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Swiss urge EU to do more to cut pollution

Leuenberger (centre) in conversation with fellow environment ministers

(Keystone)

Environment Minister Moritz Leuenberger has called on European counterparts to step up efforts to combat dust particle emissions at an informal meeting in Finland.

The Swiss government, which announced a second package of anti-pollution measures last month, wants the European Union to move quickly in introducing tougher standards.

The meeting of European environment ministers and experts in Turku over the weekend marked the first time that Switzerland - which is not a member of the EU - had been invited to such a session, traditionally organised by the country holding the EU presidency.

According to Bruno Oberle, director of the Swiss environment office, ministers outlined similar concerns to those held by Bern, notably over climate change. He added that the EU was in favour of making greater use of natural resources.

EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said that "almost" all the ministers were in favour of taxes to fund green initiatives, as well as cutting subsidies that had a negative effect on the environment.

Among the measures discussed included increasing "classic" taxes such as those on fuel or airline tickets. The idea of taxing energy consumption or raw materials was also raised.

Addressing the meeting, Leuenberger highlighted the problem of cancer-causing dust particle emissions. He said the persistent winter smog covering that covered much of Switzerland led to a concentration of these types of emissions.

He asked European counterparts to assist in finding a solution to the problem and to take steps to cut dust particle emissions.

Health risks

The Swiss authorities say fine particle air pollution is one of the most serious issues facing the environment and public health.

They claim dust particles cause 3,700 premature deaths in Switzerland a year and annual extra health costs of SFr4.2 billion ($3.4 billion).

According to health officials, particles found in the air, including soot, heavy metals and sulphates, cause respiratory problems and can lead to lung cancer. Oberle said concerted action was needed, because "pollution doesn't stop at borders".

A new European standard for diesel emissions for light vehicles is due to enter force between 2008 and 2011. But the Swiss intend to comply from next year, meaning that all imported diesel vehicles under 3.5 tons would have to be fitted with a special filter.

To do this, the government needs special authorisation from Brussels as it is bound by the second set of bilateral accords with the EU to introduce new standards at the same time as its neighbours.

Leuenberger announced in June that he intended to open negotiations with the EU over possible road tax reductions for trucks equipped with anti-particle filters. The government plans to increase the tax on heavy goods vehicles in 2008.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The government announced a second package of anti-pollution measures last month as part of its programme to reduce levels of diesel emissions and soot, which was launched by the environment ministry in January.

Under the five-point action plan agreed in June, the government wants to offer tax breaks to public transport companies that equip their vehicles with the appropriate filters to reduce emissions. All new diesel vehicles under 3.5 tons would also require filters.

end of infobox

Key facts

Three million people in Switzerland – more than 40% of the population – live in regions that record above-average fine particle levels.
The Swiss environment agency says 21,000 tons of fine dust are emitted in Switzerland every year.
56% comes from the private and public use of mechanical abrasion.
The rest comes from diesel motors (17%), wood burning (15%), other burning (10%) and petrol, natural gas and natural oil (2%).

end of infobox


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