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Greenhouse gas plans cause political fallout

A tax on CO2 emissions from cars has been delayed Keystone

Cabinet proposals to delay the introduction of a levy on carbon dioxide emissions from petrol have prompted a mixed response.

This content was published on February 21, 2008 - 21:46

The centre-left said the government's climate and energy policy was disastrous while the centre-right as well as the business community criticised the lack of measures to address an anticipated electricity shortage.

The government announced on Thursday it wanted to lower CO2 emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020 – a move in line with the European Union.

Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger said the aim was to ensure the long-term supply of energy, to reduce reliance on fuel and to fight climate change.

He added that a 20 per cent drop in greenhouse gases – from 1990 levels – would be followed by a more ambitious goal of 50 per cent by the middle of the century, - an annual reduction of 1.5 per cent.

Leuenberger said buying CO2 certificates from abroad would help lower emissions by a further ten per cent.

Experts have warned that it is the minimum bearable level.

"I think it's a step in the right direction. But as a scientist knowing the urgency of addressing climatic change, one could have seen things going a bit quicker," said Martin Beniston, professor of climate research at Geneva University.

"Many of the steps that are being proposed are quite efficient in the way they want to address the issues of climate change: reducing fossil fuels, improving energy efficiency in buildings, and increasing the contribution of renewable energy sources to electricity generation," he told swissinfo.

However, Beniston criticised the government for delaying a CO2 levy on petrol and diesel to complement the tax on heating oil, introduced eight years ago.

Incentives

The proposed measures, which need approval by parliament, include a so-called "incentive tax" aimed at changing people's behaviour rather than raising funds, or an incentive tax with partial allocation of funds for anti-CO2 measures in Switzerland.

Centre-left political parties and environmental groups have dismissed the latest government plans as insufficient and too modest.

They said the cabinet caved in to pressure from business circles and the road traffic lobby.

For their part, centre-right parties and the business community welcomed the government decision to maintain a voluntary charge on petrol and diesel exports rather than introducing a legally binding charge.

However, the rightwing Swiss People's Party said there were no real measures to tackle future electricity shortages.

The Swiss Business Federation, economiesuisse, said it was confident that the government plans would allow Switzerland to meet the targets of the Kyoto Protocol in a bid to reduce greenhouse gases.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of the major gases responsible for greenhouse effect and global warming. In Switzerland it represents around 80% of harmful emissions.

The other gases include methane, nitrous oxide and hydrocarbons.

Despite ambitious emission targets, greenhouse gas emissions have actually risen by 0.4% in Switzerland since 1990.

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Switzerland and Kyoto

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.

However, some experts are doubtful that this target will be met. In 1990 greenhouse gas emissions stood at 53.3 million tonnes; in 2000 they were 52.7 tonnes.

A CO2 law came into force in 2000 to ensure that the Kyoto target was achieved. About 1,000 enterprises have taken voluntary measures to reduce their emissions.

But it became clear by 2005 that these measures were not sufficient.

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