A Swiss role beyond carbon cutting

Experts say the Swiss can play a larger role in the global warming fight. Keystone

Since the Swiss are responsible for only 0.1% of today’s global greenhouse gas emissions, Switzerland’s real contribution to the global warming fight may be the wealth and technology that it could contribute to help other countries deal with the effects of climate change.

This content was published on June 21, 2016

On their own, Switzerland’s plans to reduce its carbon pollution represent just a tiny portion of what the world must do to maintain healthy planetary temperatures. Nevertheless, Switzerland can play a larger global role by doing more to help point the way for others, according to Fortunat Joos, a physics professor who is president of the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern.

“I think this is an economic opportunity for Switzerland itself,” Joos told The Swiss would become a role model “if Switzerland goes ahead with its own economy and starts to decarbonise and develops the technology to do so and shares this with other countries, and at the same time bans financing of fossil fuel extraction, thereby proving its engagement for the Paris agreement and our well-being”.

Nearly 200 countries including Switzerland agreed in Paris to limit global warming to about another degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) from now on. The cuts are urgent, since CO2 stays in the air for many millennia.

The world would warm by 3.5 degrees Celsius (6.3 degrees Fahrenheit) from now without any intervention, according to scientific projections, but China alone could cut that projected warming by 1.3 degrees. The US plan could cut a bit more than a half-degree.

Parliament is debating plans for Switzerland to cut domestic emissions by 30% and imported emissions by 20% from 1990 levels by 2030. The aim is to spread the cuts of carbon dioxide (CO2) and six other greenhouse gases mainly among Swiss buildings, transport and industry – the sectors responsible for the biggest share of emissions.

‘Climate-neutral’ growth

Though the overall amount of Swiss carbon emissions remains small, the figures take on a different light when measured differently, on a per-capita basis. That is how Joos prefers to read it – to account for so-called “grey emissions” from purchases of consumer goods, travel and investment in fossil fuel burning enterprises.

World Bank figures say the Swiss are responsible for 4.6 metric tons of carbon on a per capita basis. That is the same as Argentina and Chile, but less than a third of the United States’ 17 metric tons per capita.

China, the United States, the European Union, India and Russia are the world’s biggest carbon emitters. Measured on a per-capita basis, the results are greatly different: China’s is 6.7 metric tons while India’s is 1.7 metric tons.

Under the Paris accord, developing countries that are responsible for fewer carbon emissions on a per-capita basis will face added challenges of trying to grow their economies in a “climate-neutral” way. That is why advocates say the Swiss ought to pay for at least 1% of the world’s promised $100 billion a year in global climate financing.

More money

From 2000 to 2012, the Swiss invested CHF880 million ($912 million) in projects designed to help developing countries address the challenges of climate change. But a 2013 government-financed study showed much greater potential: It identified between CHF500 million to CHF2.7 billion a year in potential climate financing from private sources that could be “mobilised” by government agencies.

Parliament decided in 2011 to increase overall international development aid to 0.51% of GDP until 2015, which greatly boosted annual climate financing. However, the Climate Alliance of environmental groups says Switzerland can afford to be much more generous.

Parliament this year lowered overall international development aid to 0.48% of GDP. It also plans to use some CHF300 million of that overall aid toward what the alliance calls “climate-related poverty”.

The alliance recommends not only restoring the previous rate, but also going beyond it to 0.70% of GDP – what the United Nations suggests all wealthy countries should contribute to lower poverty worldwide. In addition, it suggests that Switzerland contribute another CHF1 billion for climate financing on top of that overall anti-poverty aid.

“Every country has to do its best according to its responsibility and also to its capacity,” Jürg Staudenmann of Alliance Sud told “Paris has made it clear we do not have time anymore to do tricks and trade-offs.”

Swiss carbon cuts

The Swiss cabinet approved the Paris climate agreement at its March 23 meeting, formally establishing the broad outlines of Switzerland’s domestic and international climate policy until 2030.

Once parliament also approves it, Switzerland can commit to halving its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. But in order to accomplish this, the Swiss CO2 Act will need to be revised.

The cabinet decided that three-fifths of the cuts must be domestic measures, and the other two-fifths can be from offsets taken abroad, but parliament gets the last word.

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