Climate: International Affairs

Greenhouse gas emissions do not respect national borders. Due to its mountain ecosystem, Switzerland is particularly vulnerable. A globally coordinated course of action is essential. That is why Switzerland is actively committed to climate protection at an international level.


1. International climate policy: stages and results

Rio, Kyoto, Marrakesh, Cancun and Paris: There have been many stages in the discussion about climate protection. Since the adoption of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992, the international community has met regularly to limit climate change.

In 1992, during the Rio Earth Summit, countries adopted the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which came into force in 1994.
The adoption of the UNFCCC was the first step of a concerted international course of action. It officially recognised the importance of climate change, and its anthropogenic causes linked to greenhouse gas emissions. The Convention aims to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at levels that will not dangerously disrupt the climate. It takes into consideration the differentiated responsibility of developed countries and developing countries by advocating “an effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions”. Accordingly, it encourages governments to implement strategies to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, where developed countries provide financial and technological support to developing and emerging countries. Industrialised countries are therefore committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions and helping developing countries reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change, in particular by financing projects through the Global Environment Fund (GEF). The UNFCCC is now universal, ratified by 195 States and the European Union. It meets every year for a Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention.

Since 1995: annual meetings of the Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change (Conference of the Parties, COP).

In 1997, the countries at the COP3 adopted the Kyoto Protocol. It was the first binding international agreement with commitments in figures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It came into force in 2005 after the double condition was met that it be ratified by at least 55 countries as well as the industrialised countries (known as Annex I Parties to the UNFCCC) that emitted at least 55% of total CO2 emissions in 1990.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, industrialised countries committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by an average of 5.2% compared to 1990 levels from 2008 to 2012, which was known as the first commitment period. Individually, these binding targets ranged from -8% to +10% of emissions (8% for Switzerland and the EU) compared to 1990 levels. The commitments made under this protocol are binding, but cover only about 25% of global emissions. In fact, they apply only to developed countries, since developing countries are only required to keep an inventory of their polluting emissions. As a result, the protocol is not binding on countries like China, India or Brazil. Switzerland met its emissions reduction requirements under the Kyoto Protocol in the 2008 -2012 period.
At the end of 2012, the States agreed to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (Doha Amendment) during the Doha Climate Change Conference. With this amendment, industrialised countries agreed to reduce their emissions by an average of 18% compared to 1990 levels (Switzerland: -20% in 2020; EU: -20% between 2013 and 2020) by 2020. The second commitment period concerns only 14% of global emissions, because the United States and Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol or did not ratify it, and Japan, Russia and New Zealand did not commit to the Doha targets and are therefore no longer bound to the second commitment period. Developing countries that have not made a reduction commitment have seen their emissions increase substantially.
The second commitment period ends at the end of 2020. A third commitment period is not anticipated.

Since 2005: annual meetings of the Parties to the Convention (COP), Conference of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP)

In 2015, the countries adopted the Paris Agreement. It came into force on 4 November 2016 and takes effect starting on 1 January 2021. Thus, it covers the post-2020 period. The Paris Agreement is the first binding international climate convention for all the States: developed countries, developing countries and emerging countries. By ratifying it, States agree to take concrete actions to reduce their emissions and adapt to climate change according to their responsibilities and respective capabilities. Industrialised countries reaffirm their commitment to support developing countries in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and adapt to climate change. Other States are now also invited to contribute support.
Under the Paris Agreement, all major emitters, including the United States and China, committed for the first time to achieve concrete emissions reduction targets. As of 1 May 2020, 189 States had ratified the Paris Agreement, including the States responsible for nearly 97% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Under the presidency of Donald Trump, the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement at the end of 2020. All other States have nevertheless reaffirmed their commitment to the Agreement.

Since 2016, the conferences of the Parties to the Convention (COP), the Kyoto Protocol (CMP) and the Paris Agreement (CMA) have taken place every year. During these conferences, the States examine the progress that has been made and make the decisions required to effectively implement these agreements, such as by agreeing on more detailed rules for applying the agreements or on the required institutional and administrative provisions.

