Climate: In brief

Greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland decreased by 12% between 1990 and 2017. 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 high as the global mean.

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 building heating are leading to the large-scale consumption of fossil energy carriers. CO2 is emitted when fuel such as petrol, diesel or kerosene and combustibles such as heating oil and natural gas are burned. This intensifies the natural greenhouse effect and leads to global warming.

Changes in land use 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 amount of greenhouse gases emitted in the future.

2. Greenhouse gas emissions (pressures)  

Greenhouse gas emissions within Switzerland’s territory have decreased by 12% since 1990. In 2017, the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere within Switzerland amounted to 47.2 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents (not including international air traffic and shipping).This gives a per capita greenhouse gas release of 5.6 tonnes (of which 4.5 tonnes were accounted for by CO2).

However, if the emissions generated abroad by the production of imported goods are also taken into consideration, the total for the per capita emissions is 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 values of 0.6 tonnes per capita by the end of the century and 1-1.5 tonnes per capita by 2050 based on the planetary boundary are exceeded several times over.

Between 1990 and 2017, the emissions of the different greenhouse gases in Switzerland changed as follows:

  • CO2 emissions decreased slightly (by 14%);
  • Synthetic gases increased considerably (7-fold);
  • Methane and nitrous oxide emissions, which derive mainly from agriculture, decreased (by 19% and 15% respectively).

Sources of total greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland:

  • 32% of the total emissions are caused by transport (excluding air transport),
  • 26% by buildings,
  • 23% by industry,
  • 19% by agriculture, waste management and synthetic gas emissions.

The trend in Switzerland is not the same in all sectors: Emissions caused by transport have only recently decreased somewhat. In 2017, they are still 1% above their 1990 level. However, emissions in the buildings sector and the industrial sector have been reduced by 26% and 18% respectively compared to 1990.

3. Climate change (state)  

The average temperature in Switzerland has risen by 2°C since measurements began in 1864 and is therefore double the global rise of approximately 1°C. 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 precipitations 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 Alpine glaciers 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 has increased in the northern and western Alpine regions by 20% to 30%.

There are also first signs that extreme events will become 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 reduced (by at least 50% compared to their 1990 levels by 2050, in line with the target set out in the Paris Agreement), the temperature rise could stabilise at between 0.7°C and 1.9°C by the mid-21st century and at between 0.6°C and 1.9°C by the end of the century.

According to model calculations, summers will become dryer, and flow rates 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)

As a driver, climate change impacts other environmental issues and has huge effects on the environment, society and the economy. As an Alpine country, Switzerland is particularly affected.

The threat of flooding and mass movements (rockslides, rockfall 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. This means that no more fossil emissions may enter the atmosphere in the long term.

By ratifying the Paris Agreement, Switzerland has committed 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). Among other things, 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 (in force since 1.1.2013) requires a reduction in domestic emission of greenhouse gases by at least 20% compared to 1990 levels in 2020. This reduction target corresponds to 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.

According to the dispatch on the complete revision of the CO2 Act of 1 December 2017, proven measures are to be continued and further developed after 2020. The most important measures and instruments contained in the CO2 legislation are the following:

  • 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. Since 1 January 2018, the levy has been CHF 96 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 when costs are low. Switzerland aims to link its emissions trading system with the EU Emissions Trading System. A agreement to that effect was signed with the EU on 23 November 2017.
  • 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 kilometre – was missed by about 5 grams in 2015. The new target is 95 g CO2/km by 2020.
  • Fuel importers are obliged to provide compensation for the CO2 emissions they generate through the implementation of measures in Switzerland. The compensation rate is raised on a continuous basis: It was 8% in 2018 and 2019 and rises to 10% starting in 2020.
  • 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.
  • To increase the effectiveness of other legislative measures and promote voluntary climate protection, the CO2 Act provides for an “Education and Communication Climate Programme”. The Confederation uses this programme to encourage inclusion of the issue of climate protection in vocational training and provides information and advice to energy cities and communes.

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 will be promoted, the buildings programme will be reinforced, and CO2 regulations will become stricter in order to boost vehicle efficiency.

The Confederation has identified and prioritised the risks and opportunities of climate change. It also has a climate change adaptation strategy. Its action plan contains more than 60 measures that will be finalised or implemented by the competent federal offices by 2019. Furthermore, as part of a pilot programme, financial support will be provided to innovative climate change adaptation projects. The Confederation also created the National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS) in 2015.

In keeping with international commitments, Switzerland participates in financing emissions reduction and adaptation measures in developing countries by contributing public funds and mobilising private funds. In 2016, Switzerland contributed USD 330 million from public sources. It also mobilised approximately USD 100 million from private sources for climate protection measures in developing countries.


Further information

Last modification 16.04.2019

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