lost a third of their ice volume between 2001 and 2022.

Leading Swiss glaciologist Matthias Huss, who has been closely following the glaciers' decline, hailed in a tweet the "strong signal" sent by Sunday's vote, and said he was "very happy the arguments of climate science were heard".

Socialist Party parliamentarian Valerie Piller Carrard celebrated the vote as "an important step for future generations".

Climate-Friendly Alternatives 

Energy has long been a tricky issue in Switzerland, which imports around three quarters of its energy, with all the oil and natural gas consumed coming from abroad.

Concerns around Switzerland's reliance on external sources have been swelling since Russia's invasion of Ukraine threw into doubt Swiss access to much of the foreign energy it uses.

Climate activists had initially wanted to push for a total ban on all oil and gas consumption in Switzerland by 2050.

But the government baulked at the so-called Glacier Initiative, drawing up a counter-proposal that scrapped the idea of a ban but included other elements.

The text promises financial support of two billion Swiss francs ($2.2 billion) over a decade to promote the replacement of gas or oil heating systems with climate-friendly alternatives, as well as aid to push businesses towards green innovation.

Nearly all of Switzerland's major parties supported the bill, except the SVP, the country's largest party, which triggered the referendum against what it dismissed as the "electricity-wasting law".

It warned the bill's goal of achieving climate neutrality in just over a quarter-century would effectively mean a fossil fuel ban, which it claims would threaten energy access and send household electricity bills soaring.

The SVP voiced disappointment Sunday, with campaign chief Michael Graber insisting to 20 Minutes that "the bill for adopting this law will be presented much later".

His colleague Kevin Grangier said the result should not be seen as a failure for the SVP, "but rather as a failure for the (Swiss) pocketbook".

The SVP, which just two years ago managed to block a similar law that would have curbed greenhouse gas emissions, also highlighted that backing for the new climate bill was uneven.

There appeared to be far less support in rural regions, seven of the 26 cantons voted against the law,  amid concerns over wind turbines littering landscapes and the impact of dwindling access to fossil fuels on mobility.

Support meanwhile was particularly strong in urban areas like Geneva, where nearly 75 percent of voters backed the law.

Corporate Tax Hike 

The backing was far more uniform in the second referendum on hiking the tax rate for large businesses.

A vast majority of voters and all cantons supported amending the constitution so Switzerland can join the international agreement, led by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to the near-final results

The plan is to impose the new rate on all Swiss-based companies with a turnover above 750 million euros.

Until now, many cantons have imposed some of the lowest corporate tax rates in the world, in what they often said was needed to attract businesses in the face of high wages and location costs.

The Swiss government estimates that revenues from the supplementary tax would amount to between 1.0 and 2.5 billion Swiss francs in the first year alone.

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