Climate: In brief

The CO2 Act provides the basis for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change in Switzerland. At international level, Switzerland is committed to further emission reductions by 2020.

1. Activities that produce greenhouse gases (drivers)

Human beings are changing the composition of the atmosphere increasingly through the emission of greenhouse gases.

Rising goods and vehicle traffic and domestic heating are leading to the large-scale consumption of fossil energy carriers. CO2 is emitted when fuel such as petrol or diesel and combustibles like heating oil and natural gas are burned. This intensifies the natural greenhouse effect and leads to climate warming.

Changes in land use and agriculture also contribute to the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as methane, nitrous oxide and synthetic gases (e.g. fluorocarbons) in the atmosphere to a lesser extent.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions (pressures)  

In 2015, the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere within Switzerland amounted to 48.1 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (not including international air traffic and shipping).This gives a per capita greenhouse gas release of 5.8 t (of which 4.7 t were accounted for by CO2). However, if the emissions generated abroad by the production of imported goods, the total for the per capita emissions is doubled.

Between 1990 and 2015, the emissions of the different greenhouse gases in Switzerland changed as follows:

  • CO2 emissions have slightly decreased.
  • Synthetic gases have increased considerably.
  • Methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which derive mainly from agriculture, decreased.

Sources of total greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland:

  • 32% of the total emissions are caused by transport,
  • 26% by buildings
  • 22% by industry
  • 19% by other sources like agriculture, waste management or synthetic gazes.

3. Climate change (State)  

The average temperature in Switzerland has risen by 2°C since measurements began in 1864.

The number of summer days with maximum temperatures exceeding 25 degrees Celsius has risen and frost days with minimum temperatures below 0 degrees have decreased. Today, the zero degree line is around 350 metres higher on average than it was in the late 1950s.

The rise in temperature in Switzerland is roughly fifty percent higher than that in the land areas of the northern hemisphere, which is 1.1°C.The increases in temperature since the 1970s can no longer be explained by natural factors (e.g. variations in solar radiation).

According to scenario analyses, the average seasonal temperatures in Switzerland could increase by between 3.2 and 4.8°C (compared with the period 1980-2010), if global greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise unabated. If the emissions are reduced (by at least 50% compared to their 1990 levels by 2050), global warming may stabilise between 1.2°C to 1.8°C.

In the course of the 20th century, precipitation in the winter months increased in the northern and western Alpine region by 20% to 30% and decreased by the same amount in autumn in southern Switzerland.

In most measuring stations north of the Alps, the frequency of intense daily precipitation increased by 15-70% in autumn and winter over the course of the 20th century.

4. Thawing permafrost and melting glaciers, changes in the snow line, species composition, health impacts, extreme weather events (impacts)

Melting permafrost can destabilise the bedrock and lead to avalanches, rockfalls and mudslides.

Because winter precipitation is 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 Alpine glaciers may disappear entirely by 2050.

A direct consequence of increasing temperatures is the rise in the snow line which reduces the reliability of snowfall in ski resorts.

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. The spread of subtropical plants from parks and gardens and the tiger mosquito can be observed in the canton of Ticino, in particular.

The heat wave in the summer of 2015 clearly demonstrated that global warming can have health consequences. In Switzerland the mortality rate rose by about 5.4% between June and August 2015.

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, heatwaves and storms. Given the rarity of these events, it is hard to produce statistical evidence of a trend, but their greater frequency is certainly plausible in scientific terms.

5. Global and Swiss greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, and Switzerland's climate change adaptation strategy (responses)

To limit global climate change, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced considerably. At global level, some nations have defined reduction targets for the second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020).

  • Switzerland is committed to reducing its average greenhouse gas emissions in the 2013-2020 period by 15.8 percent compared to 1990 levels. The EU target for reducing emissions for the same period is by 20%.
  • In addition to the EU and Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, Australia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine also stated their willingness to commit to binding emission reductions for the period 2013-2020. Hence, the second period of the Kyoto Protocol (2013-2020) covers around 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

At the national level, the CO2 Act (in force since 1.1.2013) requires a reduction in domestic emission of greenhouse gases by at least 20 percent compared to 1990 levels in 2020. This reduction target corresponds to that of the Kyoto Protocol, with the difference that it refers only to the emissions of a single year rather than to the average emissions of a period. The CO2-Act concerns fossil combustibles and fuels, and also covers all internationally regulated greenhouse gases in addition to CO2. Furthermore, it assigns the federal authorities a coordinating role in the adaptation to climate change.

The most important measures and instruments contained in the CO2 legislation are:

  • The CO2 levy has been applied to fossil fuels (e.g. oil, gas, coal) since 2008 and its proceeds are redistributed in part to the population and economy. Because the intermediate target for CO2 emissions from combustibles defined in the CO2 Ordinance was not attained, from 1 January 2018, the CO2 levy will increase from CHF 84 per tonne of CO2 emitted to CHF 96 per tonne of CO2.
  • 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, around one third of the receipts from the CO2 levy on fuels has been earmarked for the financing of the buildings programme.
  • Emissions trading enables the reduction of emissions when costs are low. Companies and specialist dealers in particular trade in emissions permits. Switzerland is aim to link its emissions trading system with the EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).
  • Since July 2012, CO2 emissions requirements for new passenger vehicles  have been applicable in Switzerland as is the case in the EU. The target - 130 grams of CO2 per kilometer - was missed by about 5 grams in 2015. The new target is 95 g CO2/km by 2020.
  • Both the importers of fuel and operators of fossil-thermal power plants are obliged to  provide compensation for the CO2 emissions they generate through the implementation of measures in Switzerland.
  • The federal authorities promote innovations which reduce greenhouse gases and resource consumption, promote the use of renewable energies and increase energy efficiency through a technology fund. The provision of guarantees facilitate innovative companies in obtaining credit.
  • To increase the effectiveness of other legislative measures and promote voluntary climate protection, the CO2 Act also contains new provisions in the areas of communication, education and consultancy.

6. International climate policy

A new climate agreement for the post-2020 period was passed at the climate conference in Paris at the end of 2015, which requires all states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions for the first time. The previous distinction between industrialised and developing countries is largely eliminated as a result.

The Paris Agreement is a legally binding instrument under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Climate Change Convention, UNFCCC). It obliges all states to formulate emissions reduction targets and requires that reduction
efforts are successively stepped up. In addition, it obliges all states to adapt to climate change and contains goals and provisions related to financial and technical support for developing countries. For the first time, an international climate agreement is based on largely common principles for all states.

The agreement has been in force since November 2016. Switzerland ratified the Paris Agreement on 6 October 2017. It has therefore committed to an emissions reduction target of minus 50 per cent by 2030 in comparison with 1990 levels, with partial counting of its emission reductions abroad. In addition, Switzerland has also declared an indicative total reduction target of minus 70 to 85 per cent by 2050 compared with 1990 levels, also with partial counting of emission reductions abroad.

Under President Trump the United States announced that it will withdraw from the Paris Agreement at the end of 2019. This
announcement still needs to be formalised, and the United States remains a Party to the Agreement for the time being. Despite this announcement, the vast majority of the other States Parties, including China, the EU and India, expressed their unwavering political support for the agreement at the climate conference held at the end of 2017.

Last modification 15.08.2018

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