Switzerland's climate policy continues to face significant challenges following the rejection of the amended CO2 Act in a public referendum in 2021. The rejection forced Switzerland to extend the targets from its previous CO2 Act that would have expired in 2021 and initiate the process of drafting a new amendment with weaker provisions.
Switzerland’s engagement in bilateral agreements to “offset” part of its emissions and the lack of transparency around the domestic emissions reduction effort in its NDC risk setting a bad precedent for other countries. This setback raises concerns about the country's willingness and ability for ambitious climate action in the face of the growing urgency of the climate crisis. The Climate Action Tracker continues to rate Switzerland’s climate action and targets as overall “Insufficient”.
In its NDC target, Switzerland plans to rely to some extent on international carbon credits, but in the updated CO2 Succession Act no longer states how much. The removal of a clear domestic emissions reduction component in Switzerland's 2030 NDC target is highly problematic. Relying on international credits risks undermining the ambition of the Swiss target and ambition of potential partner countries’ NDCs, additionally the lack of transparency hinders the assessment of the overall effectiveness of its emission reduction strategy.
Switzerland should first aim for deep reductions domestically and support developing countries through climate finance, unconditional to receiving “carbon credits” which it can count against its targets. Switzerland is one of the most active countries in pursing bilateral agreements to purchase so-called Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs) under the Paris Agreement, and has been criticized for its low level of ambition.
On a more positive note, the Federal Act on Climate Protection Objectives, Innovation, and Energy Security, known as the Climate Protection Act which will be subject to a public referendum on 18 June 2023, aims to enshrine the country’s 2050 net-zero target into law. It further defines interim and sectoral targets towards 2040 and 2050, introduces a subsidy scheme to replace heating systems with heat pumps and, as a framework law, it further mandates the creation of measures in several fields connected to climate mitigation and adaptation. If passed, this could be the much-needed U-turn for Switzerland’s climate policy.
Switzerland can strengthen its climate policy framework, enhance domestic and international emission reduction efforts, and accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy by implementing the following recommendations:
- Strengthen climate legislation: Switzerland should prioritise drafting and implementing a new amendment to the CO2 Act that includes stronger provisions to ensure effective domestic emissions reductions. This should include setting 1.5°C-compatible and legally binding targets aligned with the Paris Agreement, and a clear roadmap and instruments for achieving these targets.
- Enhance domestic emission reduction efforts: Switzerland should commit to a transparent domestic emissions reduction component as part of its 2030 NDC target and set specific emission reduction targets for various sectors of the economy. The latter will be partly achieved if the Climate Protection Act passes the public referendum in June 2023. It will also provide more clarity and transparency in Switzerland's emissions reduction strategy and set the foundation to enable effective evaluation and accountability.
- Foster international cooperation: Switzerland should continue its efforts to engage in cooperations with other countries for achieving emissions reductions. However, it must first assure that it provides its fair share of climate finance to developing countries, unconditional to gaining carbon credits to “offset” its own emissions. Only then it might effectively embark on bilateral carbon purchase agreements, where it must prioritise agreements that focus on genuine emission reductions and that do not undermine the ambition of the partner countries.
Despite the lack of recent developments, there have been a few positive policy developments:
- Switzerland's overall emissions continue to drop. Despite higher emissions than in 2020, 2021 saw the second lowest emission levels since 1990, decreasing by a total of 18%.
- Planned policies by the Swiss government would bring Switzerland on track to being rated “Almost Sufficient”. If the forthcoming CO2 Succession Act is implemented as proposed in 2022, we estimate Switzerland's emissions will decrease by 36% in 2030, enough to meet its estimated domestic NDC target and to move up to the “Almost Sufficient” CAT rating for its policies and actions, overall rating would however remain “Insufficient”.
- If passed, both the CO2 Succession Act and the Climate Protection Act would enshrine important targets into law. Although uncertain and watered-down from the original drafts, both these draft laws are framework laws and, as such, legally mandate the Federal Council and Parliament to create policies and measures that are in line with achieving these targets. They could therefore change the direction that Switzerland is taking in with its climate action.
The CAT rates Switzerland’s climate targets, policies and finance as “Insufficient”. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that Switzerland’s climate policies and commitments need substantial improvements to be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Switzerland does not specify the domestic component of the 2030 emissions reduction target.
