Swiss Voters Back Plan to Cut Carbon Emissions to Save Europe’s Melting Glaciers

Tate Sundberg | | Industry NewsIndustry News
Image: Switzerland’s famed Matterhorn / Zermatt Facebook

Swiss voters voted with 59.1% approval to cut the use of oil and gas in a referendum on Sunday, June 18, 2023, in an effort to curb climate change, and protect the dwindling glaciers in the Alps. The vote comes after a disappointing European snow season and amid rising temperatures, which have caused glaciers in the Alps to lose 33% of their volume between 2001 to 2022.

The bill aims to make Switzerland more independent of its energy production and rely less on imported oil and gas. According to the Swiss Federal Council, Switzerland currently imports three-quarters of all of its energy consumption, with 100% of oil and gas coming from abroad. In order to accomplish this goal, the bill proposes an investment of 3.2 billion CHF (Swiss Franks — equal to 3.55 billion USD) to replace fossil fuel heating systems with sustainable alternatives, subsidize a network of alpine photovoltaic plants, and insulate and renovate existing buildings for better energy efficiency. 

The vote also sets a goal for Switzerland to emit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. This is a step in the right direction regarding the Paris Climate Agreement (which took effect in 2016), as the world’s countries align to limit global temperatures from rising above 1.5ºC or 2.7ºF of pre-industrial revolution levels by 2030. Serious action is still needed to achieve this goal, as estimates say greenhouse gas emissions must peak before 2025 and decrease by 43% by 2030. It is a daunting task, though Switzerland has set a strong precedent for other countries to follow. 

Tignes forced to close ahead of schedule
French Ski resort Tignes forced to close ahead of schedule as rising temperatures continue to melt snow — 2019 / Credit: Tignes

The bill also comes as resorts throughout the Alps have shortened their seasons or canceled otherwise routine summer ski seasons. Notable summer skiing cancellations over the last few seasons due to climate change have been seen at resorts such as Les2Alpes, Zermatt, Tignes, and Val d’Isere. These cancellations include a range of actions from shortening seasons from historic closing dates, to halting summer skiing operations entirely. 

As snow and glaciers across the Alps melt, Switzerland has voted to take action. In doing so, they have mobilized to protect the environment which makes our shared love of skiing and boarding possible.

Morteratsch Glacier
Morteratsch Glacier, Switzerland, picture: Julia Schneemann

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