What is the Glacier Initiative in Switzerland?

What is the Glacier Initiative in Switzerland?

If you walk along a street in Switzerland and notice a unique flag that has blue and yellow stripes with a mountain in the middle, you will have encountered the Glacier Initiative: the Swiss people’s latest attempt to enforce a net-zero climate target for the country.

What is the Swiss Glacier or Gletscher Initiative?

The “For a healthy climate” or Glacier Initiative is a popular referendum in Switzerland that would make Switzerland completely carbon neutral by 2050. In addition, all fossil fuels like oil, gas, petrol and diesel would be banned by the same date, unless there are no “technical alternatives.”

Who created the Glacier Initiative?

The initiative was created by the Swiss Association for Climate Protection in January 2019, and gained enough signatures to become a referendum by November of the same year. Following the rejection of the CO2 Act in 2021, the initiative is now one of the only viable proposals submitted which would commit the Swiss government to its target of net-zero emissions by 2050.

How has the Swiss government reacted to the Glacier Initiative? 

Only four months after the referendum was submitted, the Federal Council outright rejected the idea, saying that it went too far. As is their right, they announced a counter-proposal that would see net-zero CO2 emissions by 2050 but would not see a fundamental ban on fossil fuels or targets for other greenhouse gases.

This version of the law was accepted by the National Council on March 3, with Member of the Council of States Ruedi Noser saying that the effects of climate change through glacial melt and other phenomena “scared him.”

Why is the Glacier Initiative being proposed?

It comes as Switzerland experiences increasingly mild winters that are having a knock-on effect on Swiss mountains, rivers and lakes through the increased glacial melt. The Swiss parliament said that it agreed on the principles of the original initiative and said that Switzerland needed to act, as previous attempts to pass legislation to limit emissions have failed. 

Why is the Glacier Initiative different to other Swiss referendums?

While most referendums remain popular among those that support them, wider public attention on most initiatives tends to fade between the announcement and the vote itself. However, experts within Switzerland have applauded the Glacier Initiative for its efforts to keep itself in the public dialogue.

According to Cloé Jans, a political scientist from the gfs.bern research institute, the Glacier Initiative has remained in the spotlight because of how active its supporters have been. She explained that the use of colourful flags, community management and regular information updates has allowed the initiative to remain in the public consciousness. 

Glacier referendum to face public vote

The counter-proposal to the Glacier Initiative is now being drafted by the Swiss parliament, which is continuing to debate its contents. The date of the vote is yet to be determined, but is likely to come at the beginning of 2023.

Jan de Boer


Jan de Boer

Editor for Switzerland at IamExpat Media. Jan studied History at the University of York and Broadcast Journalism at the University of Sheffield. Though born in York, Jan has lived most...

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