On the 18 June 2023 the Swiss electorate will vote on the Federal Act on Climate Protection Targets, Innovation and Strengthening Energy Security. The question before voters is whether to accept the government’s counter-proposal to the Glacier Initiative, a popular vote formulated in 2018.
The original Glacier Initiative was aimed at drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels in Switzerland even if this required bans from 2050. However, instead of putting their text to voters, the organisers decided to conditionally withdraw their referendum in favour of a government counterproposal. In the meantime, enough signatures were collected – 50,000 in this case – to force the government to seek voter approval for their counterproposal. So that’s a referendum against a counterproposal to a referendum that was withdrawn!
Switzerland imports around three quarters of its energy, much of it fossil fuel, which makes up around 75% of total consumption. All of the oil and natural gas consumed in Switzerland comes from abroad. In order to reduce environmental pollution and dependence on other countries, the Federal Council and Parliament want to reduce the consumption of these imports while replacing them with energy produced in Switzerland. The overarching goal is for Switzerland to become climate neutral by 2050.
The bill introduces measures and incentives to reduce energy consumption and transition to renewable sources. Key elements of the plan include subsidising technology to extract and store emissions produced by industry and providing incentives for homeowners to replace oil, gas and inefficient electric heating with heat pumps (efficient electric heating) and wood burners, a polluting but potentially renewable energy source. CHF 200 million a year or more over 10 years is to be aimed at incentives for homeowners, with similar sums going to industry. The proposal includes no bans, levies or new taxes.
There is widespread support for the plan across government. The Federal Council and majorities in parliament (139 yes, 51 no and 2 abstentions) and the upper house (38 yes, 4 no and 3 abstentions) support the plan.
In addition, all major Swiss parties, except the Swiss People’s Party (UDC/SVP), support the plan.
Arguments in favour of the plan include making the nation’s population and companies less dependent on energy imports while drastically reducing emissions.
However, those against it argue proponents of the plan overestimate the feasibility of the targets and underestimate the costs which the population will be required to bear. In particular, they argue given the current shortage of renewably produced electricity, there is little chance Switzerland will be able to produce the amounts required to eliminate fossil fuels, exposing Switzerland to energy shortages.