A Swiss “No”

Essay by Henrique Schneider.
First published at realcleanenergy.org on 28 June 2021.

The Swiss people rejected a new climate law by a majority vote of 51.6%. The meaning of this result is clear – but apparently, to Swiss eyes only. International observers got it completely wrong.

Start with the facts: Switzerland is one of the world’s most climate-friendly developed economies. According to the World Bank’s data for 2016, Switzerland emits 4.12 tons of greenhouse gases per inhabitant per year. Compare this number with the United Kingdom’s 5.8, Germany’s 8.8, or the U.S.’s 15.5.

Voting via direct democracy in Switzerland, example from Glarus, May 2006. Source: wikipedia.org

The same dataset informs us about the carbon intensity of the national economic activity. It is defined as kilos of greenhouse-gas emissions per one U.S. dollar of gross domestic product GDP. Switzerland emits 0.062 kilos per dollar. For comparison’s sake: the number is 0.1 kilo per dollar in the U.K., 0.2 in Germany, and 0.3 in the U.S.

Green Switzerland

Switzerland has a long series of climate-related laws. Since the early 2000s, the country formulated and achieved several climate-action goals. As a party to the Kyoto Protocol, the alpine nation participated in the first and second commitment periods. In addition to that, the nation’s law on CO2 ambitiously established a domestic reduction goal: By 2020, Switzerland domestically was to reduce 20% of its emissions in comparison to the year 1990. Another achievement added to the list.

Always forward-looking, the Alpine Confederacy ratified the Paris Agreement. Since no popular vote was called against it, the Swiss people accepted it, along with a new goal: a reduction by 50% of greenhouse-gas emissions by the year 2030 in comparison to 1990. The popular vote of June 13 did not reject this goal, nor the Swiss ratification of the Paris Agreement. What was defeated at the ballot box was the manner of implementation of these goals …

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A Swiss “No” (realclearenergy.org)


*Henrique Schneider is a professor of economics at the Nordkademie University of Applied Sciences in Elmshorn, Germany and chief economist of the Swiss Federation of Small and Medium Sized Enterprises in Bern, Switzerland.