On March 26, a referendum to hasten carbon neutrality in Berlin, Germany failed to achieve a quorum. A climate referendum in 2021 led to the rejection of a carbon neutrality law in Switzerland, and another climate referendum is planned there for next June. Should we be worried about it?
“The Berlin referendum fell victim to the auto-focused media discourse,” says Lena Partzsch, a political scientist at the Free University of Berlin. “Both major parties were against it, even some Greens, while the vast majority of voters in central Berlin supported the measure. »
The objective of the Berlin referendum was to hasten the achievement of carbon neutrality from 2045 to 2030. The quorum of 25% was not reached, as only 18% of voters took part in the referendum. The 2030 goal received 51% of the vote, compared to 49% for the 2045 status quo.
Partzsch is sure many 2030 supporters weren’t able to get to vote. “To torpedo the referendum, the parties in power chose not to make it coincide with regional elections a month before. »
His colleague Julia Teebken of the Free University, who specializes in the inequalities generated by climate adaptation, believes that the Berlin referendum failed because the supporters of the horizon 2030 did not know how to reassure the class. average on the costs of their plan. “The central neighborhoods where the Yes won are generally wealthier,” says Ms. Teebken. It is not a coincidence. »
John Matsusaka, an economist from the University of Southern California who published the only study on environmental referendums in 1997, confirms this analysis.
“The 20 or so California environmental referendums I analyzed were approved only when it was clear they would not have significant cost or inconvenience,” Matsusaka said. And in general, the rich were more supportive of environmental measures than the poor. »
The objective of the Swiss referendums is the opposite of that of Berlin. It is a question of invalidating a law aiming for carbon neutrality for 2050. In 2021, the law had been rejected by 52%, thanks to the opposition of the main business organizations and the Democratic Center Union (UDC), the main right-wing party. Yet in climate polls, the Swiss are just as much in favor of climate action as other European countries, with more than half believing, for example, that their government is not doing enough to counter climate change. This percentage is slightly higher in Canada and exceeds two-thirds in Quebec.
For his part, Marcel Hänggi, founder of the Swiss Association for Climate Protection, is hopeful that the carbon neutrality law will survive the June referendum. “In 2021, there was a gas tax, this time we will instead invest to help businesses and homeowners decarbonize. »
Two climate referendums have taken place in the United States, in Washington State in 2016 and 2018. They were each referenda on a fuel tax, rejected in 2016 by 60% of voters and in 2018 by 56%.
“I supported Yes in 2016, but not in 2018,” said University of Washington economist Cliff Mass. “In 2016, we planned to lower taxes for the middle class with the money from climate taxes, but in 2018, to seduce certain industrial lobbies, we instead reserved these amounts for subsidies for the climate transition. Either way, when the Democrats took over all three orders of government in 2020, they essentially imposed the 2018 plan.”
“We were very happy to have won the round in 2015, but in the end the municipal governments implemented the financing plan piece by piece,” explains Carson Binda, head of British Columbia at the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. “The only difference is that we financed the whole thing other than through a sales tax. »
Would a climate referendum promote carbon neutrality in Quebec? Patrick Bonin of Greenpeace thinks so. “If we manage to have a real debate, without lobbies manipulating the media, the population will understand that denser cities, with more bicycles and public transport, are more desirable than the current urban sprawl, says Mr. Bonin. Just think of the climate marches that have been attracting hundreds of thousands of people to Quebec for nearly 20 years. »