04/18/2012

Swiss air pollution is rising

According to the Swiss federal environment office, Switzerland emitted more greenhouse gases in 2010 than in 2009. What happened in 2011 and will Kyoto targets be met this year?

The report indicates that in 2010 the CO2 emissions equivalent for Switzerland was 54.2 tons, an increase of 3.4% over 2009 which was attributed to extra heating requirements because of low temperatures in the home heating season. The expressed hope is that the situation will be improved in 2011, because of more clement temperatures. However, the graphics on the federal web site do not exactly make this expressed hope obvious. I have to say that, in my experience, official figures usually tend towards the optimistic side. We will have to wait for some months to see any actual figures for 2011.

According to the Kyoto protocol, Switzerland is required to reduce its emissions by an average of 8% relative to 1990, in order to drop to not more than 48.6 tons this year. The first indicator for the feasibility of this drop will be the figures for 2011, and one has to say that the drop in heating needs might be counterbalanced by the rise in other sectors due to the general economic improvements last year. As for this year, I wonder what effect the extremely cold weather of February (and the start of April) will have!

One of the ways (somewhat artificial in my thinking) is to buy certificates from other countries via the "Fondation centime climatique". According to newspaper reports, the Federal Government, under its minister Doris Leuthart, has signed a contract to increase the certificates that it will buy for the period 2008 to 2012 from 12 millions to 17 millions.

2011_NO2_Geneva.JPGSome figures that are already available for 2011 are that of air pollution in Geneva, as calculated by Geneva cantonal authorities. These do not make for particularly comforting reading, especially for NO2 emissions around Geneva centre and the airport. In 2010 there were two zones in which the year's emissions exceeded what is called the emission limit value (VLI : valeur limite d'immission) of 30 micrograms per cubic metre: one around the centre of town and one around the airport. Figures now issued for 2011 show that both of these zones have increased enough to be merged into a large single zone.

This VLI zone is one inside which the NO2 emissions are said to have a harmful impact on people's health and the ecosystems. Thus, anyone resident in a very large area between the airport and the town centre is liable to this harmful effect. It is, of course, possible that other regions in Switzerland will all have less pollution in 2011 than in 2010, but I would not bet too much money on it.

What is very annoying (to put it mildly) to many environmentalists is that the calculated CO2 emissions for Switzerland do not include any contribution from international aviation. This is one of two exceptions stated in the Kyoto protocol, the other one being shipping: not too much of that emitted by the steam-powered lake steamers on Geneva lake. It is another demonstration of how the airline lobby has succeeded in retaining enormous privileges, always claiming that air traffic only adds a few percent to global emissions.

In England I am sure that one would be able to do spread betting on the final 2011 and 2012 emission levels. What would your predictions be?

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