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climate debate Politicians take another stab at new carbon law

simonetta sommaruga

Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga discussed the proposed legislation with Senators on Monday evening.

(Keystone / Peter Schneider)

The Senate has kicked off debates around a new CO2 law that proposes a range of measures, some of them contentious, for lowering Swiss carbon emissions.

Timing is everything: as world leaders and activists gathered in New York on Monday for a special United Nations Climate Action summitexternal link, Senators in Bern were beginning their discussions around the latest proposals for a new national CO2 law.

The proposition discussed in the Senate, drafted by a Senate Commission, is stronger than the government’s proposal, and may – depending on the course of debate – end up featuring contentious measures such as flight taxes and fuel price hikes.

And though the legislation is still at an early stage – the Senate should wrap-up discussions on Wednesday, at which point the issue would pass to the House of Representatives – one notable agreement on Monday was on the need to improve building sustainability.

From 2023 onwards, the Senate agreed, a maximum of 20 kilograms of CO2 emissions per square meter of surface per year should be allowed for a building undergoing a replacement of its heating system – a figure that will be further tightened in five-year increments.

This would ensure that buildings – responsible for a quarter of all Swiss CO2 emissions – would reduce their footprint by 50% in 2026 and 2027, Senators argued.

Second try

The proposed legislation comes after a previous carbon law was rejected last December by the larger parliamentary chamber; at the time, widely divergent party positions led to a watered-down proposition being rejected by both right- and left-wing groups.

Since then, youth strikes in particular have brought climate change front and centre, while a hot summer and recurring doomsday warnings by climate scientists about the pace of change have spurred debate.

Just last month, 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.

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