Switzerland is aiming to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 in relation to 1990 levels, the environment ministry has announced. At least 30% must be achieved domestically, but the rest will be carried out abroad.
Critics have described the target as “shamefully low”, claiming the domestic reduction target should be doubled.
The move was approved by cabinet in November 2014, but was only made public on Friday.
A new international climate agreement, which will involve all states from 2020, will be concluded at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015. In the meantime, all member states of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are required to state their commitments for the post 2020-period ahead of the meeting.
On an national level, a draft revision of the CO2 Act will be submitted for consultation in mid-2016.
“This objective of a 50% reduction in emissions reflects Switzerland's responsibility for climate warming and the potential cost of emissions reduction measures in Switzerland and abroad over the 2020-2030 period,” a statement from the environment ministry said.
The statement pointed out that Switzerland was responsible for 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, based on the structure of its economy, had a low level of emissions (6.4 tonnes per capita per year). It is intending to use emissions reduction measures abroad. This should “enable the spreading of domestic measures over a longer period to account for capacities within the economy”.
It added that measures already implemented meant that Switzerland emitted fewer greenhouse gases now than in 1990, despite the gross national product increasing by 36% during the same period. The country has fulfilled its emissions reduction target for the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement which set out to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
This commitment has been increased for the period 2013-2020. The CO2 Act sets out a reduction in gas emissions of 20% by 2020 through domestic measures, including CO2 tax on heating fuel and the lowering of CO2 emissions from new cars. But the act will have to be changed to take into account the post 2020 measures.
On an international level, work is being carried out to find a follow-on agreement to Kyoto, which ran out in 2012. The aim is to keep climate warming below 2 degrees Celsius between now and the end of the century. But China, India and the United States have indicated they are not keen to sign up to starkly reducing CO2 emissions.
Patrick Hofstetter of the environmental group WWF Switzerland called Switzerland’s goals “shamefully low”, pointing out that “even the much berated United States is undertaking more than this”.
WWF Switzerland is calling for Switzerland to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least double the given target by 2030 and to have moved away from fossil energies completely by 2050.
“Switzerland is shirking its responsibility and hopes that other countries will solve the problem for it,” Hofstetter said.
The leftwing Green Party said that Switzerland should be an example to others, and would gain credibility if it aimed for a 75% emissions reduction target by 2030 rather than 50%.
The Swiss Cleantech Association called the government’s goal a “bad calling card for the cleantech country Switzerland”, adding that the cabinet’s decision was “unacceptable”.
The conservative right Swiss People’s Party was also against the move but for other reasons. It said the target was “unrealistic”, adding it would “entail massive damage to Switzerland as a centre of industry and threatens our prosperity”. This is because most of the emissions reduction would be done in Switzerland which, the party says, is more expensive than abroad. It added that the climate and emissions were a global problem and that emissions should be reduced where they are the highest.
A spokesman from Economiesuisse, the Swiss Business Federation, told Swiss public radio that the targets were “too ambitious”. Given the repercussions for the economy and the fact that Switzerland already has an energy-efficient economy, 20% would be “acceptable”.
Also speaking on public radio, climate expert Reto Knutti said that 50% was indeed an ambitious goal, but attainable if the measures were really carried out and supported by both the population and the economy.