Based on our estimations, the domestic target would be consistent with keeping warming below—but not well below—2°C. If fully implemented, Switzerland’s current policies and actions would fall short of achieving this target. If all countries were to follow Switzerland’s current policies and actions, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C .
Switzerland is also not meeting its fair-share contributions to climate change mitigation, and in addition to strengthening its targets and policies, and needs to provide additional support to others.
Switzerland’s efforts to tackle climate change were struck a blow after the Swiss people voted against the adoption of the amended CO2 Act in a June 2021 referendum. Under current policies, we estimate that Switzerland will reach emission levels of around 39–40 MtCO2e by 2030 (excluding LULUCF), missing even its not specified, less ambitious estimated domestic NDC target of 36–39 MtCO2e.
The CAT rates Switzerland’s current policies as “Insufficient” when compared to modelled domestic pathways. The “Insufficient” rating indicates that Switzerland’s climate policies and action until 2030 need substantial improvements to be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. If all countries were to follow Switzerland’s approach, warming would reach over 2°C and up to 3°C.
If Switzerland goes ahead and passes the amended CO2 Succession Act as included in our planned policies projections, the CAT would rate Switzerland’s policies and actions as “Almost sufficient”. The “Almost sufficient” rating indicates that Switzerland’s climate policies and action in 2030 are not yet consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C but could be, with moderate improvements. If all countries were to follow Switzerland’s approach, warming could be held at—but not well below—2°C.
The full policies and action analysis can be found here.
In its updated NDC, Switzerland removed the domestic emissions reduction component but continues to mention that an undefined portion of emission reductions will be achieved through the support of action abroad.
The domestic component was first reduced from 75% (of the overall 50% by 2030 below 1990) to 66% in Swiss legislation and draft law documents, and finally removed completely in the last version. Latest available information indicates that the Swiss government aims for domestic reduction of at least 30% (of the 50%).
The domestic component’s removal from official documents and the ambition reduction of the domestic reduction component make it challenging to hold Switzerland accountable and raises questions about the sincerity of Switzerland's climate commitments.
To rate Switzerland’s NDC, we use a range for the domestic component between 30%, which seems to be the current consensus to aspire to, and 33%, which has been removed from previous drafts for unknown reasons. We rate this domestic target as “Almost sufficient” when compared to global least cost modelled pathways. This domestic target sits at the upper end of the “Almost sufficient” range and is on the verge of being downgraded to “Insufficient”.
The CAT’s assessment of the Switzerland’s total fair share contribution takes into account its emissions reduction target and its climate finance.
Switzerland’s NDC is split into domestic and overseas emission reductions components, as Switzerland has clearly stated that a portion of emission reductions will be achieved through the support of action abroad by applying Article 6 of the Paris Agreement. The overall target is a reduction of “at least” a 50% below 1990 levels by 2030. We rate the overall target, which includes its recent bilateral agreements with over 10 countries to purchase Internationally Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMOs), as “Insufficient” when compared to its fair share emissions allocation.
The “Insufficient” rating indicates that Switzerland’s fair share target in 2030 needs substantial improvement to be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C. Some of these improvements should be made to the domestic target itself, others could come in the form of additional support for emissions reductions achieved in developing countries in the form of finance. If all countries followed Switzerland’s approach, warming would reach up to 3°C.
If we were to rate Switzerland’s estimated domestic target against its fair share, assuming that the bilateral agreements do not lead to an overall mitigation effect, the target would be “Highly insufficient”.
We rate Switzerland’s international public climate finance contributions as ‘Insufficient’. Switzerland has committed to increasing its climate finance and has steadily increased its share cumulating at USD 411m public finance contributions in 2020. Nonetheless, this is lower than what would be required under its fair share. To improve its rating, Switzerland needs to ramp up its international climate finance contributions in the period post-2020.
Switzerland committed to a 2050 net-zero target as part of its long-term strategy submitted to the UNFCCC in 2021. The net-zero target generally covers key elements but fails to meet best practice standards for some of them. The CAT evaluates the net-zero target design as "Average".
The full net zero target analysis can be found here.