Climate: In brief

Switzerland is particularly affected by climate change, with warming today of over 2 °C compared to pre-industrial levels. While emissions generated in Switzerland have decreased, the target of reducing emissions by 2020 by 20% compared with the 1990 baseline was narrowly missed (-19%). Switzerland aims to halve its emissions by 2030, and the Federal Council wants to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Reducing emissions in line with these goals will require the exploitation of all technical potentials, the decarbonisation of the economy and the creation of framework conditions that enable sustainable everyday life.


1. Mobility, housing, nutrition and import of goods (drivers)

Human beings are changing the composition of the atmosphere increasingly through the emission of greenhouse gases. Rising goods and passenger transport – in particular air transport – and heating for buildings are leading to the large-scale consumption of fossil energy carriers.

  • Some three quarters of passenger transport performance (land transport only) is accounted for by motorised road transport. The measures introduced to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the working from home mandate, led to a decline in transport performance in Switzerland in 2020 for the first time since the mid-1990s.
  • On average, people in Switzerland fly twice as often as people in neighbouring countries, and also more than people in the United States.
  • The majority of buildings use fossil fuels for heating.

Changes in land use, such as deforestation and agriculture, especially through the production of meat and dairy products, also contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere.

In addition, greenhouse gas emissions also occur in the industrial sector and, to a lesser extent, in waste management. The consumption of imported goods leads to considerable emissions abroad, which also contribute to global warming.

Financing and investment decisions in the financial markets also affect the environment and the climate. For instance, investments in the energy supply sector today will decide the volume of greenhouse gases emitted in the future.


2. Greenhouse gas emissions (pressures)

Greenhouse gas emissions within Switzerland’s territory have decreased by 19% since 1990. This means that the target set by the CO2 Act (20% reduction) was narrowly missed. In 2020, the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere within Switzerland amounted to 43.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (not including international air traffic and shipping). This gives a per capita greenhouse gas release of 5 tonnes of CO2 equivalents (CO2: 4 tonnes per capita).

However, if the emissions generated abroad by the production of imported goods are also taken into consideration, total annual per-capita emissions are more than doubled (approx. 13 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per capita in 2019). As a result, Switzerland’s greenhouse gas footprint is well above the global average of about 6 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per capita.

The threshold value based on the planetary boundary is below 0.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per capita and year. With every year during which the greenhouse gas footprint per capita is above this value, this threshold value decreases – and the need for action increases.

Of Switzerland's total greenhouse gas emissions:

  • 32% are caused by transport (excluding air transport);
  • 24% by buildings;
  • 25% by industry;
  • 19% by agriculture, waste management and emissions of synthetic gases.

The largest reduction in Switzerland was achieved in 2020 by the buildings sector, with a decrease of 39% with respect to 1990. However, the target set out under the applicable CO2 legislation of a 40% reduction versus 1990 was still missed. The comparatively strong decline versus the previous year is down to the exceptionally mild winter, which meant that households used less heating oil and gas.

The emissions generated by the transport sector fell year-on-year by around 9% and were 8% below the 1990 baseline. The target 10% reduction was therefore missed, even though transport volumes declined massively during the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

With a 17% reduction, industry was the only sector to meet its target (15% reduction).


3. Climate change (state)

The average temperature in Switzerland has risen by at least 2 °C since measurements began in 1864. This is twice as high as the average global increase. The increases in temperature since the mid-19th century can no longer be explained by natural factors (e.g. variations in solar radiation). The six warmest years in Switzerland since records began have all been in the last decade.

The number of summer days with maximum temperatures exceeding 25 °C has risen, and frost days with minimum temperatures below 0 °C have decreased.

Because precipitation in the form of snow are decreasing and summers are becoming drier and hotter, the Alpine glaciers have been losing on average 1% of their volume per year since the mid-1970s. If this trend continues, 50–90% of the glaciers in the Alps may disappear by 2050.

The growing season is now about two to four weeks longer than in the 1960s.

In the course of the 20th century, precipitation in the winter months increased in the northern and western Alpine regions by 20 to 30%.

Extreme events are becoming more frequent. In fact, since 1901, both the frequency and the intensity of heavy precipitation events have increased at over 90% of monitoring stations.

According to climate scenarios, the average seasonal temperatures in Switzerland could increase by between 2 °C and 3.3 °C (compared with the period 1981–2010) by the mid-21st century and by between 3.3 °C and 5.4 °C by the end of the 21st century if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unabated. If emissions are drastically reduced (and carbon is sequestered from the atmosphere), the temperature rise could stabilise at between 0.6 °C and 1.9 °C by the end of the century.

