Conversation with the Swiss Ambassador for the Environment, Franz Perrez
Switzerland has announced it will commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% relative to 1990 levels by 2030. At least 30% of this reduction must be achieved within inside the country and the rest may be attained through projects carried out internationally. The Federal Council approved these objectives in November 2014 as part of the definition of the negotiation mandate for the climate conference in Lima, Peru. The announcement became public on the 27th of February 2015. Switzerland will announce its commitment to reduce emissions by 50% to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
MA: I recently read “Switzerland is today demonstrating leadership, commitment and its support towards a successful outcome in Paris” in a statement from Christiana Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC:
Why did Switzerland decide to present their INDC well in advance of other countries?
FP: Several reasons were motivating Switzerland to submit its INDC early before the end of the first quarter of 2015: First, Switzerland wanted to show leadership and show through a concrete example how an INDC could be formulated – the reaction of several countries to Switzerland’s INDC have shown that the early submission of the Swiss INDC indeed is helping them in the preparations of their INDCs. Secondly, it wanted to set a standard for clarity, transparency and understandability motivating others to follow. Thirdly, formulating the INDCs is a learning by doing process, an early submission of its INDC would allow Switzerland to receive early feedback which could eventually allow Switzerland to include additional information in its INDC before Paris.
MA: Switzerland is responsible for 0.1% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, based on the structure of its economy, has a low level of emissions (6.4 tonnes per capita per year). Was there any internal opposition to or controversy about being so proactive based on the argument that Switzerland is not a large emitter?
FP: Yes, within Switzerland – as probably within most countries – there are interest groups who would prefer Switzerland to take a less proactive and less ambitious role. Arguments put forward relate not only to Switzerland’s relatively small emissions, but also to the relatively high marginal costs for domestic mitigation measures in the short term. However, I sincerely believe that each country has to take an ambitious, proactive and forward looking policy to address climate change. Such a policy helps to channel investments towards a low carbon path and strengthens an economy’s capacity to innovate. If not each country is taking such an approach, in line with its specific national circumstances and capacities, the international community will not be able to effectively solve the challenges of climate change.
Switzerland is facing tremendous adaptation challenges, for a change in precipitation will call for cost intensive dam reservoirs and irrigation systems. Mudflows, thawing permafrost and more intensive natural hazards are destroying infrastructure, installation and assets. A global temperature increase of 2° would translate to an average temperature increase in Switzerland of 3°-4°. The best approach to limit these challenges is to ensure an effective global climate change regime. This is a strong motivation for Switzerland for its proactive role in national and international climate change policy.
MA: Switzerland fulfilled its emissions reduction target for the first commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol (2008-2012). Switzerland emits less greenhouse gases today than in 1990 despite the fact that gross national product increased by 36% over the intervening period. What have been the most defining mitigation measures that Switzerland has undertaken so far? Is there evidence of long-term benefits accruing from reducing CO2 emissions?
FP: The most important policy measures taken by Switzerland were the introduction of a levy on CO2 from heating and process fuels and the buildings programme, which stimulates the refurbishments of buildings and the use of renewable energies instead of fossil fuels in buildings. However, these measures were introduced relatively late and could therefore not unfold their whole potential till 2012. Switzerland therefore had to rely also on international carbon credits to achieve its Kyoto target. However, these policies are now increasingly translating into increased domestic emission reductions. Other benefits of the ambitious climate change policies adopted in Switzerland are the stimulating factor for the Swiss cleantech industry and the increasing public awareness for climate change.
MA: The CO2 Act prescribes a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 20% by 2020 to be achieved through domestic measures. The instruments established to meet this target include the CO2 tax on heating fuel, the reduction in CO2 emissions from new cars, the obligation for fuel importers to compensate for some of the CO2 emitted by transport and the Buildings Programme. A draft revision of the CO2 Act will be submitted for consultation in mid-2016; the proposed measures will mainly aim to reinforce existing measures. What are the key elements of the consultation process that Switzerland undertook (and will undertake) in order to secure domestic support for these measures? Are there mechanisms for consulting citizens and civil society organizations?
FP: Climate Change is a topic that is receiving a lot of public attention in Switzerland. The Swiss Government is consulting its climate change policy regularly with key stakeholders. The ratification process of the second Kyoto period provided several opportunities to discuss Switzerland’s climate change policy with both chambers of the Swiss Parliament. The second chamber of the Parliament is expected to give its consent to the ratification of the Doha amendment in March 2015. After this, a 100 day period of the referendum will begin, if desired by 50’000 citizens, the ratification of the 2nd Kyoto Period will be put to a public referendum. This tradition of direct democracy helps to secure domestic support for policy measures for climate change. As a next step, Switzerland will present its draft revision of the CO2 Act in line with the INDC targets to political parties and stakeholders in mid 2016. The mix of instruments will base on existing measures gauged to further decrease CO2 emissions in due consideration of innovation cycles and the public interest. The possibility to use international carbon credits buys time towards the necessary transformation of the infrastructure and the society.
MA: In Latin America, we are particularly interested in ideas for building new consensus on clean transportation and low-carbon urban measures. But there is still resistance to change and often opposition to CO2 taxes and measures that tackle dirty energy. What are Switzerland’s experience with specific mechanisms for consulting business and NGOs with divergent views in how to mitigate emissions from the transportation sector, for example CO2 taxes, cleaner cars and fuels?
Is there anything you would have done differently?
FP: In Switzerland, strong public transportation is benefiting of broad support. This is a good starting point for Switzerland’s effort to further reduce emissions from transportation. At the same time, adopting measures to limit private transportation are not popular. A CO2 tax on transport fuels does currently not receive the needed political majority. Therefore, Switzerland is focusing on other measures to reduce emissions from traffic: the standards for cars are steadily increased to make sure that emissions, despite the increase in traveled km per the year, decrease. Moreover, importers of transport fuel have the obligation to finance emission reduction measures and projects in Switzerland which will offset 10% of the CO2 emitted by the transport sector and thereby initiate investments of billions into a lower carbon economy. These measures have proven to be politically more acceptable that taxing road traffic.
Key elements of the "Swiss commitment"
- Sectors: Energy, industrial processes and product use, agriculture, land-use, land-use change and forestry, waste; the reductions tackle CO2 and six more greenhouse gases already covered by the current legislation.
- Reference year for the calculation of emissions reductions: 1990.The period for implementation: up to 2030.
- Per capita emissions: Switzerland's targets lie within the ambitious average of the climate experts' (IPCC) recommendations for 2050:
- Per capita annual emissions must reach 3 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year in 2030, and between 1 and 2 tonnes of CO2 by 2050.
- The Swiss Federal Council has the long-term objective of reducing per capita emissions to one or one-and-a-half tonnes.
Current climate policy in Switzerland with additional information on the CO2 levy, emissions trading, the buildings programme, or CO2 compensation scheme for motor fuels:
Swiss Government Press Release here
Christiana Figueres’s Press Release here