Switzerland has reaffirmed its plan for climate action until 2030 and said it is working on a goal of net-zero emissions by mid-century, joining only a few nations that have communicated with the UN this year.
In 2015, the small land-locked country was the first in the world to submit its formal climate plan for cutting emissions until 2030 to the UN, months before the Paris climate deal was adopted.
The Paris Agreement expects countries to set ever more ambitious goals to limit global temperature rise “well below 2C”.
Under the 2015 plan, Switzerland pledged to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% below 1990 levels by 2030, including by investing heavily in carbon-cutting projects abroad. At the time, it also set an indicative emissions reduction target of 70-85% by 2050.
“Switzerland hereby confirms its nationally determined contribution (NDC) under the Paris Agreement submitted in February 2015,” the government said in the letter.
It added: “Switzerland is working on an NDC, which will be enhanced by reflecting the decision of the Federal Council to aim for net-zero emissions by 2050”. It did not give a timetable.
Climate Home News originally understood the letter to mean Switzerland was reaffirming the NDC as a minimum baseline but that its ambition would be raised when the net zero 2050 target is set. “Enhance” is regularly used in UN documents to mean increased ambition.
Franz Perrez, Switzerland’s chief climate negotiator, told Climate Home News the country “did not announce that we will increase our 2030 target”. Instead, he said, Switzerland was working on a communication “which will reflect our new indicative greenhouse gas-neutrality target for 2050”.
This, he said, would bring Switzerland’s climate plan in line with the 1.5C report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2018.
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Jürg Staudenmann, a climate expert at Alliance Sud, a Swiss development policy think-tank, said the plan “constitutes anything but an ‘enhanced NDC’ in the sense of ratcheting up or ‘raising ambition’.”
He also said that the Federal Council’s goal of net zero emissions was still vague and “only constitutes a mere ‘long-term pledge’.”
So far, only the Marshall Islands, Suriname and Norway have issued new NDCs, despite UN hopes for a groundswell of new submissions early this year to galvanise momentum before a UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, known as Cop26.
The summit is the first five-year milestone of the Paris Agreement that was adopted in 2015.
A theoretical deadline to submit updated plans to the UN by 9 February was missed by the rest of the world.
Switzerland is in the process of revising a key piece of climate legislation, known as the CO2 Act. A draft was rejected by the country’s parliament in December 2018 and a more ambitious text is now going through the legislative process.
“The Swiss parliament currently discusses the revision of the CO2 law and hence the policies and measures for the implementation of the NDC,” the Swiss notice to the UN said.
The law would put in place a number of measures to achieve the country’s climate goals such as increasing a carbon levy if emissions reductions objectives are not met, extending the levy to air travel and ramping up funding for energy efficiency measures in the building sector.
The notice added the country will “submit the information necessary for clarity, transparency and understanding” of its climate plan “as soon as the revised CO2 act has been adopted”.
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Switzerland’s Federal Council previously said it planned to finalise the country’s 2050 climate strategy by December 2020, when it could be submitted to the UN.
A timeline published by the Swiss environment and energy department in September anticipated the new climate act to come into effect on 1 January 2021.
That could delay the submission of the new plan into next year, Marlene Kammerer, a researcher at the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern, told Climate Home News.
The timing means “a new NDC will probably not be submitted before the next Cop,” she said, but the approval of the act is “looking good”.
However, a senior Swiss official said the legislation could be adopted by parliament in the summer if no referendum was requested. That would then leave enough time for Switzerland to submit its new 2050 climate plan by Cop26.
Under a decision text drafted alongside the Paris Agreement, countries must “communicate or update” their climate plans to 2030 and submit a long-term decarbonisation strategy “by 2020”.
The deadline has been widely interpreted as the climate talks in Glasgow due to start on 9 November, but in practice countries could submit new climate plans until the end of December.
According to climate jurists, there is no legal requirement on a majority of countries which already have 2030 emissions reduction goals to increase their climate plans this year – a sign of the ambiguities surrounding the legal interpretations of the Paris Agreement and its accompanying decision text.
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David Waskow, director of the international climate initiative at the World Resources Institute think tank, told CHN that despite “ambiguities” in the timeframe to submit a new climate plan, the outcome of the climate talks in Madrid “clearly laid out an expectation that countries will need to come forward with a stronger and enhanced climate plan” before Cop26.
There is a strong scientific and public pressure case for increasing climate plans at the start of the 2020s. According to UN Environment, the world needs to cut emissions by 7.6% per year throughout the decade to limit global temperature to 1.5C – the tougher goal of the Paris Agreement.
The UN and climate campaigners have called on countries to submit enhanced 2030 targets and announce plans to reach net zero emissions by Cop26.
The next nine months will be a critical test for the ratchet-up mechanism built in the 2015 Paris Agreement to ensure countries bridge the gap between current levels of commitments and what is needed to achieve the climate accord’s global temperature goals.
Under the accord, successive climate plans “will represent a progression beyond the party’s then current NDC” and “reflect its highest possible ambition”.
The story was corrected on 4/3/2020 to reflect the fact Switzerland says it did not announce an enhancement of its 2030 target.