How is Switzerland perceived at the climate conference?

The entrance to the COP21 venue outside Paris. Paula Dupraz-Dobias

As negotiators reach the midway point at United Nations climate change talks in Paris, compromise is being sought among diverging country and group positions. looks at how Switzerland’s positions are perceived in the heat of the talks. 

This content was published on December 4, 2015 - 18:15
Paula Dupraz-Dobias in Paris,

A year after negotiators at the COP20 in Lima failed to present a solid draft for this month’s Paris talks – during which over 190 delegations must formulate a new agreement to limit global warming – a sense of urgency can be felt among the vast tents set up at what used to be an airport. 

At so-called spin-off meetings aimed at ironing out specific points of disagreement one paragraph at a time, conference chairs repeatedly remind delegates of the tight schedule. 

“We don’t have much time – please work as quickly as possible,” urges one meeting “facilitator”, before dozens of delegates discuss wording, greater detail and the removal of parentheses. 

Two paragraphs, edited by Switzerland, which deal with mitigation and essentially recognise the need to do more on reducing emissions in parallel to climate adaptation programmes, are then quickly reviewed. 

‘Few results’

The Swiss environment ministry said in a statement on Friday afternoon that “technical negotiations during the first week of the conference have offered few results”. 

“Some delegations from developing and emerging countries have not shown themselves to be ready to negotiate in several areas,” it said. 

It warned that if progress is not made, “the French presidency will have to work again on the texts in order to be able to begin ministerial negotiations” next week. 

On the COP21’s opening day, Monday, Swiss President Simonetta Sommaruga told Swiss journalists: “Switzerland showed that all countries need to participate and the agreement needs to be an obligation for everyone, where everyone accepts responsibilities and possibilities. Switzerland has said that financing is required and all countries need to play a part.”

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Swiss efficiency 

“Switzerland is a very active partner. They are a small delegation, but they work very efficiently,” Lee Hyung-jong, a negotiator from South Korea’s negotiating team told “The Swiss team is very interested in the mitigation sections [of the agreement].” 

South Korea is one of four partners to Switzerland in the Economic Integrity Group, a unique mishmash of developed and developing countries and one of four negotiating units at the talks. 

The group, which also includes Mexico, Andorra and Liechtenstein, is dwarfed in size by the G77 and China group, made up of over 130 mostly developing countries, the European Union and the Umbrella Group, which includes the United States, Russia, Australia, Japan and Norway. 

Franz Perrez, who leads Switzerland team, says that the diversity of the group is its strength. 

“It is interesting because [within the group] we are exposed to other views, playing through different arguments and that’s a strength, because we have a better understanding of others.” 

Perrez, a tireless negotiator with COP experience dating back to 2010, comes to Paris with 19 experts in various issues. 

He said the Swiss were “willing to engage and not give up. They are not afraid of the big guys and behave as we are big guys as well, and that makes us big. The reality is that many of our delegation are called to facilitate certain issues and we are regularly in the inner circle of decision making.” 

Divisions over finance 

But prior to the submission of a draft this weekend, many issues awaited clarity, with dissention running along a developed versus developing countries divide. 

Finance and how and who will be paying remains a key stumbling block, where Switzerland has stood with other developed countries, including the United States, on the issue of so-called loss and damage. 

The term refers to devastation generated by the effects of climate change. Developing countries on the forefront of climate disasters would like to assure funding from developed countries, while Switzerland and other industrialised countries are concerned about having to offer unlimited financial support in a world that is expected to be increasingly affected by climate change-related adversities. 

Thoriq Ibrahim, the environment minister of the Maldives, a member of the AOSIS group (Alliance of Small Island States), told that his group would like to see a global solidarity fund set up for loss and damage, to cover the slow onset damages due to climate change, including lost revenues and the cost for relocation from islands that become uninhabited. 

“The fund should be financed from the contributions from industrialised countries based on their responsibilities of greenhouse gas emissions.” 

When asked about Switzerland, Ibrahim said that while he did not want to comment on specific delegations, “all in all developed countries are not very helpful in this area”. 

Other negotiators at the conference were equally careful about commenting about a particular country’s position, including France, which, in the role of president of the negotiations, will be responsible for pulling together conflicting positions into an accord that all parties agree to sign. 

“In its role as president of the COP, France is in a position to listen to parties and not to emphasise what is good or bad in their positions,” a spokesperson for France told 

Beyond diplomacy? 

Meanwhile, NGOs present at the convention centre, who act as observers to the talks, were more vocal. 

Jürg Staudenmann of Alliance Sud said that while Switzerland had been acting “very constructively to bring countries together on mitigation”, the Swiss could have offered more climate funding to poorer countries. 

In the run-up to Paris, most developed countries – including Germany, Britain, Luxembourg, Netherlands and the United States – pledged additional funds to developing countries at the COP, adding to the $100 billion (CHF100 billion) a year already promised from international sources. 

He said the “virtual funds” – in the form of grants and loans and export subsidies that Switzerland, together with other OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) partners were counting in – were not enough and not effective for adaptation measures in developing countries. 

Following some CHF150 million in cuts to the Swiss development aid budget announced on Friday, Staudenmann said: “There were many other ways so that there is not an increased burden to development aid”. 

He added: “Switzerland should put that amount of engagement into principle sources of funding, so as to replenish the Global Climate Fund.” 

Swiss Environment Minister Doris Leuthard will arrive at the climate talks on Monday to begin discussions on a new draft expected for submission to delegations, following its review this weekend by the French presidency. 

But much work still lies ahead. According to Perrez, “clear will” and trust needs to be strengthened among parties to achieve a successful outcome.

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