Climate change is one of the greatest challenges humanity faces today. Environmental policies and regulations aiming at addressing this challenge have been debated hotly in the past years within Switzerland and the EU. This article provides key information with additional external sources for those who wish to deepen their knowledge.
Thanks to the EU’s Green Deal and the long-term climate strategy for Switzerland, the climate policy discussion is already at an advanced stage. However, it is becoming clear that in order to have the maximum outcome, climate policies need to be discussed and implemented from a cross-border perspective. Join our workshop in Basel on the 20th of September and have your say on the matter!
What’s the state of play in Switzerland and the EU?
Switzerland and the EU cooperate closely regarding environmental matters. At the national level, Switzerland has put in place a set of environmental goals to be achieved. A net-zero target was set in 2019 by the Federal Council, and in January 2021 the corresponding “long-term climate strategy for Switzerland” was adopted, with the aim to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050.
Climate policies are also part of the Swiss political discourse. In June 2021, the Co2 law was rejected by the Swiss population, with most critiques related to the taxation of gasoline, fuel, and airline tickets. On the other hand, the EU’s Green Deal, which proposes a different approach to these three points, could be an interesting inspiration for Switzerland’s future climate policies. The EU’s Green Deal consists of a set of proposals adopted by the European Commission with the ambitious goal of achieving no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, effectively becoming the first climate-neutral continent.
Comparatively, Switzerland and the EU already have in common many of their environmental targets and policies. Since 2006, Switzerland has been a full member of the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET). In addition to that, EU legislation is also incorporated into Swiss legislation, both through bilateral agreements, the principle of equivalence, and independently in order to eliminate trade barriers. So let’s further explore the potential for collaboration to reach climate neutrality by 2050!
In our workshop on the 20th of September in Basel, we will focus on four main topics in particular (more details below):
- Sustainable food systems
- Sustainable mobility
- Biodiversity conservation and restoration
- Circular economy
Origins of the climate debate
The debate on climate policy gained momentum internationally towards the end of the 20th century when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was jointly established in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Today, climate change is one of the topics at the forefront of public discourse. As one of the greatest challenges humanity faces, it needs to be addressed with proactive policies. But that is not as easy as it seems. Agreements and prevention measures are difficult to be agreed upon and put in place, both at the national and international levels. Nevertheless, a number of countries and regions - including Switzerland and the EU - have put in place different measures to address the issue. The EU’s Green Deal, Switzerland’s long-term climate strategy, and the other regional and international agreements are milestones in addressing the increasing relevance of climate and its impact on our lives, but the discourse is ongoing, and further policies are still in the evaluation stage and yet to be implemented or ratified. What is sure, is that in order to achieve the maximum outcome, climate policies need to be discussed and implemented from a cross-border perspective.
Why foster discussion for an open climate debate?
Climate change is already affecting large parts of the world’s population. If not addressed, the current climate crisis might cause devastating effects. While a number of measures and policies to address climate change have already been put in place and there is a general agreement that Co2 emissions need to be reduced, governments are not yet harmonized in addressing the issue.
Coordinated and cross-border climate policies are extremely relevant for a number of reasons. Firstly, consequences of climate change in one area of the world are likely to cause repercussions elsewhere: this proves that climate change needs to be addressed as a whole - internationally - rather than solely at the national level. Secondly, different sectors are concerned with climate change. Biodiversity, the circular economy, mobility, fair and sustainable food systems, construction, and energy, are only some examples included in the long-term climate strategy for 2050: this implies that holistic approaches are the go-to needed to implement successful policies.
The EU’s Green Deal is at the heart of the EU’s action toward climate change. It consists of a set of proposals adopted by the European Commission with the ambitious goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55% compared to 1990 levels by 2030, and achieving no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, effectively becoming the first climate-neutral continent.
There are four major focus areas: biodiversity conservation and restoration; circular economy; sustainable mobility; and sustainable food systems. These areas are strongly linked between themselves and are included under the umbrella of the Green Deal.
1. Sustainable food systems
Farm to Fork strategy: This initiative is one of the pillars of the EU’s Green Deal, and its goal is to promote a more sustainable, healthy, fair, and environmentally friendly food system by increasing organic farming in the EU by 25% by 2030.
