A parliamentary group says Switzerland will not achieve targets set to combat climate change without additional measures since voluntary steps are not enough.
The Association for the Study of Peak Oil, a group concerned with the eventual decline of the world’s gas and oil production, notes that new vehicles in Switzerland have some of the highest emissions in all of Europe.
Twenty-three Swiss parliamentarians are part of the international group. To highlight the shortcomings of voluntary measures in energy-efficiency standards, they pointed to figures presented by the Swiss Energy Foundation that showed a new car in Switzerland spewed on average 180 grams of CO2 per kilometre in 2007. Across the European Union the average was under 160 grams.
Another point: Instead of achieving the 2008 target of 14.2 million tons of CO2 emitted through fuel consumption, Switzerland accrued 17.7 million tons that year.
Peak Oil wants to make it clear to the public that oil production has reached its zenith and to offer a reminder that fossil fuels like oil, gas and coal are finite. The transport industry must also break away from its dependency on oil quickly to protect the climate, it says.
The group adds that Swiss climate policy must do its part to limit the increase in average global temperatures at most to 1.5-degrees Celsius above those recorded before the industrial age.
“Voluntary” is no cure
So far opponents of a CO2 tax have argued that climate goals should be achieved through voluntary self restraint and that bans and demands would produce few results.
A look at rising consumption figures may make it clear that voluntary steps, however, are not enough to reach targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.
While improved engines and better technology in recent years have made vehicles consume less petrol, a large portion of the resulting fuel and greenhouse gas savings has been lost because of a marked increase in vehicle weight.
Even the much-vaunted electric vehicle, which many see as a way out of an impending crisis, is not (yet) able to meet hopes and expectations. Sales statistics reflect this. Of the 287,971 new cars sold in 2008, only four were electric.
Environmental organisations, as well as the federal government, agree that something has to be done but disagree over what and how. Groups like Greenpeace support the introduction of tradable consumption credits for new cars.
How would that work? The government sets a goal, for example, of reducing CO2 emissions from 178 g/km to 170 g/km in the first year. Whoever buys a car that emits only 160 g/km would get a credit for each gram below the benchmark.
The buyer of a new car that emits 180g/km would have to purchase credits for ten grams, thereby meeting the average target. The price for the credits would be negotiable in each case.
Peter Marti, a board member at the engineering firm Metron in canton Aargau, told swissinfo.ch about the study his firm developed for Greenpeace: “No doubt can exist, based purely on the idea, that such an instrument would work.”
This trade would even have the advantage that it would be almost guaranteed with so many interested parties and market players. Marti notes other examples of tradable certificates, including the cap-and-trade system with coal power plant emissions.
Despite the tested concept there is much resistance. New is associated with risk, says Marti. “There’s the emotional side. There’s the fear that freedom would be limited, that you could no longer buy what you wanted.”
Marti believes that fear is unfounded: “There is something there for every taste and demand for comfort. And there is always also an automobile that consumes less fuel and emits less CO2. So no one would risk a reduction in quality of life.”
The Federal Energy Office, by contrast, backs the successor to the energy label, the environment label. This lists not only the energy efficiency of new cars but also tries to depict how environmentally friendly the vehicle in question is.
The government may adopt the environment label system this spring. The House of Representatives commission on environment, spatial planning and energy also proposes to reduce CO2 emissions from new vehicles by 2012 to 130g/km, in line with the EU.
The commission would also like to “environmentalise” cantonal automobile taxes, meaning those who drive a lot would pay more and those who drive less, pay less.
“It is certain that a variety of instruments will be needed,” Marti said. “With all the tools that make sense we would hit the Kyoto target. About that I have no doubt.”
Etienne Strebel, swissinfo.ch (Translated from German by Tim Neville)
Peak oil and its effects
Peak oil is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production starts an irrevocable decline.
The fact that oil production will peak is not disputed. The exact timing of the peak however is hard to say because Opec countries are hardly open about the size of their oil reserves. Estimates range from thinking it has already happened, possibly around 2005, to far enough in the future to allow alternatives to be found.
The problems, which will start when oil supply cannot meet the world's energy demand and no alternative energy source can fill the gap, include increasing "resource wars", fewer investments and purchases and economic slowdown or recession.
Higher fuel costs – and connected higher food costs – will lead to inflation and unemployment, not to mention acute food shortages.
Transport costs will go up, leading to a possible "reversion" of globalisation and the regionalisation of trade, arguably harming economic prosperity and opportunity in developing nations.
Switzerland and Kyoto
Switzerland signed the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and committed itself to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The law governing CO2 reductions requires that emissions be reduced 10% by 2010 against 1990 levels.
It gives the government authority to levy fees on CO2 emissions should this goal not be obtainable through planned and voluntary measures.
The Protocol first sets mandatory targets according to international law for greenhouse gas emissions for all developed countries. From 2008-2012, the CO2 output of industrial nations should be 5.2% lower than 1990 levels. Switzerland and the EU set their own goal of an 8% reduction.
The Kyoto Protocol was created on December 11, 1997, as an ancillary protocol of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change with the goal of climate protection.