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Environment Study: Uniform carbon tax could slash Swiss transport emissions

Cars driving through Zurich

Transport represents 41% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland - the largest sector.

(© Keystone / Gaetan Bally)

Switzerland should impose a uniform carbon tax on gasoline, diesel and heating oil that rises steadily to 2050 in order to be able to meet the Paris climate targets, according to a new study. 

Using macroeconomic modelling, scientists at Lausanne’s Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) compared carbon tax scenarios for the period 2019 to 2050. They found that a uniform tax on heating oil, gasoline and diesel fuel would be the most cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions from 4.5 tons per inhabitant today to 1.5 tons. 

The CO2 levy, which is currently 0.25 cents per litre for heating oil, should be applied to gasoline and diesel fuel also, and steadily increased to CHF1.70 francs by 2050, the researchers saidexternal link

This would lower the share of total emissions generated by transport in Switzerland – the most important sector for greenhouse gas emissions - from 41% to 33%. 

“By treating fuels equally, you would avoid penalizing one sector relative to another. So, if the levy on gasoline and diesel fuel were limited to CHF1 per litre, the tax on heating oil would have to rise to CHF4. We also took into account the steady decrease in the amount of fuel consumed by car engines, which means that, in the end, the levy has very little impact on drivers’ budgets,” said Philippe Thalmann, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Environmental and Urban Economics and co-author of the study, which has just been published in the Swiss Journal of Economics and Statisticsexternal link.  

Thalmann said the resulting tax revenue could be used to subsidize a network of electric charging points, electric car purchases and the public transport system. 

Transport emissions

The share of transport emissions in Switzerland (41%) - which includes CO2 emissions for domestic flights - is higher than the average in the European Union (28%) and the United States (34%). Most transport emissions in Switzerland (98%) come from road traffic, with individual vehicles responsible for two-thirds of them. The EPFL researchers said a large proportion of CO2 vehicle emissions result from 4x4 vehicles, which represent around 40% of new vehicle registrations, compared to 13% across the EU. 

For their calculations, the researchers also took into consideration technological developments, such as the rise of biofuels and electric cars, as well as public transport and car-sharing. 

In August, the Swiss government pledged to beef up its Paris Agreement pledges and become climate-neutral by 2050, saying that the target is feasible by using already available technologies and renewable energy. 

EFPL/sb

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