According to model calculations, summers will become drier and discharge patterns of rivers and streams may change. Moreover, Switzerland can expect continuing changes in extreme weather events, such as more heat waves and heavy precipitation events and fewer cold spells.


4. Health, biodiversity, agriculture and forestry, energy, water management, tourism, buildings and infrastructure, costs of inaction (impact)

Climate change has huge effects on the environment, society and the economy. As an Alpine country, Switzerland is particularly affected.

More frequent, more prolonged and more intense heatwaves, but also one-off hot days and nights have a drastic impact on human health.

Prolonged droughts can lead to local restrictions in water supply. In agriculture, irrigation and adaptation requirements are growing as crop failures become more frequent and livestock have to be protected from the heat.

Heavy precipitation and the thawing of permafrost increase the risk of flooding, landslides, mudslides, rockfalls and other natural hazards.

Heat-sensitive species disappear and new, invasive species can spread. Forests can be heavily affected, suffering from drought stress, becoming susceptible to pest infestation, catching fire more easily, and losing their protective function. The rising temperature of water bodies can favour diseases in aquatic organisms, and the drying out of streams and rivers causes fish to die.

Continued warming will cause the conditions for winter tourism to further deteriorate; conversely, it will bring opportunities for summer tourism.

A decrease in heating demand in winter will be cancelled out by the need for more cooling in summer.

For example, Switzerland is also affected by global climate impacts through disruption to production and supply and increased migration.

Various studies show that the social and economic costs of unchecked climate change far exceed the costs of climate protection measures.


5. Global and Swiss greenhouse gas emission reduction targets and adaptation to climate change (responses)

The Paris Agreement provides the framework for climate policy after 2020. Under the agreement in 2015, the international community set the target of limiting the average global temperature increase to well under 2 °C compared to the pre-industrial period and aims to keep warming at a maximum of 1.5 °C. Global greenhouse gas emissions must therefore amount to net zero by the second half of the century, i.e. greenhouse gas emissions may not exceed the amount that can be sequestered by natural and technical storage.

By ratifying the Paris Agreement, Switzerland has committed in a next step to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% compared to 1990 by 2030.

A total revision of the CO2 Act was supposed to have defined the measures for achieving this target by 2030. But on 13 June 2021, the Swiss electorate rejected the revised CO2 Act. Parliament therefore decided on a transitional arrangement. This requires that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced by a further 1.5% annually by 2024 compared to 1990, and continues measures that would have expired at the end of 2021 without such a regulation. For the period after 2024, a new revision of the CO2 Act is be necessary. The Federal Council submitted a new bill to Parliament to this end in September 2022.

Energy policy is harmonised with climate policy. In 2021, the Federal Council adopted the dispatch on the Federal Act on a Secure Electricity Supply from Renewable Energy Sources. With this bill, it aims to support the expansion of domestic renewable energies.

To make international financial flows consistent with a low-carbon pathway, the Federal Council relies on the voluntary commitment of the financial sector. The climate compatibility assessment for banks, asset management firms, pension funds and insurance companies showed that the Swiss financial sector still invests heavily in oil and coal production.

Switzerland's Long-Term Climate Strategy, adopted by the Federal Council in 2021, specifies the intention to produce no more greenhouse gas emissions on balance from 2050 onwards (net zero target).

The Glacier Initiative was submitted in late 2019. It seeks to constitutionally enshrine the net zero target and the abandonment of fossil fuels by 2050. In its direct counter-proposal of 11 August 2021, the Federal Council shares the core concern behind the initiative, but refrains from a fundamental ban on fossil fuels. The Environment, Spatial Planning, Energy and Communications Committees of the National Council and Council of States intend to submit an indirect counter-proposal to the initiative. The Swiss electorate will vote on the Glacier Initiative in the coming months if it is not withdrawn.

Since 2012 the Confederation has had a strategy for adaptation to climate change The strategy for adaptation was implemented with an action plan. As part of a pilot programme, the Confederation supports innovative projects for adaptation to climate change at local, regional and cantonal level. In addition, the National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS), which was founded in 2015, provides information on the current and future climate, such as the CH2018 climate scenarios.

In keeping with international commitments, Switzerland participates in financing emissions reduction and climate adaptation measures in developing countries. In 2018, Switzerland contributed CHF 332 million from public sources. It also mobilised approximately CHF 210 million from private sources for climate protection measures in developing countries.

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Last modification 20.12.2022

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