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Swiss voters support climate bill as scientists warn about melting glaciers

Matthias Huss, a glaciologist and head of the Swiss measurement network 'Glamos', for ETH (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) walks up to the Rhone Glacier near Goms, Switzerland, Friday, June 16, 2023.
Matthias Schrader
/
AP
Matthias Huss, a glaciologist and head of the Swiss measurement network 'Glamos', for ETH (the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) walks up to the Rhone Glacier near Goms, Switzerland, Friday, June 16, 2023.

BERLIN — A majority of Swiss citizens on Sunday voted in favor of a bill aimed at introducing new climate measures to sharply curb the rich Alpine nation's greenhouse gas emissions.

Final results released by public broadcaster SRF showed that 59.1% of voters were in favor of the bill, while 40.9% voted against.

The referendum was sparked by a campaign by scientists and environmentalists to save Switzerland's iconic glaciers, which are melting away at an alarming rate.

Campaigners initially proposed even more ambitious measures but later backed a government plan that requires Switzerland to achieve "net zero" emissions by 2050. It also sets aside more than 3 billion Swiss francs ($3.357 billion) to help wean companies and homeowners off fossil fuels.

The nationalist Swiss People's Party, which demanded the popular vote, had claimed that the proposed measures would cause electricity prices to rise.

Backers of the plan argued that Switzerland will be hard-hit by global warming and is already seeing the effects of rising temperatures on its famous glaciers.

"The supporters have reason to rejoice," Urs Bieri of the GFS Bern Institute told SRF. "But by no means everyone is in favor of the law. The argument with the costs has brought many 'no' votes."

Greenpeace Switzerland welcomed the result of the referendum.

"This victory means that at last the goal of achieving net zero emissions will be anchored in law. That gives better security for planning ahead and allows our country to take the path toward an exit from fossil fuels," said Georg Klingler, an expert on climate and energy at Greenpeace Switzerland.

"The result of the vote shows that the citizens of our country are committed to the aim of limiting global warming to 1.5 Celsius in order to preserve as much as possible our glaciers, our water reserves, our agriculture and our prosperity. I am very relieved to see that the lies disseminated by the opposite camp during the campaign did not sow the seed of doubt in people," he added.

Swiss glaciers experienced record melting last year, losing more than 6% of their volume and alarming scientists who say a loss of 2% would once have been considered extreme.

Experts such as Matthias Huss, a glaciologist at the Swiss Institute for Technology in Zurich, have taken to posting dramatic snapshots of retreating glaciers and rockslides from melting permafrost on social media to highlight the changes taking place in the Alps.

"Let's act as long as we can still prevent the worst," he recently wrote on Twitter.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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