Swiss voters have rejected legislation at the heart of the country’s strategy to abide by the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The CO2 law was turned down on Sunday by 51.6% of voters.
The negative outcome represents a major upset in the tiny nation that is disproportionately affected by climate change. Switzerland’s temperatures are rising at about twice the pace of the global average and its Alpine glaciers risk disappearing by the end of the century.
Opinion polls as recently as May suggested the CO2 law had strong popular support. What is clear is that the “no” camp gained significant ground in recent weeks, particularly in rural regions. Urban cantons including Basel, Zurich and Geneva voted in favour of the bill. But 21 of the 26 Swiss cantons opted for a no vote.
The financial arguments put forward by opponents of the law are credited with tipping the balance in a period of crisis marked by the coronavirus. The emotional debate over anti-pesticide initiatives also overshadowed the issue of climate urgency.
The cost of change
In line with the Paris accord, Switzerland aims to be climate neutral by 2050. But how to best achieve that has been hotly debated. As a first step, the country’s CO2 law was revamped in a bid to reduce the Alpine nation’s greenhouse emissions to 50% of 1990 levels by 2030. Without it, Switzerland’s chances of meeting such goals are in doubt.
The government strategy had won the support of all political parties except for the right-wing People’s Party. The new CO2 law included various measures targeting road vehicles, air traffic, industrial emissions, and the renovation of buildings. Those who cut their CO2 emissions would have benefited from exemptions.
The aim was to curb the negative effects of climate change “without penalising the population or companies”.
But not everyone was convinced and opponents succeeded in collecting enough signatures to trigger a referendum on the issue. Critics included the oil lobby, homeowners, car associations, and GastroSuisse, the catering industry’s umbrella organisation. They viewed the additional taxes as too expensive and unfair as part of the population has no choice but to use a car.