Climate: In brief

Greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland decreased by 14 % between 1990 and 2019. The target of a 20 % reduction by 2020 might not be reached. In addition, Switzerland causes not only emissions within its borders but also even higher emissions abroad due to the goods it imports. Climate change is highly noticeable in Switzerland: the annual mean temperature has risen by 2 °C since monitoring began in 1864, which is about twice as much as the global average.


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. CO2 is emitted when fuel such as petrol, diesel or kerosene, heating oil, natural gas and coal are burned. This intensifies the natural greenhouse effect for centuries and leads to global warming.

Changes in land use, e.g. deforestation, and agriculture also contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as CO2, methane and nitrous oxide in 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 14 % since 1990. In 2019, the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere within Switzerland amounted to 46.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (not including international air traffic and shipping). This gives a per capita greenhouse gas release of 5.5 tonnes of CO2 equivalents (CO2: 4.4 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 (14 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per capita in 2015). As a result, Switzerland’s so-called greenhouse gas footprint is well above the global average of about 6 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per capita. The threshold value of 0.6 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per capita for 2015 based on the planetary boundary is exceeded several times.

Of Switzerland's total greenhouse gas emissions:

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

The trend in Switzerland is not the same in all sectors. Emissions caused by transport have only recently decreased somewhat. In 2019, they were still 1 % above their 1990 level. However, emissions in the buildings sector and the industrial sector have been reduced by 34 % and 19 % respectively compared to 1990.


3. Climate change (state)

The average temperature in Switzerland has risen by 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). Nine of the ten warmest years ever measured in Switzerland were recorded in the 21st century.

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 entirely 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 %.

There are also indications that 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 0.7°C and 1.9°C by mid-century and 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 (impacts)

Climate change leads to impacts on other environmental issues and has huge effects on the environmentsociety and the economy. As an Alpine country, Switzerland is particularly affected.

The threat of flooding and mass movements (rockslides, rockfalls and debris flows) will likely be accentuated in Switzerland due to increasingly frequent heavy precipitation events and the rising zero-degree line (melting snow and glaciers, thawing permafrost).

The heat wave in the summer of 2015 clearly demonstrated that global warming can also have health consequences, particularly in densely built urban agglomerations. In Switzerland, between June and August 2015, around 800 more people died than in a normal year, equating to a 5.4 % increase in the mortality rate.

Changes in temperature affect the species composition of ecosystems and can alter the distribution ranges of species, harmful organisms and pathogens. For example, hot, dry summers favour the spread of the bark beetle in pine forests.

A direct consequence of increasing temperatures is the rise in the snow line, which reduces the reliability of snowfall in ski resorts at lower altitudes. Increasingly dry weather may lead to local water scarcity and conflicts.

In the short term, however, the most serious consequence may not be due to changes in average climatic conditions but to extreme events such as floods, droughts, heat waves and storms.


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 50 % compared to 1990 by 2030.

As part of climate policy until 2020, at global level, some nations have defined reduction targets for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020). Switzerland has committed to reducing its average greenhouse gas emissions in the 2013-2020 period by 15.8 % compared to 1990 levels.

At the national level, the current CO2 Act requires a reduction in domestic greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20 % compared to 1990 levels in 2020. This reduction target meets Switzerland’s international commitment made in the Kyoto Protocol. The CO2 Act also assigns the federal authorities a coordinating role in the adaptation to climate change.

The most important measures in the CO2 Act in force are the following:

  • The CO2 levy has been applied to fossil fuels (e.g. oil, gas, coal) since 2008 and its proceeds are redistributed proportionately to the population and economy. Since 1 January 2022, the levy has been CHF 120 per tonne of CO2 emitted.
  • The buildings programme supports the energy-related upgrading of buildings and investments in renewable energies, waste heat utilisation and the optimisation of building services technology. Since 2010, one third of the receipts from the CO2 levy on fuels has been earmarked for the buildings programme.
  • Emissions trading enables the reduction of emissions where costs are low. Switzerland and the European Union linked their emissions trading systems on 1 January 2020.
  • Since July 2012, CO2 emissions requirements for new passenger vehicles have been applicable in Switzerland as is the case in the EU. The target - 130g CO2/km - was missed by about 8g CO2/km in 2019. The new target from 2020 is 95g CO2/km. In 2020, the average CO2 emissions of new vehicles was around 124g.
  • Importers of fossil motor fuels are required to compensate CO2 emissions through the implementation of measures in Switzerland. The proportion of CO2 emissions from transport to be offset is raised on a continuous basis: from 8% in 2018 and 2019, it was raised to 10% in 2020 and in 2021 has been increased to 12% of total CO2 emissions from fossil motor fuels.
  • The Confederation has set up a technology fund to promote innovations which reduce greenhouse gases and resource consumption, promote the use of renewable energies and increase energy efficiency.
  • The Climate Training and Communication Programme complements the legislative and voluntary measures. It promotes the issue of climate protection in vocational education and training and provides information and advice to energy cities and communes.

To implement the Paris Agreement, Parliament adopted a total revision of the CO2 Act in the 2020 autumn session, but this was rejected by a majority of Swiss voters in a popular vote held on 13 June 2021. As a transitional measure for the year 2021, in the 2019 winter session Parliament passed a partial revision to extend the application of individual climate policy instruments.

Energy policy is harmonised with climate policy. Under the new energy legislation that came into force on 1 January 2018 as part of the Energy Strategy 2050, renewable energies continue to be promoted, the buildings programme has been reinforced, and CO2 regulations to boost vehicle efficiency have been tightened.

Since 2012 the Confederation has had a strategy for adaptation to climate change to respond to the risks and opportunities of climate change, which it has identified and prioritised in a comprehensive study. The strategy for adaptation was implemented with a first action plan for the years 2014-2019. A second action plan for the years 2020-2025 follows on directly to the first. As part of the Pilot programme 'Adaptation to climate change', 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 17.08.2021

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