2. UNFCCC - international cooperation in implementing the Climate Convention and the Paris Agreement

2.1. New market-based mechanisms

2.1.1. Agreements under Article 6

Switzerland’s commitment under the Paris Agreement is a reduction of its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent in 2030 compared to 1990 levels (Nationally Determined Contribution, NDC). The Paris Agreement anchors through its Article 6.2 bi- or plurilateral cooperation in the NDC achievement. To this aim, Switzerland concludes bilateral Agreements.

2.1.2 Pilot projects on new market-based mechanisms

Switzerland intends to achieve its greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030 thanks in part to international emissions reductions. The Paris Agreement provides for new market-based mechanisms that allow States to purchase international emissions reductions and calculate their reductions in relation to their specific climate goals. The applicable rules are currently being negotiated at the international level. Switzerland and the Climate Cent Foundation are developing pilot projects to test new approaches and come up with practical solutions for the post-2020 period. Switzerland will be able to share this experience in international negotiations.

2.2. International climate funding

International climate funding is an essential part of Switzerland’s international climate policy. Switzerland is therefore also closely involved in international negotiations on this issue within the context of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. Both within and outside the convention, it works to find pragmatic solutions to the various challenges in the area of international climate funding, such as the calculation rules and incentive systems for mobilised private funds. It endeavours to make an appropriate contribution to international climate funding and the various climate funds.

The two operational units of the financial mechanism of the Framework Convention on Climate Change are the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Green Climate Fund (GCF), to which Switzerland contributes a fair amount.

In addition to the GEF and the GCF, there are three other climate funds linked to the Framework Convention on Climate Change:

  • The Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) was established in 2001 as part of the financial mechanism of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. This fund is aimed at the specific needs of the least developed countries, primarily the poorest African countries and small island states which are most severely affected by the negative effects of climate change. The LDCF mainly finances national programmes to help these countries adapt to climate change.
  • The second specialised climate fund, the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), was founded in 2001 as part of the financial mechanism of the Framework Convention on Climate Change. This fund provides additional funds for the climate protection measures set out in the convention in developing and transitioning countries. A smaller part is for programmes to promote the transfer of technology.
  • The Adaptation Fund (AF) was launched in 2001 as a finance mechanism under the Kyoto Protocol to finance projects and programmes to help developing countries adapt to climate change. The fund’s main source of funding comes from the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) defined in the Kyoto Protocol. Each project registered in the CDM pays a 4% fee, half of which goes to the AF. It was also decided in Katowice in 2018 that the AF should also serve to implement the Paris Agreement, and should receive funds from the implementation of Article 6.4.

3. Other commitments to mitigate climate change (initiatives, complementary activities to the Climate Convention)

3.1 Short-Lived Climate Forcers

At the international level, Switzerland is engaged under the UNECE Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution Transport and in particular as Party to the Gothenburg Protocol. In line with the commitment of this protocol, Switzerland reports annually on national emissions data related to Black Carbon. A decrease of more than 40% of Black Carbon emissions was registered between 2005 and 2016. Switzerland also continues its participation in the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) that promotes action on Short-Lived Climate Forcers. Short-lived climate forcers are substances such as methane, ozone and aerosols that remain in the atmosphere for a much shorter period of time than carbon dioxide (CO2), yet their potential to warm the atmosphere can be several times greater than CO2 (e.g. methane heats the atmosphere 25 times more than CO2).

Certain short-lived climate pollutants are also dangerous air pollutants that have harmful effects for people, ecosystems and agricultural productivity. Switzerland has a robust national clean air policy and is committed to continue reducing Short-Lived Climate Forcers at the national level and supports such efforts in partner countries in the framework of its international cooperation. Furthermore, Switzerland has provided financial support for the methodological work by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Short-Lived Climate Forcers.

3.2 Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidies Reform (FFFSR)

Since 2010, Switzerland is an active member of the “Friends of Fossil Fuel Subsidy Reform” (FFFSR), a joint initiative by Costa Rica, Denmark, Ethiopia, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay to promote the removal or reform of subsidies to fossil fuels in an effort to help fight climate change. Switzerland supports informal exchanges on this topic and the promotion of links to countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, through the Friends’ network and through a novel network of francophone countries, which is meeting at the occasion of multilateral climate negotiations.

