Swiss companies have poured cold water over plans to introduce new legal carbon dioxide cutting measures by claiming that they can manage the tasks by themselves.
The Industry Energy Agency said this week that more than 2,100 firms participating in a self-regulatory scheme have cut CO2 emissions by 1.3 million tonnes in the last ten years while using 1,000 gigawatt hours less electricity.
Parliament will debate new CO2 legislation in the autumn that proposes cutting emissions by 20 per cent by 2020. The reductions would force industry to make the reductions purely within Switzerland, blocking the path to buying emissions permits from other companies in Europe.
“Under the new CO2 law not only would all reductions would be made domestically, but the self-regulatory path of industry would also be abolished,” Industry Energy Agency vice-president Hans-Ulrich Bigler said.
Bigler added that the extra administrative burden would “restrict growth, threaten jobs and put the brakes on economic growth”.
Work in progress
Responding to Switzerland’s commitment under the Kyoto protocol to reduce emissions by ten per cent by 2012, Swiss industry came up with the self-regulatory scheme for companies to improve their energy efficiency.
The 2,119 companies participating have been doing their best to ward off regulatory intrusion by implementing their own measures.
The Industry Energy Agency held up the Swiss operations of French telecommunications solutions firm Alcatel-Lucent as a prime example of what could be done with self-regulation.
The company said it consumed nearly a third less electricity and half the amount of the heating oil than it did ten years ago thanks to SFr1 million ($1.3 million) in investments.
Industry accounts for 18.8 per cent of energy consumption of Switzerland, but this figure is overshadowed by households (29.8 per cent) and transport (33.7 per cent).
Official statistics show that the Swiss economy consumed 8.5 per cent more energy between 1990 and 2009. Emissions increased three per cent to 39.2 million tonnes, but this is tempered by the 18.7 per cent growth of gross domestic product.
A report by the Federal Environment Office, entitled Environment Switzerland 2011, concludes that energy efficiencies have outstripped increased production in the last 20 years.
However, environmental lobbyists reject the plea from the Industry Energy Agency to allow companies to sort out their own efficiencies unhindered by new regulations.
“For Swiss companies this is less about the CO2 issue and more about saving money,” Alexander Hauri from Greenpeace Switzerland told swissinfo.ch. “As long as industry continues to save money from energy efficiencies it will probably continue to follow this path, but regulations remain the necessary driver.”
Hauri also pointed out that the self-regulating agency was made up of large companies that account for some 40 per cent of all industrial emissions. Smaller firms, representing 60 per cent of emissions, should be forced to improve efficiency, he argued.
“The agency is appealing mainly for large enterprises and big CO2 emitters,” he said. “New targets in the new CO2 law are necessary for all emitters.”
Christoph Dietler, who is spearheading a public initiative to force Switzerland to reduce emissions by 30 per cent by 2020, admitted that some companies were doing a good job with self-regulation.
But he pointed out that despite some achievements, Switzerland is still way behind its commitment to reduce emissions by ten per cent by 2012.
“Voluntary measures should continue to play a role in reducing emissions,” Dietler told swissinfo.ch. “But figures show that these measures are not enough to reach the goals of the Kyoto protocol.”
Cutting CO2 emissions
As a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, Switzerland in 1997 committed itself to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
In an initial phase CO2 emissions were to be reduced 10% over 1990 levels by 2010.
The government foresees raising the target to at least a 20% cut in emissions by 2020, partly through a CO2 tax, an emissions trading system and compensation measures outside Switzerland.
Parliament approved the 20% target, but wants cuts to be achieved through measures within Switzerland only.
Discussions are continuing on extending the CO2 tax from heating oil, gas and coal to include petrol as well.
Environmental groups have collected enough signatures for a nationwide vote on separate proposals for a 30% cut in emissions as well as for a ban on SUVs.
The EU, which does not include Switzerland, has also set a 20% emission cut. The 27-nation bloc has set targets for individual member countries and approved a number of measures.end of infobox