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Swiss climate policy: praised abroad, attacked at home

The Swiss government wants to halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 Keystone

According to an international ranking, Switzerland is one of the best-performing nations in the fight against global warming. However, at home, the small Alpine nation receives heavy criticism for its climate policy, most recently by hundreds of protesting students.   

This content was published on January 10, 2019 - 08:26

Thanks to solid progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption, Switzerland is a high-performing country in the Climate Change Performance Index 2019External link, an instrument designed to enhance transparency in international climate politics. 

Presented at the last international climate talks in the Polish city of Katowice, the annual report and ranking by the organisation GermanwatchExternal link analyses the climate change results of 56 countries, which together account for 90% of global emissions. It compares reductions of greenhouse gases, use of renewable energies, energy consumption and climate policies. 

SwitzerlandExternal link came ninth in the ranking, improving on last year’s result (12th). This year, Sweden took the top spot, followed by Morocco and Lithuania. But no country did well enough to be considered “very good” performers in the different categories.

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Emissions targets and transport

Switzerland’s strong ranking was mainly linked to the national goal to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, which includes climate mitigation measures overseas, and its good public transport system. 

However, Switzerland performed less well on its renewable energy policy. The support scheme for renewable energies currently has long waiting lists, the Index authors said. They urged Switzerland to make a greater commitment to financing climate protection and adaptation measures. 

Despite its good evaluation in the Climate Change Performance Index 2019, Swiss policy has faced criticism from various groups. The independent monitoring group Climate Action Tracker (CAT), described Swiss efforts as "insufficientExternal link". It warned that if all governments acted like Switzerland, global warming would likely increase by 3°C compared to 1990 levels.

Student demos

The situation seems to worry ordinary citizens more than politicians. Shortly before Christmas, hundreds of students took to the streets in various Swiss cities to protest the "failure of climate policy". 

“Many young people in Switzerland do not agree with today's national and international politics. We have to say, enough is enough. There is a crisis that is endangering our existence, that of the climate,” said Marie-Claire Graf, one of organisers of the student demonstration in Zurich. 

The parliamentary debate on the new CO2 lawExternal link, the Confederation's main policy instrument for achieving greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, is particularly troubling. During its session at the end of last year, the House of Representatives rejected the draft government law, which is due to be debated by the Senate in the spring.


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