3.3 Environmental Integrity Group (EIG)

In the UNFCCC negotiations, Switzerland is negotiates as part of the Environmental Integrity Group (EIG), comprised of Georgia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Mexico, South Korea, and Switzerland. The EIG was initiated during the negotiations of the Kyoto Protocol, where only party groups were allowed to negotiate. Korea, Mexico, and Switzerland were not part of any group so they declared to form the EIG and invited other independent parties to join. The EIG worked to be a strong advocate for progressive climate policies. Spanning three continents and three time zones, and the only negotiating group that includes both developed and emerging economies, the group has a reach like no other. The group strives to play a constructive role, and can help to find common ground between blocs with different interests.

3.4 High Ambition Coalition

The HAC was founded in 2014 by the Republic of the Marshall Islands with the aim of making the Paris Agreement adopted in 2015 as ambitious as possible. The Coalition brings together both developed and developing countries. This Coalition was highly effective at the COP21 in achieving the adoption of a strong Paris Agreement. The Coalition is often credited with capturing the aim of “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels” and in anchoring the ratcheting mechanism requiring countries to revisit their targets every five years. Switzerland has been a member of the Coalition from the outset. Since then the coalition has organised smaller-scale meetings, often at ministerial level, in order to maintain the coalition of ambitious countries.

3.5 Cartagena Dialogue

Negotiations under the UNFCCC have been traditionally marked by a divide between developed and developing countries. The Cartagena Dialogue for Progressive Action was formed to provide an informal space in the UNFCCC negotiations for delegations from developed and developing countries alike to explore possible landing zones, beyond the traditional positions of their groups in the UNFCCC. The Cartagena Dialogue is thus an informal grouping of countries working towards an ambitious, comprehensive and legally-binding regime under the Paris Agreement, and committed domestically to becoming or remaining low-carbon economies. Under the Cartagena Dialogue, experts work yearlong to discuss and seek solutions for specific issues under negotiation and meet physically during the negotiations. Switzerland is an active member of the Cartagena Dialogue.

4. IPCC - the scientific basis

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988, based on a decision by the UN General Assembly that same year, to obtain the necessary scientific, technical and socio-economic information on anthropogenic climate change. Without making policy recommendations itself, the IPCC periodically assesses the causes and impacts of climate change, thus providing politicians and the public with the necessary information and the bases for policy decision-making. The IPCC also develops methodologies for use by all countries in evaluating their greenhouse gas emissions.

The IPCC published its fifth assessment report in 2014. It consists of three parts:

  1. The Physical Science Basis
  2. Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability
  3. Mitigation of Climate Change

It is now working on its sixth assessment report, which will be published in 2022. In 2018, the IPCC issued a Special Report on the impacts of global warming at 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. And in 2019, it issued two other Special Reports, one on ocean and cryosphere and another on land.

5. Switzerland at the United Nations Climate Action Summit

The United Nations Climate Action Summit was held on 23 September 2019 in New York City. Governments, the private sector, civil society, local authorities and international organisations participated in the summit in the interest of working together to develop solutions in nine climate action pathways: resilience and adaptation to climate change, convergence of public and private financing with a net zero emissions economy, global transition to renewable energies and sustainable industries, sustainable and resilient infrastructures and cities, social and political drivers of climate action, youth engagement, sustainable agriculture and management of oceans and forests.

The purpose of the Climate Action Summit was to encourage countries to reaffirm their commitment to protecting the climate, reducing greenhouse gases and setting ambitious climate goals for the post-2021 period. This is also one of Switzerland’s main concerns.

At the Summit, Switzerland announced that it plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. Switzerland is not the only country that set this ambitious goal: Many other countries at the Climate Action Summit announced that their goal is to reach climate neutrality by 2050.

Ambitious climate targets cannot be reached unless global investments also converge with a climate-friendly economy. At present, they contribute to global warming in the range of 4 to 6°C. That is why Switzerland presented a joint initiative with the Netherlands on how public and private investments can be tested for climate compatibility and aligned with the joint target of 1.5°C. More information can be found here:

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Last modification 23.11.2020

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