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Swiss Elections See Green ‘Tsunami’ After Climate-Focused Campaign

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Visitors look at the Aletsch glacier above Bettmeralp, in the Swiss Alps, on Oct. 1. The mighty Aletsch — the largest glacier in the Alps — could completely disappear by the end of this century if nothing is done to rein in climate change, a study showed on Sept. 12. FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP via Getty Images

Switzerland's two Green parties made historic gains in the country's parliamentary elections Sunday, according to projections based on preliminary results reported by The New York Times.


Together, the left-leaning Green Party and the more centrist Green Liberal Party (GLP) doubled their share of the vote from almost 12 percent in 2015 to almost 21 percent. The official vote tallies will be announced Wednesday, but are expected to match the projections.

"It's really spectacular," Geneva University political scientist Pascal Sciarini told The New York Times. "We expected a Green wave but it's a tsunami, almost."

According to projections reported by Reuters, the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) stayed in first place, but lost 3.6 points compared to its record win in 2015, when it campaigned on anti-immigrant rhetoric during the height of the European refugee crisis. It now holds 25.8 percent of the vote for Switzerland's lower house. The center-left Social Democrats (SP) also maintained their second place spot with 16.6 percent of the vote, and the center-right Liberals (FDP) kept their third-place spot with 15.3 percent of the vote. But the Greens beat out the Christian Democrats (CVP) for fourth place, earning 13 percent of the vote on their own.

The Greens' victory could potentially shake up the composition of Switzerland's governing seven-member Federal Council, which has remained shared by the SVP, SP, FDP and CVP since 1959. But the Greens have now knocked the CVP, which holds one seat on the council, out of fourth place.

"The Federal Council in its current composition no longer fits (the changed political situation)," Greens leader Regula Rytz told Swiss TV, as Reuters reported.

Rytz said the Greens would probably try to take a seat from the FDP, but, in the past, it has taken two election cycles for the council to change based on shifting voting patterns. Switzerland's two parliamentary chambers will elect the government in December.

The Green parties' gains followed an election campaign in which the climate crisis was the "single most important issue," BBC News reported.

Glaciers in the Swiss mountains are melting, and this is leading to rock and mudslides that pose a risk to mountain communities. A recent study found that more than 90 percent of the glaciers in the Alps could melt by 2100 if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an Associated Press story published by The Guardian noted. Switzerland is also heating at twice the global average, according to Reuters.

"I think it is pretty obvious that is the most important topic of all in our time and age. There is really not any time to lose," 25-year-old psychology student Anja told Reuters at a Bern polling station.

The call for climate action has been building in Swiss civil society ahead of the election. In September, 100,000 people attended a rally in Bern following a year of climate strikes, according to BBC News.

Switzerland has already pledged to zero out carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, but the green parties will now work to pass other measures including stricter vehicle emissions standards, a tax on flying and a transition to renewable energy, The New York Times reported.

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