Climate change: Federal Council adopts report on negative CO2 emissions

Bern, 02.09.2020 - At its meeting on 2 September 2020, the Federal Council approved a report on the importance of negative CO2 emissions for Switzerland's future climate policy. Permanently removing CO2 from the atmosphere (i.e. achieving 'negative emissions') requires special technologies, which are not yet fully available. The report concludes that negative emissions are essential to meeting long-term climate targets. It recommends that the Confederation take action now to create the conditions needed for the large-scale development of these technologies, which remove CO2 and store it permanently. It notes that Switzerland, with its strong research and innovation credentials, is well positioned to play a key role in the development of these technologies.

The report, drawn up in response to postulate 18.4211 submitted by Councillor of States Adèle Thorens Goumaz (Green Group, canton of Vaud), provides a systematic overview of the currently known biological and technological methods for removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it permanently (known as 'negative emissions technologies', or NETs). It presents current knowledge about the potential of NETs to support Swiss climate policy and outlines possible courses of action to achieve the goal of a climate-neutral Switzerland by 2050. It is to be examined, to what extent the report's findings will inform the Federal Council's long-term climate strategy.

Negative emissions essential to meeting climate targets

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that even global warming of 1.5 °C could lead to serious changes in ecosystems, and that global CO2 emissions would need to reach net zero by 2050 in order to limit warming to 1.5 °C. The Federal Council therefore decided, in late August 2019, to set a more ambitious long-term climate target: by 2050, Switzerland should not emit more greenhouse gases than can be absorbed naturally or by technical means. This target can and must be achieved primarily by moving away from fossil fuels (especially oil, gas, petrol and diesel). However, according to the current state of knowledge, some unavoidable emissions will remain by 2050 – from agriculture and certain industrial processes, for example – and these will need to be balanced by negative emissions. 

Creating the conditions for NETs today

A number of NET approaches are already being tested on a small scale, but they are not yet ready to be deployed on the scale that would be required to affect the climate. Like almost all countries, Switzerland is still in the early stages of understanding the importance of NETs. The Paris Agreement and the Federal Council's net zero target mean that action is needed today to create the right conditions for research into and development of NETs.

A greater understanding of the impact and potential of NETs is needed at all levels: among policymakers and administrators as well as in research, industry and society. To maximise the chances of their sustainable future use, promising NET approaches should be researched and further developed in parallel, the report says. Within the Federal Administration, the Federal Office for the Environment FOEN will coordinate discussions and action by the relevant federal offices to create the conditions required for NETs. With its strong research and innovation credentials, Switzerland is well positioned to play a key role in the development and global deployment of these technologies.

At international level, the Confederation should examine how research and innovation cooperation in the field of NETs can be supported. In addition, discussions about NET knowledge and international governance should be further advanced within the framework of international conventions such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Environment Programme.

Address for enquiries

Sophie Wenger, Climate Policy Section, Federal Office for the Environment FOEN, Tel. +41 58 464 71 84


The Federal Council

General Secretariat of the Federal Department of Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications; General Secretariat DETEC

Federal Office for the Environment FOEN