Is Switzerland on track to achieve its climate targets by 2030?

Posted by: Baris Karapinar
Category: Opinions & Analyses

Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), by 2030, Switzerland has committed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by at least 50% compared to 1990 levels. This amounts to an absolute emissions reduction of 38% over the period from 2021–2030.

Is this a realistic target? What does the trend show?

Switzerland has already reduced its GHG emissions by 19% between 1990 and 2020 due to a significant reduction in emissions over the last decade. While emissions were stable during the 1990s, they increased slightly, nearly 3%, between 2000 and 2010. Therefore, a 21% reduction was seen within the last decade, between 2010 and 2020.

This trend shows an average annual reduction rate of 2.24%. If this trend continues between 2020 and 2030, Switzerland will miss its 2030 target.

For Switzerland to achieve its 2030 target, it needs to more than double its annual GHG reduction rate from, most recently, 2.25% to 4.65%. These numbers assume that reductions will come from domestic reduction, not from abroad. Currently, it is uncertain to what extent the reduction commitment will be achieved through domestic emissions reductions or through bilateral carbon credit agreements (e.g., international carbon offsetting). Critics are highly sceptical of the validity and quality of reduction claims that would come from abroad.

Where were reductions seen over the last ten years?

Most of the reductions were in the manufacturing sector. Emissions relating to manufacturing and construction decreased by 32%. GHG emissions from the waste sector dropped nearly 40%. Emission reductions in the transport sector were relatively minor, dropping 7.5%. The agricultural sector reduced emissions by 12.5%.

Where should we see reductions over the next ten years?

Switzerland’s emissions reductions should be led by domestic mitigation efforts across sectors. The energy sector offers several reduction opportunities, e.g., through further efficiency gains and structural transitions to a higher composition of new renewables. Substantial emissions reductions are needed in industry, too. The Federal Council’s long-term climate strategy offers scenario analyses that provide insights into where the reductions could be targeted across sectors.

Recent trends show that some sectors, such as buildings and energy, have been making significant progress, while others, such as transportation, are lagging behind. We believe that although the overall reduction rates are encouraging, they are not sufficient to achieve the ambitious climate targets consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. Further steps should be taken to accelerate the decarbonization of all sectors over the next ten years.

  • Electrification of transportation:
    Electrification of the transportation sector will require further investment and innovation. Sectoral emissions have been stagnant, seeing only a slow reduction trajectory over the last decade. Over 97 percent of transport emissions come from road transport. Hence, the rapid electrification of the vehicle fleet is key to achieving the 2030 targets and beyond.
  • Increase renewable energy:
    The energy sector offers several reduction opportunities, e.g., through further efficiency gains or the structural transition to a higher composition of renewables.
  • Net-zero buildings:
    The buildings sector encompasses emissions from private households and the service sector. Swiss cantons need to meet the emissions targets for buildings—i.e., 50% emissions reduction compared to 1990 levels—by 2026/27. The country’s climate strategy proposes that fossil fuels will be almost completely eliminated in the buildings sector by 2050.
  • Domestic reduction, not from abroad:
    Switzerland has signed bilateral carbon credit agreements with Peru, Ghana, Senegal, Georgia, Vanuatu, and Dominica to ensure cheaper reduction opportunities abroad. While these bilateral cooperation efforts should be applauded, they may also reduce incentives for domestic sectors to invest in long-term reduction strategies. We believe that the domestic component of Switzerland’s 2030 emissions targets should intentionally be kept high to signal to markets that Switzerland’s commitments are credible and that domestic reductions will bring lasting and sustainable benefits for Swiss society.

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