August 1, 2021

Are the Swiss voting against more climate protection?

ADriving a car for the rich only? Rip off the rural population? ”With such slogans, the national conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) railed against a new climate protection law that the Swiss will be voting on this Sunday. In its fight against the “left-wing CO2 law”, which was approved by a large majority in parliament, the party with the largest number of voters is fueling fear of rising costs for the citizens. This is apparently getting more and more entangled: While it initially looked like a clear yes for the law, recent polls point to a close decision.

With the revision of its existing CO2 law, Switzerland only wants to try to achieve a goal it has set itself: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, compared to the level in 1990. The government decided to do this in Committed to the Paris Climate Agreement. The law provides financial incentives for climate-friendly behavior as well as stricter regulations for vehicles and buildings.

The incentive tax on fossil fuels such as heating oil, natural gas and coal, which was introduced in 2008 and is currently limited to 120 francs (92 euros) per ton of CO2, should gradually increase to a maximum of 210 francs or 50 cents per liter of heating oil as a result of the revision of the law. As before, two thirds of the revenue from the levy is to be redistributed back to the population and companies at a flat rate. All residents, from babies to retirees, get the same amount reimbursed through health insurance, regardless of how high their fossil fuel consumption is.

Climate protection surcharge for air traffic

Last year that was 87 francs per person. A family of four received 348 francs. So it pays to use less heating oil or to heat with a heat pump or with wood or solar energy, advertises the Federal Office for the Environment and emphasizes that corresponding retrofits are financially supported by the federal government and the cantons. A third of the income from the carbon dioxide levy – a maximum of CHF 450 million per year – is to flow into a fund that will finance climate-friendly investments in buildings and technologies. The construction of charging stations for electric cars and district heating networks is also to be co-financed from this pot.

The new law also provides for changes for Swiss companies. So far, only companies from individual sectors and those with particularly high carbon dioxide emissions could be exempted from the tax. From now on, this is open to all companies, provided they undertake to reduce energy consumption and emissions.

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For the first time, Switzerland also wants to burden air traffic with a climate protection surcharge. A fee of 30 to 120 francs per passenger is planned, depending on the length of the route. Whether this will affect customers as intended is questionable in view of the fierce price competition on the market: It is possible that the airline concerned, Swiss, cannot afford to pass the tax on to customers in full. Switzerland also wants to give half of the revenue from airline ticket fees back to the population. If you don’t fly within Europe more than once a year, you get your money back, according to the environmental agency.

In order to work towards lower CO2 emissions in car traffic, car importers are to bring lower-emission vehicles onto the market in the future. If traders fail to meet the new target values, they face fines. According to the bill, fuel importers will now have to offset a higher proportion of CO2 emissions. They are allowed to pass the additional effort on to the drivers, although the surcharge is capped at 12 cents per liter. It remains to be seen whether they will make full use of this leeway in view of the gas station competition beyond the Swiss borders. If the law passes, newly built houses will no longer be allowed to emit CO2 from fossil fuels from 2023 onwards. Oil and gas heating will continue to be permitted in existing buildings. If these are replaced, however, it is necessary to adhere to certain upper emission limits, which gradually decrease over the years.

The Swiss Homeowners Association considers the regulations to be far exaggerated and warns of sharply rising renovation costs for property owners, which lead to higher rents. The phalanx of opponents of the law, to which the lobby organizations of the car and fuel industry also belong, calculates that the bouquet of measures would increase the cost of living of an average family of four net by up to CHF 1,000 per year. Environment Minister Simonetta Sommaruga thinks this calculation is nonsense. A family with average living conditions who goes on vacation once a year in Europe and only has one car will now pay 100 francs more. Those who heat with wood or a heat pump or do without flying will even end up having more money in their wallets thanks to the redistribution, the minister promised.

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