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Companies boost climate commitment

CO2 emissions must be cut under the Kyoto Protocol

Eleven major Swiss financial companies have clubbed together to push innovative environmental and energy projects in the country.

The result is the Swiss Climate Foundation, which was officially baptised in Zurich on Friday. It is believed to be the first project of its kind in Switzerland and is financed from a CO2 tax rebate.

Insurers Swiss Life, Vaudoise Insurances, XL Insurance, Allianz Switzerland, PartnerRe and Swiss Re, as well as professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers and banks Raiffeisen Group Switzerland, Pictet & Cie, Sarasin and Vontobel have all signed up to the initiative.

“The aim is really to support CO2 reduction and energy efficiency projects in small and medium-sized businesses and to take advantage of existing know-how to push what should be done in climate protection,” Vincent Eckert, the foundation’s director, told swissinfo.

This includes supporting the launch of new products on the market in this area as well as specialised research and development, he added.

Funding will come from the rebate companies receive from the CO2 tax on fossil heating fuels.

The levy is part of Switzerland’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases.

CO2 levy

A tax of SFr12 ($11.7) per tonne of CO2 emitted has been charged since January 2008. The move is aimed at encouraging businesses and the public to use fossil fuels more efficiently and to invest in renewable forms of energy.

But the CO2 levy may increase to SFr24 or SFr36 if Switzerland does not meet the Kyoto goals. This would then double or triple the revenue of the foundation.

The tax revenue collected will be redistributed to the public as a rebate on health insurance premiums and to businesses as a percentage of wages paid.

“Through this, service industries receive much more money back, around 3-5 times more, than they have paid through the CO2 levy,” explained Eckert, who is also Swiss Re Group’s environmental manager.

“The concept of the foundation is that the net difference between what they have paid and what they get back as a rebate is put into the foundation,” said Eckert.

Currently this is estimated at SFr1.5 million for the 11 companies.

Support for others

Eckert said that the companies, which were already very active in climate protection, wanted to put the money into supporting less active and smaller players in the economy.

The foundation will officially start work later this year. But some funding will be available for projects before 2010, when the tax revenues collected in 2008 are redistributed.

Pierin Vincenz, head of the Raiffeisen group of banks, told reporters on Friday that he welcomed the foundation’s launch.

“It’s a very effective instrument and will help push the CO2 law further,” he said.

The initiative is countrywide and includes two companies, Pictet & Cie and Vaudoise Insurances, from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. There are plans to extend it to other service and retail firms.

Goodwill gesture

Michael Kaufmann, the deputy director of the Federal Energy Office, welcomes this private initiative.

“We think that it’s very important in Switzerland that not only do measures in climate policy come from the government but also from the private sector,” he told swissinfo at the launch.

It is also a sign that companies are aware of climate change and that it is time to “not only react but to act”, he added.

“It’s a win-win situation because these companies pay the CO2 tax and at the same time they take the responsibility to put some money into a special foundation. In this way they show goodwill,” Kaufmann said.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson in Zurich

The Swiss parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol on climate change in 2003. Switzerland undertook to reduce its CO2 emissions to 10% less than 1990 levels by 2010.

Since this target cannot be met by voluntary measures alone, the government has approved additional measures: the introduction of a CO2 levy on heating fuels, the collection of a “climate cent” on motor fuels by the private sector, and tax relief on biofuels.

The government hopes that all these moves will allow it to meet its international commitments.

Source: Swiss Environment Ministry

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