Greenhouse gas footprint
Final demand for goods and services is often linked to greenhouse gas emissions along the whole value-added chain both inland and abroad, such as CO2 from transport, building heating systems, industry and the extraction of raw materials. Nitrous oxide and methane are admitted by agriculture and waste management in particular.
In a globalised economy, both the greenhouse gases emitted in Switzerland and those emitted abroad as a result of Swiss final demand must be recorded (total final consumption expenditure of households and the public sector). A large part of Switzerland’s footprint is created abroad because imports make up a high proportion of the country’s total consumption.
In 2020, the greenhouse gas footprint per capita amounted to around 11.9 tonnes of CO2-equivalents – well over the average of the EU countries. In 2000, it was nearly 18 tonnes per capita, which means that it has fallen by around a quarter – whereby this drop can in part be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Switzerland’s greenhouse gas footprint is far in excess of a level that is in line with the planetary boundaries. Only a limited amount of greenhouse gas can be allowed to enter the atmosphere if global warming is to be restricted to 1.5 degrees Celsius. If we assume that everyone in the world has an equal right to emitting greenhouse gases, then Switzerland has already produced its share, or shortly will do. Based on existing political objectives, it needs to reduce its greenhouse gas footprint by about 90% by 2040 (EBP/Treeze, 2022). For these reasons, the state is rated as negative and the trend, despite a reduction, as unsatisfactory.
The Federal Statistical Office splits the share of the total footprint attributable to households into separate categories, the main ones being Transport, Living, and Food and Drink. Together, these three categories make up two thirds of the greenhouse gas footprint of households.
In the 2030 Sustainable Development Strategy, the federal government’s aim is to reduce the greenhouse gas footprint from food and drink by a quarter compared to 2020. The report on future developments in agrarian policy, drawn up in response to a parliamentary postulate, the amount set is at least two thirds by 2050.
Although the population grew by 20% during the period considered, total emissions fell by 13% to approx. 103m tonnes CO2 equivalents. Between 2000 and 2019, the greenhouse gas footprint fell by 2% and between 2019 and 2020 by 10% – in large part owing to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proportion of domestic and import-related emissions has remained relatively constant. In 2020, 66% of emissions were generated abroad.
Between 2000 and 2020, greenhouse gas footprint efficiency increased by around 33%. Consequently, a decoupling between the growth in prosperity and greenhouse gas emissions has taken place.
There are a number of reasons for the reduction in the greenhouse gas footprint and efficiency improvements – not just the COVID-19 pandemic. Environment, energy and agrarian policies set certain requirements; for example, the CO2 levy on fossil fuels (oil and gas) creates incentives to reduce consumption and use more climate-friendly energy sources. Furthermore, more resource-efficient technologies, a rising market share of environmentally-friendlier goods and services and the outsourcing of emission-intensive production abroad may also play a role.
An international comparison is only indirectly possible, due to the differing data sources and calculation methods used as a basis. According to Tukker et al. (2014) and the calculations of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and of the UNEP Life Cycle Initiative (LCI), Switzerland’s greenhouse gas footprint per capita is more than double the global average, and up to four times higher than that of many developing countries. For example, according to UNEP LCI figures, Tanzania’s footprint is just 0.7 tonnes per capita (SCP hotspot analysis).
The statistical concept of the greenhouse gas footprint is used to determine total greenhouse gas emissions caused by the final demand for goods and services in Switzerland. In addition to domestic emissions, the emissions generated abroad in the production of goods and services destined for Switzerland are also taken into account.
The footprint comprises the direct emissions from households, those due to final demand from households and the public sector, and those linked to gross fixed capital formation (GFCF). Domestic emissions created in the production of exports are not considered.
The greenhouse gas footprint is a quantity that must be modelled. The results presented here are based on the calculations of the Federal Statistical Office FSO. The method uses air emissions accounts, the input-output tables of the state financial accounts and a weighting of imported emissions. The weighting takes into account the CO2 emission intensity of the origin of Swiss imports. The greenhouse gas intensity of exports from the EU is weighted using an overall aggregate ratio of total CO2 emissions to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the respective economic region.
The greenhouse gases taken into account are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and synthetic gases (HFC, PFC, SF6, NF3) in CO2 equivalents.
|Deviation from theoretical path in%
|1.4 in 2040
|Towards theoretical path
|Basis: Emissions in Switzerland, Emissions abroad