The result of a referendum rejecting a revised law to curb CO2 emissions complicates Switzerland’s path towards achieving climate targets for 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050.

It is “hardly possible” to halve CO2 emissions in 2030, as prescribed by the proposed law, and reach climate neutrality by 2050 “without additional measures”, the head of the department for environment, Simonetta Sommaruga, said during a press conference yesterday.

The law’s initial goal was to cut greenhouse gas emissions, in particular generated by the use of fossil fuels, by 50% by 2030, compared to the level in 1990, with a longer term objective of achieving carbon neutrality in 2050.

A narrow majority of 51.6% rejected the revised law in a referendum yesterday. The Federal Council, the parliament and political parties including the Social Democrats (SP), The Greens, The Centre and the Green Liberal Party supported a “yes” to curb CO2 emissions against the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and the Liberals (FDP).

The results of the referendum have laid bare a gap between rural regions, which voted against the law, and cities, which instead voted in favour.

Sommaruga promised to talk “with all players” to find common ground to support climate protection measures, while presenting a law to boost renewable energy before the summer break.

As a result of the referendum, companies will not take advantage of an exemption from the CO2 tax in the case of climate-friendly investments from the end of this year.

The obligation for fuel importers to invest in climate protection projects will run out at the end of the year, too: “This applies [also] to biogas plants in agriculture,” Sommaruga said.

Sommaruga will seek talks with parliament to quickly find a way to extend the measures, she said.

A series of mistakes

The revised CO2 law combined different topics, from setting up a climate fund to support companies developing clean technologies, to measures on mobility, buildings, a tax on airlines tickets, and lifting the levy to CHF210 (€192.5) per tonne of CO2 from a maximum CHF120 per tonne.

Moreover, the referendum took place simultaneously with a popular vote on pesticides and clean, drinking water, and healthy food – which have also been rejected by the public.

“[The result of the two referendums] confirms the way of the Federal Council, the parliament and the continuous further development and agriculture towards more ecology and sustainability,” Guy Parmelin, member of the Swiss People Party (SVP) and head of the department of economic affairs, said in a press conference yesterday.

Sommaruga admitted that submitting a vote on a number of different subjects “could have played a role”, leading to the negative result of the referendum. She stressed, however, that  the “no” to the CO2 revised law in the referendum is not a “no” against climate protection.

“Many people [in Switzerland] want to strengthen climate protection but not with this law. The Federal Council understood this message,” she said.

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