Over 200 scientists are urging people to vote yes in the referendum, after a spring that was 1.5C hotter than normal on average.
Switzerland is voting on an ‘important’ new climate law after a record-breakingly hot spring.
The Swiss people will have their say on the Climate Protection Targets, Innovation and Strengthening Energy Security Act on 18 June. If voted through, it will see the wealthy European country cut net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050.
The new law was accepted by Parliament in September last year, but opposition from the right-wing Swiss People’s Party has meant that it’s being put to a referendum.
Swiss citizens will cast their votes just weeks after an unseasonably hot spring.
The country was 1.5°C warmer than normal on average – compared to the 1961-1990 period – SRF Meteo reported. Average daily temperatures were 3C hotter in March, with the northwestern city of Basel hitting a record-breaking 23.4C in the middle of the month.
For such a small country, there has been a surprising amount of climate variability so far this spring. Central and eastern Switzerland saw a deluge of rain, while parts of the south were extremely dry.
It remains to be seen if and how these weather extremes will influence voters next month.
What’s in Switzerland’s Climate and Innovation Act?
The Climate and Innovation Act – otherwise known as the Climate Protection Law – will bind Switzerland to climate neutrality by 2050. This means that its greenhouse gas emissions cannot exceed the quantity of harmful gases sucked in by its CO2 sinks – from forests to carbon capture technology.
Switzerland currently imports around three quarters of its energy, including all fossil gas, from abroad.
The government says that “these fossil fuels will not be available indefinitely and they place a heavy burden on the climate. In order to reduce environmental pollution and dependence on other countries, the Federal Council and Parliament want to reduce the consumption of oil and gas.”
The new law will financially incentivise replacing oil and gas with clean energy, with the government pledging 2 billion francs (around €2 billion) over 10 years towards the transition.
People who replace their fossil fuel dependent heating systems will benefit, as well as companies investing in “climate-friendly technologies”.
“The aim is to produce more energy in Switzerland,” the government adds, describing the act as an indirect counter to the ‘Glacier Initiative’ – a separate proposal to ban fossil fuels.
It has the support of all other major parties, but the People’s Party has branded the act an “electricity sinkhole” that will hurt the economy.
Swiss scientists support the new climate law
On the ‘for’ side, Switzerland’s scientific community voiced its support for the Climate Protection Law.
Writing for ETH Zurich University, professor of climate physics Reto Knutti calls it an “important step forward in the area of climate and energy policy” after “years of political stalemate”.
Knutti is one of more than 200 scientists at Swiss universities who have signed a public statement in support of the proposal, which they believe will make the country stronger.
“When it comes to climate change, research can no longer really afford to remain apolitical,” he writes.
Knutti says on the one hand, rapidly reducing Switzerland’s carbon emissions is “merely the logical conclusion of the laws of physics and the obligations that arise from Switzerland’s ratification of the Paris Agreement.”
“Yet, on the other hand, such an assertion is also a call for action and, as such, a political statement,” he adds.
The Climate Protection Law, the scientists say, is an important step in the right direction.