Under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Switzerland has undertaken to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared with 1990 levels. Now, based on new scientific findings published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Federal Council at its meeting on 28 August has decided to set an even more ambitious target: Switzerland plans to reduce its net carbon emissions to zero by 2050, thus meeting the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming to a maximum of 1.5°C when compared with the pre-industrial era.
By signing the Paris Agreement, the Federal Council signalled its long-term aim of reducing Switzerland’s carbon emissions by 70-85 per cent by 2050. This target was based on findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming would have to be reduced by 2100 to less than 2 degrees in order to avoid serious consequences for humankind and biodiversity. In 2018, the IPCC reported that 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. In response, the Federal Council instructed the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) to review the long-term climate targets and to devise potential courses of action. In addition, on 26 June the Federal Council in its discussion of Switzerland’s priorities for the UN General Assembly in 2019 decided that Switzerland would increase its target for the emission reductions to be achieved by 2050.
2050 climate target -zero net emissions
The Federal Council announced this reduction target on 28 August and decided that by 2050 Switzerland should not emit more greenhouse gases than can be absorbed naturally or by technical means. This means that net emissions will be reduced to zero by 2050. This climate target ensures that Switzerland will make its contribution to limiting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees. Switzerland is thus joining the large number of countries aiming to achieve net zero targets by 2050. Switzerland is especially affected by climate change, as temperatures here are rising twice as quickly as the global average.
2050 climate strategy
The 2050 climate target lays the foundations for Switzerland’s 2050 climate strategy. All the countries that signed the Paris Agreement are required to submit long-term climate strategies to the UN Climate Change Secretariat by the end of 2020. In Switzerland, CO2 emissions from transport, buildings and industry can be reduced by up to 95 per cent by 2050 through technologies that are already available and by using renewable energy sources. There is also potential for reducing greenhouse gases, particularly the methane and nitrous oxide produced by agriculture. In addition, the reduction of emissions produced in other countries will form part of the strategy.
Alongside natural CO2 sinks (such as forests and the soil), technologies that permanently remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and store them (see link below) are to be used in future to offset the remaining emissions. Swiss industry and research is playing an important role in the development of these emission technologies.
The FOEN is working with other federal offices to draw up the 2050 climate strategy, which the Federal Council plans to finalise by December 2020. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy’s Energy Perspectives 2050 report forms an important basis for the work.