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Climate change seen as serious threat


The constant media coverage of global warming has changed Swiss attitudes on the subject, according to a poll by Zurich's Federal Institute of Technology.

Four-fifths of Swiss now consider climate change a significant hazard, whereas in 1994 – when the previous Swiss Environment Survey was conducted – just over half did.

Nevertheless considerable gaps remain in the public's "green knowledge", revealed the study, published on Wednesday.

Seventy-nine per cent of the more than 3,300 Swiss interviewed between November 2006 and March 2007 considered environmental problems the most pressing issue facing the country. This was behind the financing of the old-age pension scheme and health costs, both on 88 per cent.

Eighty-two per cent of respondents rated "the danger for humans and the environment posed by greenhouse gases and global warming" as high or very high, compared with only 54 per cent in 1994.

However, people's basic attitude towards the environment has hardly changed over the past 13 years.

In 1994, seven out of ten Swiss agreed that "if we continue behaving as we have done until now, we're heading towards an environmental catastrophe". In 2007 two-thirds of respondents supported this view.

The proportion of respondents who said politicians were doing too little to protect the environment also remained at just over 60 per cent.

Equally, the number of people who said they were prepared to make sacrifices in their lifestyle had risen only slightly from 64 per cent to 68 per cent.

Just 29 per cent said the problems of climate change were exaggerated, compared with 34 per cent in 1994.

Gaps in knowledge

The study found that although the public's general knowledge of the environment had slightly improved, it was still somewhat sketchy.

The vast majority, 89 per cent, were aware that burning fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas contributed to the greenhouse effect – up from 80 per cent in 1994.

But when asked "which gas is the main contributor to the greenhouse effect?", only 42 per cent could correctly name carbon dioxide. This was however up from one third.

Confusion between the greenhouse effect and the hole in the ozone layer is still widespread, though to a lesser extent than previously.

Sixty-five per cent of Swiss, compared with 71 per cent in 1994, wrongly agreed with the statement that "the cause of the greenhouse effect is a hole in the earth's atmosphere".

Regional differences

The study found that Swiss women were still more ecologically aware than men and that the level of education was related to the level of environmental awareness.

While the French-speaking part of the country had caught up with the German-speaking part regarding general awareness of the environment, regional differences remained when rating the most serious ecological hazards.

People in German-speaking Switzerland were less concerned by nuclear power but more concerned by the impact of road traffic than those elsewhere in the country.

Another factor that had changed over the years was the public's attitude to science. In 1994, 28 per cent of people believed researchers could come up with a solution to environmental problems and that they wouldn't have to make sacrifices in their lifestyle. By 2007 the optimists had dropped to 19 per cent.

However, the conflict between ecology versus the economy has eased. In 1994, 44 per cent of people thought economic growth would always harm the environment. Thirteen years later this figure had almost halved to 26 per cent.

swissinfo with agencies

Switzerland and Kyoto

The Swiss parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 2003. But some experts are doubtful that the country will meet its –8% target. In 1990 greenhouse gas emissions stood at 53.3 million tonnes; in 2000 they were 52.7.

A CO2 law came into force in 2000 to ensure that the Kyoto target was achieved. Around 1,000 enterprises have taken voluntary measures to reduce their emissions.

It became clear by 2005 that these measures were not sufficient. However, it is proving difficult to agree on how to strengthen them.

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