Switzerland voters mull ramped-up climate goals
Voters in Switzerland got to choose on Sunday whether the wealthy European nation should do more to combat global warming. A referendum triggered by scientists and environmentalists gave them the option of leaving things as they are, or of introducing ambitious new measures to slash greenhouse gas emissions. The full result should be known on Monday but an exit poll conducted by GFS Institute Berlin released by public broadcaster SRF said 57 percent of voters likely backed the proposal. Campaigners had initially called for an extremely strict set of rules but backed away and eventually teamed up with the government to propose achieving "net zero" emissions by 2050. The proposal also called for more than 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.3 billion) to be set aside to help companies and homeowners transition away from fossil fuels. With Switzerland's glaciers shrinking by a record 6 percent last year, Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at Zurich's Swiss Institute for Technology, took to Twitter to urge people to support the initiative. "Let's act as long as we can still prevent the worst," he wrote. But opponents, led by the nationalist Swiss People's Party, said the proposal would drive up the cost of electricity. The Financial Times newspaper noted that Switzerland already had some of Europe's most climate-friendly energy, and a public that is more engaged than most about the challenges posed by global warming. But, despite this, the 'no' campaign was well supported ahead of the vote. One opinion poll suggested at least 40 percent of the electorate planned to oppose the proposal. Lukas Golder, co-director of pollster gfs.bern, told the paper: "If the Climate Law passes, it will be something of a turning point in climate politics in Switzerland... Obviously, a 'no' would be a disaster, but even with a 'yes', pro-climate activists have a very hard struggle ahead in Switzerland." Golder said the "struggle" will include the question of how new green energy will be generated. In order to meet the "net-zero" emissions target by 2050, Switzerland would need to create 80 square kilometers of new solar panels, he said, a prospect few voters would support. However, the Agence France-Presse news agency noted Switzerland already imports around three-quarters of its energy largely in the form of oil and natural gas and could switch to imports of green energy. And Switzerland may not be able to afford not to act. The World Meteorological Organization warned in April the loss of Alpine glaciers would hurt its economy by triggering natural disasters and hurting hydro-electric power production and tourism. Swiss voters also got to decide other issues in Sunday's referendum, including whether the tax rate should be hiked for large businesses, and whether the nation should join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.