On June 18, the Swiss people will be voting on three issues; a new minimum tax rate, measures to control the spread of COVID-19, and the Climate and Innovation Act, which has caused controversy among Switzerland’s biggest right wing party; the Swiss People’s Party.
The new Act was originally accepted by the Swiss parliament in September 2022. It acts as “an indirect counter-proposal to the Glacier Initiative,” which was rejected by the government and parliament.
The Glacier Initiative originally proposed that Switzerland completely ban all fossil fuel use by 2050. The initiative had this name due to the fact that the melting of glaciers in the Swiss Alps is “one of the most visible consequences of climate change in Switzerland,” according to SWI swissinfo.ch.
The counter–proposal, however, suggests that Switzerland aims to become “climate neutral” by 2050 instead, and involves the provision of financial support to replace heating systems with more climate-friendly alternatives.
The main motivation behind the Climate and Innovation Act is the desire to gain independence from other countries which Switzerland currently relies on for energy.
Approximately three quarters of the energy that Switzerland currently consumes is imported from other countries. For example, Switzerland sources around 39% of its crude oil from Nigeria, and also relies on the United States and Libya. Around six out of every ten homes in the country are heated using fossil fuels.
If the new climate legislation is passed, “Switzerland will gradually reduce its consumption of mineral oil and natural gas,” according to the government website. Due to its nature as a counterproposal, if approved, it can be quickly enacted.
However, the referendum was introduced after the right wing Swiss People’s Party strongly opposed the legislation in January. After entering an energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, the party considered it counterproductive to focus on climate laws in Switzerland. The party labelled the new law as “expensive, mendacious and dangerous”.
Although the other major parties supported the Climate and Innovation Act, The Swiss People’s Party is the largest party in the country, and therefore was successfully able to launch a referendum against the law after collecting over 100,000 signatures (50,000 are required to launch a referendum).
Consequently, the decision of whether or not the law should be enacted will be decided by the Swiss public on June 18.
Recent developments in Switzerland have drawn more and more attention to the urgency of the climate crisis and how important it is that action be taken. For example, in March, the Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland (KlimaSeniorinnen) attended a public hearing for their lawsuit against Switzerland.
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The lawsuit accused Switzerland of violating human rights by neglecting to take enough action against climate change, and not making enough of an effort to reduce carbon emissions.
This case is “the first ever climate case to be heard before the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in Strasbourg, France,” according to Greenpeace.
The case was compiled by 2,038 women, all over the age of 64. Anne Mahrer, co-president of Senior Women for Climate Protection Switzerland, said: “We have filed a lawsuit because Switzerland is doing far too little to contain the climate catastrophe. Rising temperatures are already having serious impacts on our physical and mental health. The big spike in heat waves is making us older women sick.”
As the impact of fossil fuel consumption becomes more tangible, one can only hope that this encourages the public to favour climate preservation when they vote in the upcoming referendum, and work towards change.
The new Climate and Innovation Act is a key turning point in Swiss climate politics. The professor of climate physics at ETH Zurich University, Reto Knutti, described the new legislation as an “important step forward in the area of climate and energy policy” after “years of political stalemate.”
Leading climate scientist Sonia Seneviratne, also from ETH Zurich University (professor of land-climate dynamics), warned Switzerland that “climate change is now.” She expanded on this, expressing that:
“We must stop consuming fossil fuels. The alternatives are there, although many people are afraid of change…We don’t need to change our lifestyles fundamentally. We can keep leading equally comfortable lives while producing fewer emissions.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: A slip of paper being placed into a ballot box. Featured Photo Credit: Marco Verch