Voters in Switzerland approved the country’s commitment to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050, with 59% backing the Climate and Innovation Act in a national referendum on Sunday.
The climate law include a broad range of measures aimed at enabling the achievement of the net zero goal, including interim national and sectoral emissions reduction targets, initiatives to reduce energy consumption, and incentives to help migrate industry, buildings and homes away from the use of fossil fuel-based power.
The law also includes a requirement for all companies to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.
Environmental organizations cheered the results of the referendum. In a statement released following the vote, Thomas Vellacott, CEO of WWF Switzerland, said:
“The Yes to the Climate Protection Act is a task for the future: Now it is important that everyone pulls together. Population, economy, agriculture, financial center, environmental organizations – we are all part of a global movement on the way to a more climate-friendly world. Let’s take this momentum with us into future political debates and elections!”
The new law targeted a series of objectives, including reducing greenhouse gas emissions and deploying technologies to capture and store CO2, taking measures to adapt to the effects of climate change, and aligning financial flows to low-carbon and climate resilient development.
By 2050, under the Swiss climate law, the federal government will be required to ensure that Switzerland achieves net zero emissions, with GHG emissions reduced as far as possible, and remaining emissions offset through “negative emission technologies” such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) or Direct Air Capture and Storage (DACCS). Switzerland’s climate strategy assumes a need for approximately 7 million tons of CO2 capture and storage in 2050.
Interim targets set by the new law include reductions in GHGs, on a 2019 basis, of an average of 64% between 2031 and 2040 with at least a 75% reduction in 2040, and at least 89% on average between 2041 and 2050. Beyond 2050, the law requires CO2 removed and stored to exceed remaining GHG emissions.
The law also sets targets for carbon intensive sectors, including mandating emissions reductions of 82% by 2040 and 100% by 2050 for the building sector, 57% by 2040 and 100% by 2050 in the transport sector, and 50% by 2040 and 90% by 2050 for industry.
The approval of the law follows the narrow (51.6% to 48.4%) defeat in 2021 of the Swiss CO2 Act, which included measures to reduce emissions by 2030, including rewards for climate-friendly activities and imposing costs for carbon-intensive activities, such as frequent flying. The new law focuses primarily on incentives for carbon reductions, and includes CHF 3.2 billion (USD$3.6 billion) in funding, including CHF 1.2 billion over six years for new technologies and processes to accelerate industrial decarbonization, and CHF 2 billion over ten years to support the replacement of fossil fuel-based heating in buildings.
The climate law was also proposed as an alternative to the Glacier Initiative, a series of measures proposed in 2019 by the Swiss Association for Climate Protection, which advocated for the elimination of fossil fuel use in Switzerland by 2050. The new law aims to reduce fossil fuel use, but does not set an outright 2050 ban.
Following the passage of the law, Switzerland’s largest party, SVP, which had led the campaign against the law, warned that the result would plunge the country into an “energy crisis,” without a firm plan to scale up renewable alternatives to the required reductions in fossil fuels, and called for an immediate increase in the use of nuclear power to compensate.
SVP party president Marco Chiesa said:
“In order to prevent the worst, the replacement of the existing nuclear power plants must be planned immediately. We now expect the FDP and the center to make a clear commitment to nuclear power.”