The Swiss government announced on Wednesday (28 August) that it will cut its greenhouse gas emissions to a net-zero level by 2050, taking heed of a landmark UN report on climate change.
Switzerland, well known for its neutrality in political matters, will ratchet up its existing 70-85% goal, according to officials in Bern. That means that by mid-century it will be absorbing all the emissions it releases, either through natural or technological means.
The government cited “new scientific findings”, in reference to a 2018 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as the reason for its decision.
Under 2016’s Paris Agreement, countries pledged to limit global warming this century to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius and to make all possible efforts to keep it to just 1.5 degrees. Switzerland’s new target is intended to contribute to the latter goal.
“Global warming of 1.5 degrees could also lead to serious changes in ecosystems and that a net emission balance of zero would have to be achieved considerably sooner,” the government said in a statement.
A full strategy will be published by the end of 2020.
The non-EU member sources about 60% of its electricity from hydropower, 33% from nuclear and the rest from fossil fuels. In the total energy mix, fossil fuels still make up about 63% though.
Pledging carbon neutrality could force Switzerland to reverse its stance on not replacing its rapidly ageing reactor fleet, which was confirmed by a referendum in 2017. Many are approaching the end of their operating cycle.
In 2018, the Swiss environment agency warned that the Alpine nation’s greenhouse gas output is disproportionately boosted by air travel, which makes up 10% of Switzerland’s emissions.
According to the European Commission, the global average is only between 2% and 3%. Switzerland’s domestic carbon trading scheme includes aviation emissions in the same way the EU-wide system does and the two are linked.
Switzerland’s net-zero announcement comes a few weeks before a high-profile UN summit in New York, where Paris Agreement signatories are expected to increase their climate action ambitions.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on world leaders to come to the Big Apple on 23 September with fresh pledges to address international concerns about rising temperatures and climate breakdown. US President Donald Trump is expected to snub the event.
The EU had hoped to unveil its own 2050 net-zero plan but talks between member states broke down in June, as Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland did not sign up to the agreement.
Bloc officials are still expected to present the ambitious strategy and make clear that it is just a matter of time before all 28 countries are on the same page. Talks are still ongoing about providing more funding to lower-income countries.
Council diplomats have told EURACTIV that they are relatively confident a final deal will be brokered at the December summit in Brussels, once the tricky obstacle of a general election in Poland is done and dusted.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]