A Swiss strategy to achieve carbon neutrality in 2050

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To meet the objectives of the Paris climate agreement, Switzerland has set itself the goal in 2019 to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. This Thursday, Simonetta Sommaruga presented at a press conference the long-term strategy adopted Wednesday by the Federal Council to achieve this imperative.

The latter is essentially based on the revision of the CO2 law passed this autumn, which sets at 2030, the reduction of Swiss emissions by half. These amounted to 46.4 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents in 2018, not counting international air and maritime transport.

According to the estimates presented, if no action is taken, climate change could cost Switzerland the equivalent of 4% of its annual GDP in 2050. While limiting the temperature rise to 1.5 ° C, would limit this loss to 1.5% of annual GDP.

Economy on the front line

In fact, this approach therefore represents a major challenge for the Swiss economy in the years to come. The Federal Council estimates that it will be possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050 in three sectors: transport, construction and industry. To offset the 12 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents that will remain emitted, the plan provides for the use of CO2 capture and storage (CCS) and negative emission (NET) technologies.

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With 15 million tonnes emitted in 2018, the transport sector leads the way. The Federal Council’s plan plans to focus primarily on road transport, which accounts for 97% of these emissions. The authorities are counting on electrification of the entire fleet or the use of biogas for heavy vehicles. On the issue of pollution linked to the entire life cycle of electric vehicles (manufacture / recycling of batteries), the Federal Council recognizes the need to take it into account, without being able to quantify its impact for the moment.

If with 11.2 million tonnes emitted in 2018, the industry reduced its emissions by 18% compared to 1990, it must succeed in reducing them by 35% by 2030 according to the authorities. And even in 2050, the latter estimate that the sector will continue to emit around 6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalents from cement production, household waste incineration and the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. A portion deemed incompressible which must be neutralized by the use of CO2 capture solutions.

Insufficient measures on agriculture and finance

On the other hand, the Federal Council estimates that by 2050 it will not be possible to go beyond the 40% reduction for the agricultural sector. An opinion that Georg Klingler, climate expert for Greenpeace Switzerland does not share: “Greater reductions can be obtained if we abandon intensive farming which requires importing food from all over the world and consuming too much. today products of animal origin. “

On the other hand, the CO2 law, on which the strategy is based, provides for incentives for transparency to encourage the Swiss financial center to withdraw from financial flows invested in sectors harmful to the environment. “The Swiss financial center has moved too little. Five years after the conclusion of the Paris Agreement, it is still responsible for harmful emissions several times higher than what is emitted each year on Swiss territory ”, emphasizes Georg Klingler.

Energy, a central issue

The issue of energy supply and consumption is another main point of this strategy. According to the roadmap presented by the Federal Council, the Swiss energy system will require investments of 1.4 trillion francs by 2050, excluding climate objectives.

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Taking into account this commitment of net zero, the additional cost would amount to 109 billion but the abandonment of imports of fossil energy, among other things, would save 50 billion francs at the same time. “Thirty years to transform the entire energy sector is not a long time, which is why we need to invest in the right direction today,” says Simonetta Sommaruga. These transformations will therefore have an additional average cost of 2.4 billion francs per year over the next thirty years.

On the other hand, the Federal Council still ruled out a ban on fossil fuels called for by the federal initiative for glaciers. However, the strategy presented for the building sector essentially plans to end their use for heating. The other area of ​​action relates to the energy efficiency of buildings to be constructed and the renovation of existing housing.

The basis of the contested strategy

Beyond the economic and technical constraints, a first short-term obstacle stands in the face of the plan presented by the Federal Council since the CO2 law on which the whole strategy is based is contested. On January 12, the economic committee which opposes this law deposited the necessary signatures for the organization of a referendum on this law with the support of the SVP and the Swiss Union of Arts and Crafts.

To understand the opposition to the CO2 law: Double mobilization against the law on CO2

“To achieve our climate goals, this year we need a clear yes for the climate in the referendum on the CO2 law,” said Patrick Hofstetter, climate expert at WWF Switzerland. This law is also contested by some climate activists who believe that it is not ambitious enough.

For its part, Greenpeace, which supports the adoption of this law, believes that Switzerland must go further and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by at least 60% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2040. A more ambitious goal also shared by The Greens, who voted on January 23 a Climate plan going in this direction.