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Leuenberger pushes for post-Kyoto carbon tax

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Swiss Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger has called for a tax on fossil fuels, heating oil and greenhouse gases to be introduced in Switzerland from 2012.

This content was published on August 16, 2007 - 16:02

This, he said, would reduce emissions by 1.5 per cent a year after the expiry of the Kyoto Protocol. But various environmental and trade organisations have criticised the plan's cost and effectiveness.

Presenting possible guidelines for the government's future climate policy in Bern on Thursday, Leuenberger said climate change had economic as well as ecological consequences for Switzerland.

According to studies by the Environment Office, the predicted global temperature rise of three degrees Celsius will cost SFr1 billion ($820 million) in quality of living – a figure which will increase rapidly in the second half of the century.

Leuenberger said that if suitable measures were taken, a global temperature increase of two degrees by 2050 would have relatively moderate financial consequences of SFr500 million.

Two paths

The Environment Office's climate report, which the government is set to discuss later this year, has laid out two ways of reaching this target: a CO2 tax, and technical regulation.

One possible tax, according to Leuenberger, would be a maximum SFr200 per tonne of CO2 or equivalent.

Ninety to 95 per cent of the money raised would be returned to the population or into the economy. The remainder could be used for climate-related measures such as flood controls or for making buildings environmentally friendly.

The second plan is that of technical regulation. This would require a large investment to improve energy efficiency, promote new technologies and rely more heavily on public transport, and more dense and compact housing developments with stricter construction codes.

Leuenberger is in favour of taking the former path, arguing that market forces will take over and grant consumers greater flexibility. The Environment Office said a "drastic tightening" would be necessary to achieve the same reductions via technical regulation.

Criticism

The Green Party, which is campaigning for October's federal elections on an environment ticket, said Leuenberger's comments on Thursday proved that "the political class in Switzerland doesn't take climate protection seriously despite election promises and is ignoring the public's concerns".

It said the government's target of 1.5 per cent a year was a "mockery" when compared with the 30 per cent target set by the European Union and 40 per cent by Germany.

It noted that the target would at best reduce emissions by 21 per cent by 2020.

The Greens demanded a 30 per cent reduction of greenhouses gases in Switzerland by 2020 and believed that even 60 per cent by 2025 was achievable using a "cleverly balanced mix of measures and policies".

These included domestic investment, energy-efficient workplaces and carbon savings in vehicles and buildings.

According to economiesuisse, the Swiss Business Federation, a carbon tax was "going in the wrong direction". On the one hand it was not agreed internationally and on the other it was expensive and not particularly effective.

It added that Switzerland's most important trade partners, the United States and the EU, focused primarily on emissions certificates, the introduction of consumption standards and the promotion of new technology.

Various vehicle associations, including the Swiss Touring Club, also rejected a carbon tax, saying no other country had implemented one and that cleaner technologies should be invested in emerging and developing nations.

swissinfo with agencies

Kyoto Protocol

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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Greenhouse gases

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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