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Switzerland holds referendum on net-zero climate law

The government plans a 75% emission cut by 2050 but the right-wing Swiss People's Party warned the plan will cause energy prices to rise

Deutsche Welle Published 18.06.23, 03:35 PM
An ad for the climate protection law referendum calls on voters to "Upset Putin with your voice"

An ad for the climate protection law referendum calls on voters to "Upset Putin with your voice" Deutsche Welle

Swiss voters took part in referenda Sunday on a new climate protection law and higher corporate taxes, with polls indicating that both measures will pass.

Parliament already passed the climate law, which aims to make Switzerland climate neutral by 2050 and reduce the impact on the country's iconic glaciers, which are melting away at an alarming rate.


But the right-wing conservative Swiss People's Party (SVP) has refused to back it, arguing that cutting climate-damaging emissions by 75% by 2050, compared to 1990, would cause energy prices to explode.

SVP leader Marco Chiesa last month criticized the "utopian" vision behind the bill, maintaining it would drive up energy costs by 400 billion Swiss francs (€447 billion, €4.08 billion) while having basically "no impact" on the global climate.

The SVP collected sufficient signatures to force the referendum vote under Switzerland's system of direct democracy.

Alpine glaciers melting fast

Backers of the plan argue that Switzerland will be hard-hit by climate change and is already seeing the effects of rising temperatures in the Alps.

Swiss glaciers experienced record melting last year, losing more than 6% of their volume and alarming scientists who say a loss of 2% would once have been considered extreme.

Opinion polls indicate strong support for the proposed law, the most recent by pollster gfs.bern put public backing at 63%.

Subsidies for renewable heating systems

The Swiss government is keen to promote the departure from fossil fuel use in heating with financial incentives.

Companies will also be supported to help them convert to climate-friendly technologies.

Over a period of 10 years, 3.2 billion Swiss francs are available for this purpose.

Switzerland still imports about three quarters of its energy and the need to transition has been made more urgent by unstable supplies from Russia due to the Ukraine war.

In an attempt to bring down that share, the government is planning to allow companies to build large solar panel parks in the Alps, along with more wind turbines.

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

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

Meteorologists have warned that climate change to exacerbate natural disasters in the Alps and hurt tourism revenues.

Corporate taxes to rise in line with rest of world

In the case of corporate taxes, the issue is the implementation of a decision by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to require international companies with sales of at least $750 million to be taxed at a rate of at least 15%.

Many of Switzerland's 26 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 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.

Basel and Zug, where large pharmaceutical and trading groups are based, would benefit most from higher tax revenues.

The latest opinion poll indicated that 73% of voters backed the plan.

Polling stations were due to remain open until 12 p.m. local time (1000 GMT), with most voters casting their ballot in advance.

Initial results were expected by mid-afternoon.

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