Opinions - 21.05.2015 - 00:00 

Op-ed on Swiss energy policy

On the occasion of the St.Gallen Forum for Management of Renewable Energies 2015, Assistant Professor Jörn Richert writes about how a successful Swiss energy policy can be achieved.
Source: HSG Newsroom


19 May 2015. Energy policy in Switzerland involves many levels of government. The federal government, cantons and communities all make decisions in terms of energy policy. The Swiss electorate votes on political bills on several levels and creates initiatives itself. Switzerland’s energy policy results from an interaction of these processes. Political success therefore is only achieved if this interaction takes place.

Energy Strategy 2050 will impact decisively on the interaction of political processes in the Swiss multi-level system. In the future, Swiss energy policy can work only if it stays sensitive to that fact. It takes a conscious and forward-looking coordination of processes in federal government, cantons, communities and cities.

Communities and cities in particular should have enough latitude to exercise innovative political approaches. They should also have the opportunity to regulate their own ambitious objectives.

Experimenting is possible on a local level

Cities and communities find an important advocate of this autonomy in the research on multi-level policy in the areas environment, climate and energy.

Research findings from political, environmental and economic sciences and from urbanism document the productive role that cities and communities can play. They make vital contributions in the wording, implementation and social anchoring of energy policy.

Cities and communities develop their productive roles as political laboratories, because on a local level, it is possible to experiment. As many studies show, successful policies can arise from political experiments, which higher levels of government can then seize on as an example of best practice. Such practices can also spread among communities and cities and thus move energy policy forward.

Decentralized structure as an advantage

Switzerland has a key advantage compared to many other countries: due to its decentralized structure, it provides much latitude for political experiments. This structure should also be used and cultivated for energy policy.

Another advantage of active communities and cities is that they enlarge the energy-policy toolbox. Communities have opportunities for action that are not available, or only to a limited extent, on the federal level.

Studies by the OECD and others show that communities and cities make an important contribution in the areas of local regulation and planning, energy supply, housing provision, local public transport and energy-related infrastructure, and information & consultation.

They also have vital local knowledge on hand. They can work with local actors and identify local preferences and priorities better than higher levels of government. This facilitates formulating locally adjusted policies and measures.

Finally, with an active role in energy policy, cities and communities can decisively strengthen the social backing of Swiss energy policy. Cities are able to raise awareness in the local population and formulate measures in terms of energy policy that correspond to their needs and are consistent with local political priorities. Also, the involvement of local interests on the community level can promote successful planning of energy policy.

Coordinating effectively and efficiently

In the process of further developing and adopting Energy Strategy 2050, cities and communities should thus play a central role. This can best be done if their concerns are already taken seriously during policy formulation. It should also be discussed how Swiss multi-level policy with the participation of cantons, cities and communities can be coordinated effectively and efficiently.

Bild: / BeneA