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Governments urged to act on global warming

Switzerland will introduce a CO2 tax on heating oil next year Keystone

Swiss Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger has joined global leaders in calling for urgent action on climate change at a United Nations summit in New York.

This content was published on September 25, 2007 - 08:40

The one-day meeting, a first for the UN, came ahead of global talks about the successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set the day's theme in his opening address, declaring that "the time for doubt has passed" on the issue of global warming.

Ban organised the summit on Monday to build momentum for December's annual climate treaty conference in Indonesia, where Europe, Japan and others hope to initiate talks on an emissions-reduction agreement to succeed the Kyoto pact in 2012.

The UN's chief climate scientist, Rajendra Pachauri, told the summit of the mounting evidence of global warming's impact, including the accelerating rise in sea levels as oceans expand from heat and the runoff of melting land ice.

"The time is up for inaction," he said.

At the day's end, Ban said the scores of speeches showed a "major political commitment" to success in the global talks.

Responsibility

Leuenberger, who has called for a new climate agreement, was positive about the outcome of the summit. "There seems to be a general feeling that governments must take their responsibility seriously," he told swissinfo.

But he admitted that there would be some resistance and that there was no accord yet on how to implement a new agreement.

"It is legitimate that countries such as China, India as well as other economies who want to pursue their development should be sceptical about some proposals," he added.

Question marks still hang over what position the United States will take in future negotiations. The Americans, the world's biggest emitters, have so far rejected Kyoto, which requires 36 industrial nations to reduce carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

The protocol set an average target of a five per cent cut below 1990 levels by 2012 for emissions from power plants and other industrial, agricultural and transport sources.

Some specialists fear the US will not sign a new agreement, preferring to avoid the implementation of hard-to-reach goals.

Climate change

In his speech, Leuenberger said that all nations were affected by climate change and that all must be committed to taking action.

"Each of our countries must reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, and above all within its own national borders," he warned. "If we aren't able to reduce levels at home, how can we expect to convince others to commit to controlling their own emissions?"

The Swiss environment minister called for international cooperation in addition to further means of cutting emissions.

Leuenberger repeated his proposal for a global CO2 tax, which he presented at a UN meeting in Nairobi last year. He added that such a tax would help finance the development of clean technologies and renewable energy.

"This measure would re-establish a certain balance between those who pollute... and those who suffer most from its effects," he said. "In that way, developing countries would also be motivated to committing themselves to controlling their emissions."

swissinfo, based on an article in German by Rita Emch

Key facts

CO2 emissions in Switzerland (millions of tons)
1990: 40.93
2006: 41.19
2012 target: 36.84 (Kyoto target:40.53)

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Kyoto

The Kyoto Protocol, an amendment to the UN Convention on Climate Change, was approved in 1997 and came into force in 2005. It has been ratified by industrialised countries – apart from the United States and Australia – and by a large number of developing countries.

It calls for industrialised nations to reduce harmful emissions by an average of 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2012.

Switzerland's CO2 law formally came into effect in 2000. Its objective is to reduce emissions of CO2 arising from fossil fuels by 10% from 1990 levels by 2010. The desired reduction should be achieved by voluntary measures, but if they are not adequate, the government can introduce a disincentive tax on fossil energy.

On November 8 the government declared that Switzerland had met its formal requirements under the Kyoto Protocol so that it would reduce its greenhouse gases by 8% below the 1990 level – or a maximum of 242.85 million tons of CO2 – between 2008 and 2012.

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