Switzerland aims to have net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. In this regard, the country is pursuing the internationally agreed goal of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. To achieve this goal, the Federal Council adopted Switzerland’s long-term climate strategy in January 2021:
in 2019, the Federal Council decided that, by 2050, Switzerland should not emit more greenhouse gases than can be absorbed naturally or by technical means. The net zero target is in response to the latest scientific findings by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that an average global warming of just 1.5 degrees will have serious consequences for humans and biodiversity. As an Alpine country, Switzerland is particularly affected by climate change, as temperatures here are rising twice as quickly as the global average.
In parallel to setting the net zero target, the Federal Council commissioned the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and
Communications (DETEC) to draw up the new climate strategy. On 27 January 2021, it adopted the “Long-term climate strategy for Switzerland” in fulfilment of an obligation under the Paris Agreement, which requires countries to submit their long-term climate strategies to the UN Climate Change Secretariat by the end of 2020. Switzerland’s strategy is based in large part on the Energy Perspectives 2050+ published by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy in autumn 2020.
Guidelines for a climate-neutral Switzerland by 2050
The long-term climate strategy formulates 10 basic strategic principles that will shape Swiss climate policy in the coming years. It presents possible developments up to 2050 for the buildings, industry, transport, agricultural and food sectors, financial markets, aviation and the waste industry, setting strategic targets for each.
The strategy also shows to which extent emissions that are difficult to avoid are likely to remain until 2050. These must be offset by carbon capture and storage (CCS) or by negative emissions technologies (NETs). CCS technologies capture CO2 directly where it is emitted from plants in the industrial and waste sectors. NETs are used for emissions that cannot be captured directly, for example from agriculture. They remove these emissions from the atmosphere and store them permanently.
Net zero is attainable
The long-term climate strategy shows that Switzerland can reduce its greenhouse gas emissions in transport, buildings and industry by almost 90 per cent by 2050. The building and transport sectors can become emission-free by 2050, and emissions from industrial energy consumption can also be virtually eliminated. In aviation, sustainable, renewable fuels and new propulsion technologies offer potential for reducing emissions. In the agricultural and food industries, emission reductions of at least 40 per cent compared to 1990 can be achieved.
In 2050, the remaining greenhouse gas emissions from industry, waste management and agriculture will amount to around 12 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents. These can be offset by CCS and NETs. As an innovative and financially strong country with almost CO2-free domestic power production, Switzerland is in a good position to achieve the net zero target by 2050.
Climate protection costs less than unchecked climate change
The social and economic costs of unchecked climate change far exceed the costs of climate protection measures. The net zero target is therefore also very much in Switzerland’s economic interests. By moving away from fossil fuels such as oil, gas, petrol and diesel, Switzerland is also reducing its dependence on foreign countries. Money that flows abroad today will be invested domestically in the future. This benefits Swiss trade and industry.
CO2 Act thwarted at the ballot box
The long-term climate strategy ties in with the revised CO2 Act and its objectives. Approved by the Parliament in the 2020 autumn session, the Act would have been a key prerequisite for achieving the long-term climate target. On 13 June 2021, however, it was rejected by 51.6 per cent of the population in an optional referendum and will not come into force in 2022 as planned. It is currently unclear how Switzerland will now achieve its climate target of minus 50 per cent greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and its net zero target by 2050.