Minister: defending interests is part of climate game

Doris Leuthard said the talks in Lima had been “less confrontational” than previous climate summits Keystone

This content was published on December 12, 2014
Paula Dupraz in Lima,

Environment Minister Doris Leuthard has told that more could be done to discourage fossil fuel consumption in Switzerland, a day after presenting the country’s official statement to climate change delegations at the United Nations annual talks in Lima. 

She told the high-level plenary session of the 20th Conference of Parties (COP20) in the Peruvian capital that efforts should be made globally to reduce subsidies on fossil fuels, pointing out that according to the International Energy Agency (IEA) global subsidies on fossil fuels are estimated at more than $550 billion (CHF533 billion). 

Leuthard explained that while Switzerland did not have actual subsidies on fossil fuels, “we have exemptions, notably in agriculture. From a pricing model, or to fix a market price, it is clear that we should phase out these exemptions, but for now it’s a political no-go”. 

In Wednesday’s statement, she said a global price on carbon “would set the right incentives for a shift of investment”. 

The head of the environment, transport, energy and communications ministry spoke of parliamentary discussions on whether the CO2 tax should focus only on heating oil or whether a new energy tax would include all energy resources. 

When asked about the role that the Swiss energy and commodities businesses should play, Leuthard replied that transparency was important. She mentioned having had talks with the Peruvian energy and mining industry about moves towards greater transparency. 

According to the Swiss Trading and Shipping Association, the commodity industry contributes CHF20 billion to the country’s GDP. 

‘Shared threat’ 

Meanwhile, the talks in Lima, which aim to present a draft deal prior to next year’s international climate change agreement, have been proceeding very slowly. NGO Oxfam said on Thursday that “few observers expect talks to end before Saturday”. 

An agreement in Paris in December 2015 would aim to set principles to keep global temperature rises within two degrees Celsius. 

Leuthard remained positive about the talks. “We are approaching a solution. Now is not the time to talk about legal form, not the right time to talk about a text and parentheses. Many countries still have to defend their particular interests, but that’s part of the game,” she said. 

She added that compared with previous climate summits, the Lima talks had been “less confrontational”. 

United States Secretary of State John Kerry, a veteran at international climate change negotiations, flew to Lima on Thursday to encourage delegates towards finding a consensus draft agreement.   

At a conference attended by press and several delegation representatives, he asked that envoys “rise above the debates that have dragged us down. We can find the means to find a way to summon a shared resolve that we need to tackle this shared threat”. 

Green finance 

Meanwhile, Leuthard said she was encouraged by China’s agreement with the United States last month, pledging to peak carbon emissions by 2030. 

India, she said, was of greater concern. “India will be more difficult than China for Paris.” 

Regarding the financing of global climate change projects, Leuthard said questions still remained about how much the private sector would be able to contribute and how it would be tracked. 

She said that green finance could offer opportunities for Switzerland, as Geneva represented a “hub” for sustainable finance. 

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