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Parliament approves Kyoto protocol

Switzerland plans to lower carbon dioxide emissions by 10 per cent by 2010

(Keystone)

Switzerland has taken a symbolic step towards reducing worldwide pollution, after parliament agreed to ratify the Kyoto protocol on reducing the emission of greenhouse gases.

On Monday, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly endorsed the United Nations treaty on climate change.

Although parliamentary approval was never in doubt, Philippe Roch, the director of the Swiss Environment Agency, maintains a major sea change in people's thinking and behaviour will be needed if the Kyoto goals are to be met.

"We are working very closely with industry to reduce CO2 emissions," he told swissinfo. "I'm convinced that we can achieve those targets on a voluntary basis."

"Transport will be more difficult because although there are better technologies and alternatives to the car, you can't force people to use them," he added.

Goals

Even without ratification, Roch insists that Switzerland has a number of measures in place that mirror the goals of the Kyoto protocol.

Most of them are enshrined within Switzerland's law regulating emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) - which account for around 80 percent of all greenhouse gases.

The CO2 law aims to reduce levels by ten per cent by 2010.

The government is also committed to limiting the rate at which electricity consumption rises to five per cent.

But Roch also admits that in another important area - housing - it will be difficult to achieve the kind of drop in energy use that will be needed.

"Targets could easily be met by insulating buildings," he said. "But the problem is that the responsibility for that is dispersed among those that own the building and the people who live in them."

Global agreement

The 1997 Kyoto protocol commits the world's industrialised countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels.

In 2001, 178 countries agreed that the treaty was the way to tackle climate change, thereby allowing the process of ratification to begin.

However, so far not enough signatories have ratified the protocol to enable it to come into force.

Although Roch admits that the refusal of the United States to sign has been a setback to the treaty, it is still an important step for Switzerland to have taken.

"The fact that the US will not ratify is certainly a weakness of the protocol," he said.

"It makes it absolutely necessary that other countries ratify it and we still hope that the US will develop a national policy in line with Kyoto's goals."

swissinfo, Jonathan Summerton

In brief

The House of Representatives has approved ratification of the Kyoto protocol by 130 votes to 7.

Switzerland's CO2 law aims to reduce the country's carbon dioxide emissions by ten per cent by 2010.

The US - the world's biggest emitter- remains resolutely opposed to the Kyoto protocol

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