2. Sustainable mobility
Sustainable and smart mobility strategy: This initiative is part of the EU’s Green Deal, and aims to promote sustainable and smart mobility systems through the reduction of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050.
3. Biodiversity conservation and restoration
The EU’s forest strategy: This initiative is part of the EU’s Green Deal, and aims to promote the quality, quantity, preservation, and restoration of EU’s forests, recognizing their relevance for human wellbeing. This flagship will contribute to the target of climate neutrality by 2050.
4. Circular economy
Circular economy action plan (CEAP): The CEAP was adopted in march 2020 and it is one of the main pillars of the EU’s Green Deal. Its aim is to make sustainable products the norm in the EU by focusing on sustainable product design, waste disposal, creating less waste, and making circularity work for everyone.
Other important legislative proposals linked to the Green Deal
The revision of the energy taxation directive was part of a series of policy reforms that were undertaken in relation to the EU’s Green Deal, in order to meet the demands of climate neutrality by 2050. In particular, energy products such as fossil fuels were part of this revision: the goal was to align the taxation of these products with the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050, as well as to provide a coherent, clear, and effective taxation and promote clean technologies.
Other than being the world’s biggest carbon market, the EU’s emission trading system (ETS) is a key tool to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective way. However, in order to meet the EU’s goal of climate neutrality by 2050, a revised directive has been put in place, and ETS will have to reduce emissions by 43%. This means that the annual rate of reduction will need to decrease at 2.2% per year, compared to pre-revision when it was decreasing at 1.74% yearly.
This mechanism is part of the EU’s efforts to achieve climate neutrality by 2050. Currently, it was approved in June 2022 and it is expected to be implemented by the 1st of January 2023 at the latest. The CBAM will progressively grow to substitute the ETS, mirroring it with a few differences. In short, the concept of this mechanism is to ensure that EU producers and foreign producers both pay the same price for their emissions.
Switzerland’s policies and climate situation
The Federal Council adopted the “long-term climate strategy for Switzerland”, whose aim is to achieve net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. This strategy is also based on scientific research published by the IPCC that warns that humans and biodiversity will face dramatic consequences if the average temperature increases even by 1.5 degrees globally. Because Switzerland is an Alpine country, its average temperature is increasing two to three times faster than the global average: the country is even more affected by climate change and rising temperatures, and the effects are already noticeable.
- Four climate scenarios
According to the National Centre for Climate Services (NCCS), there are currently four possible climate scenarios for the future of Switzerland (CH2018 for the year 2060) if current levels of greenhouse gas continue to be produced. All these scenarios, which function as a basis for the government’s strategy, include changes in weather patterns and conditions such as dry weather, heavy precipitation, more hot days and heatwaves, and snow-scarce winters.
- Priority themes to address
The NCCS developed eight focus areas for climate change, which will be expanded in the future. The current themes being addressed are: hydrological principles, hail climate, crop pests, forest functions, civil protection, human/animal health, and food safety.
What’s in it for the future of the environment?
The main cause of difficulty in the implementation of climate policies is the economic aspect. While economic growth that exploits natural resources might provide a good turnaround in the short run, long-run outcomes and negative impacts on the environment are likely going to outweigh the positive results and will result in greater economic losses in order to be addressed. Today, most nations agree that Co2 emissions must be cut to pre-21st century levels, but a common agreement is yet to be reached. What is certain, is that climate change is an issue that affects the globe as a whole, and it, therefore, needs to be addressed globally.
Some references for those who may wish to dig deeper:
On Switzerland’s policies and climate situation
- Admin.ch → Relations between Switzerland and the EU in the area of the environment
- Admin.ch → Climate scenarios for Switzerland
- National Centre for Climate Services
- Climate change history in Switzerland
- Switzerland Climate resilience policy indicator
Other relevant sources
- IPCC reports → https://www.ipcc.ch/reports/
- SDG 13 climate action
- Lüth, Maximilian, and Lena Maria Schaffer. “The Electoral Importance and Evolution of Climate‐related Energy Policy: Evidence from Switzerland.” Swiss political science review 28, no. 2 (2022): 169–189.
→ Any other sources in mind? Feel free to share them with everyone in the comment section!