Swiss MPs give ‘Cleantech’ energy proposal a clear ‘no’

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Energy was the topic of the day in the National Council yesterday, with MPs staging an hours-long debate on the “Cleantech” Initiative from the Social Democrats. The initiative urges a quick expansion of renewable energy sources in the country by 2030, claiming also to create jobs. The debate was polarizing at times though the vote tally was indisputable: 111 to 68 advising voters say no. WRS’s Tony Ganzer has highlights from the debate.


The Social Democrats’ Cleantech initiative is being sold to voters on many fronts. It will mandate the percentage of Swiss power from renewable sources be 50 percent by 2030. It is a job creator, proponents say, and it will allow Switzerland to be energy independent, a point Social Democrat Eric Nussbaumer emphasized.

NUSSBAUMER: “Faster pace with the changes to renewable energy are necessary if our country wants to reduce dependency on gas and oil from Russia or OPEC states. Who doesn’t want to quicken this pace, will awaken anger during the next energy fight over gas shortages or oil prices.”

Part of this will be accomplished by increasing energy efficiency, but also through targeted subsidies, which drew much criticism from the political right. They think subsidies spoil a free market. Hans Killer is a Swiss People’s Party MP from Aargau.

KILLER. “There are enough examples all over Europe, where an extreme government influence and intervention for renewable production leads. Spain is the most powerful example for bad policy.”

Spain and Germany were strong into the photo-voltaic production markets, and other technologies. But many companies felt the pinch when the economic crisis began pressuring many sectors of the economy. Still, Social Democrat Margret Kiener-Nellen from Bern said Switzerland needs a wake up.

KIENER-NELLEN: “Switzerland is still stuck sleeping when it comes to renewable energy. The initiative—new jobs thanks to renewable energy—gives us a push. A push for new sustainable jobs.”

But some opposition has rested on the idea of changing renewable targets at all. Swiss People’s Party MP Christoph Blocher.

BLOCHER: “I would be happy if we could finally vote about this adventurous energy policy you’re exaggerating. Mr. Girod you laugh—but I heard you, you don’t know what a strategy is. You said you are bringing three strategies and you bring three goals!”

Blocher’s appearance awoke questions from other MPs, especially after he suggested other another lawmaker use a Duden dictionary to learn about strategies. Social Democrat Jacqueline Badran said the Duden isn’t the only book with answers. Blocher replied.

BLOCHER: “I thank you for the witty instruction. I advised him to go to the Duden so he wouldn’t have to go to such a complicated book. But I must say I have led companies my whole life with strategies. And with goals you can’t do it.”

The National Council’s Environment, Planning, and Energy Committee has pursued amendments to the Energy Act as a kind of indirect counter-proposal to the Social Democrats’ Initiative.

If changes to business incentives or renewable targets are made before an initiative, maybe the initiative will be dropped. Supporters are waiting to see what the Council of States says before deciding what to do.

Swiss scientists consider climate change scenarios, and the future looks warmer

Switzerland is likely heating up. Swiss scientists met in Zurich yesterday to unveil the C-H-2011 report, showing three possible climate change scenarios. They all hinge on decisions lawmakers make or don’t make, and the rate of greenhouse gas emissions pumped into the atmosphere. But as WRS’s Tony Ganzer reports, the scientists agree temperatures are rising.

Climate scientist Andreas Weigel is quick to point out, the report isn’t laying out predictions of the Switzerland to come, just possibilities.

WEIGEL: “We cannot do forecasts of how greenhouse gas emissions continue, we can make assumptions, scenarios.”

Weigel works for the Swiss national weather service MeteoSwiss, which was part of a scientific coalition of climate experts and academics to put hard numbers to three scenarios of climate change depending on greenhouse gas emissions.

WEIGEL: “The scenarios reveal that with continually increasing emissions of greenhouse gases temperatures will rise all over Switzerland, in all seasons. They also reveal that even if now efficient measures were taken to start reducing greenhouse gas emissions there would still be a committed warming, which however would be much lower.”

Two of the scenarios look at temperatures if no measures are taken to reduce emissions. Depending on region, the seasonal mean temperature would increase between 2.7 and 4.8 degrees by the end of the century. Rainfall would drop between 18 and 28 percent in the two scenarios. If emissions are reduced, the temperature would likely still climb 1.2 to 1.8 degrees, and rainfall would drop about 10 percent.

KNUTTI: “We are not in a position to say what the right pathway is.”

Reto Knutti is a professor in climate physics at the ETH Zurich.

KNUTTI: “We’re basically saying what would happen if we did certain things. Clearly what we do is a political and a decision of our society as a whole. It’s clear that the pathway of future greenhouse gas emissions is very important.”

Knutti says the scientists are not giving recommendations on how to reverse changes, and he says it’s unclear what direction politicians will take. But he thinks Switzerland should do something, despite it being a small country.

KNUTTI: “Clearly if only Switzerland is doing something, that’s not worth too much, but I think that we have a responsibility along with all the other people on this planet to do something. And I would say we are in a better position to do something because we have well-educated people, we have a political system where we can do something, we have actually enough money to do something, we have technology. We should see it as an opportunity to actually lead maybe Europe or the world into maybe a better world.”

Near the glaciers in the Swiss Alps.

STOCKER: “I think that the report makes it abundantly clear that we do have a choice.”

Thomas Stocker is a climate and environmental physicist at the University of Bern. He also co-chairs working group 1, of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, or IPCC:

STOCKER: “We do have a choice today whether the temperatures worldwide will be at the lower end of the projections of IPCC, and hence also the projections that have been presented in this report C-H 2011. Or if business as usual prevails we will end up with large climate change, large impacts, and at the end of the day this also costs a lot of money to adapt to ever-growing climate change. That needs to be considered.”

The authors of C-H 2011 are making their data available to impact modelers, the folks who try to predict specific climate change impacts, like if glaciers will melt faster.

Thomas Stocker says the type of regional models that come from this type of research could ultimately be adapted to other regions, including the developing world. He says from all the data one thing is clear—the climate is changing.

Solar Impulse Exclusive: Link to Interview with pilot Andre Borschberg

Control room
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Solar Impulse: Interview with Bertrand Piccard

Bertrand Piccard
Solar Impulse is in the air, and has been flying for 12 hours gathering solar energy from its 12,000 solar panels affixed to its massive wings.  Your humble correspondent had a few minutes with Bertrand Piccard, the lead of the Solar Impulse project and the first man to circumnavigate the Earth in a hot air balloon.  Here is my interview with Piccard, giving the latest. (as of 1800, 7June10.)

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