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Swiss environmental record criticised

Environmental groups praised 30kmh speed limits in densely populated zones Keystone

Green groups have given a mixed response to government efforts to protect the environment.

While they welcomed developments in climate, energy and transport policy, they said little actual progress was being made.

The groups – including Greenpeace, Pro Natura, WWF and the Swiss Transport and Environment Association – delivered their assessment at a news conference in Bern on Thursday.

“Government policies have largely failed over the past decade,” Kaspar Schuler, director of Greenpeace Switzerland, told swissinfo.

“We have had an increase in greenhouse gases in the past 13 years, and the aim is to reduce it by ten per cent by 2010. So it’s obvious that we have to do much more,” he added.

The government said it accepted some of the groups’ criticism, but argued that it was not solely to blame.

“We agree with the environmental agencies that not enough has been done so far,” admitted Hugo Schittenhelm, spokesman for the Swiss environment ministry.

“But on the other hand they should not criticise the government but parliament, which has taken some time to discuss it [policy].”

Kyoto Protocol

Adrian Stiefel from WWF Switzerland said a first step towards an effective climate policy would be to comply with the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases and to introduce a law on carbon dioxide emissions.

“The ratification of the protocol and voluntary implementation of its principles is not enough. It must be backed up by political and legal rules,” he said.

Parliament ratified the Kyoto Protocol in June this year, committing Switzerland to reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels.

Switzerland’s own CO2 law, adopted in May 2000, aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions – which account for around 80 per cent of all greenhouse gases – by ten per cent by 2010.

However, a report published last month by the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich said levels would only drop by 1.3 per cent unless radical action was taken.

“Fifteen years ago Switzerland’s environmental policy was at the forefront, but this has now changed. People are more worried about economic issues nowadays,” commented Schuler.

CO2 emissions

The groups called on the government to introduce a tax on CO2 emissions from July 1 next year.

“If we introduce the CO2 tax and use other mechanisms it could be possible to reduce our emissions by ten per cent by 2010,” said Stiefel.

The government is currently discussing the tax and other measures, according to Schittenhelm.

“Our ministry will begin to analyse these measures at the beginning of next year, however, I think it is more likely that if agreed upon, the CO2 tax would be introduced in 2005,” he added.

Environmental groups praised this week’s decision taken by authorities in canton Ticino to restrict speeds on motorways from 120kmh to 80 kmh in a bid to combat high ozone levels.

They also recognised the introduction of 30kmh speed limits in densely populated zones.

The groups, however, slammed proposals to slash the budget for SwissEnergy, the federal research and promotion programme for renewable energy sources, from SFr55 million ($40.4 million) to SFr20 million.

“Swiss environmental policy would no longer be credible if its budget is cut. If it goes ahead, Switzerland will no longer be a leader in environmental policy and we cannot afford to do that,” said Stiefel.

“We would no longer achieve any goals.”

swissinfo, Samantha Tonkin and Billi Bierling

Environment policy successes:
Parliamentary ratification of the Kyoto Protocol.
Legislation on CO2 emissions.
Projects for new national parks.
Easier to implement 30kmh speed limits in densely populated zones.
Environment policy failures:
No tax on CO2 emissions.
Plans to cut SwissEnergy’s budget.
Expansion of ski stations.
Parliamentary acceptance of an initiative calling for the construction of a second tunnel through the Gotthard and the expansion of various motorways.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR