Switerland's lacklustre climate policy

Political article
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has invited Heads of State and Government to an extraordinary climate summit in autumn 2014. By then he expects commitments to more stringent climate goals, which are to be embodied in a new climate change agreement.

Switzerland continues to pursue a climate policy akin to driving with the handbrake on. This article bringts a comparison of the needs and the facts of climate policy.

The latest report by the UN Climate Council IPCC leaves no doubt that humanity is almost certainly responsible for climate change. It is therefore also up to humanity to limit global warming by appropriately reducing harmful greenhouse gases. This is in our own interest because exceeding the two-degree warming limit will cost us dear. «The short-term economic implications of further delaying the transition to a climate-friendly economy would be comparable to the costs of the global financial crisis we just experienced», Gunnar Luderer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research recently stated in his new study on the short-term economic impact of procrastinating on climate policy. As with the financial crisis, it will not be those causing the misery who will have to bear the costs.

Climate-neutral in 40 years

Holding global warming below two degrees Celsius is a prerequisite for climate change not to become a threat to all humanity. Per-capita emissions need to be distributed fairly in the future if the poorest countries are to develop economically and global income distribution is to be at least a little more equitable.

But what will it take to comply with the frequently cited two-degree threshold while distributing CO2 emissions fairly among all people?

Compared to pre-industrial era, the atmosphere has already warmed up by 0.8 degrees. To stay below the two-degree limit, maximum worldwide emissions between 2010 and 2050 cannot surpass 750 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent. The same level of per-capita emissions for all people in 2050 means that with about one-thousandth of the world's population, Switzerland can still emit 750 million tonnes (mt) of CO2 equivalent. According to the CO2 Law, 330 mt are already «budgeted» by 2020. Another 300 mt can be expected by 2050 for air and sea traffic, which are not covered by the CO2 Law. This leaves another 120 mt for 2020-2050. For all of Switzerland this is equivalent to four mt per year or roughly half a tonne per person. By way of comparison, the current rate in Switzerland is almost six tonnes of CO2 per person per year. And this does not include imported grey emissions. The more we emit in the 2020s, the lower will be our budget by the mid-21st century. In other words, in the 37 years between now and 2050, Switzerland must become virtually carbon-neutral.

We can only meet this target if Swiss emissions fall by at least 60 per cent by 2030. Today's modest reduction target is 20 per cent by 2020 compared to the 1990 level.

«Not us, but you too!»

The Swiss delegation to the Warsaw climate conference in November 2013 again travelled light. In the negotiations it was unable to put anything in the balance – either regarding climate protection or climate financing – that meets the aforementioned requirements.

At the climate conferences in Copenhagen (2009) and Cancún (2010), the industrial nations promised the emerging and development countries an average of about 10 billion dollars per year for 2010 to 2012. As of 2020 the figure should be 100 billion annually. Payments must therefore increase annually by 11.25 billion dollars over the next eight years. In Warsaw, Switzerland again insisted on maintaining only the current level of payments. It makes additional payments dependent on more ambitious climate protection goals on the part of emerging economies. In so doing it joins ranks with industrialized countries in their by no means target-oriented stance of «Not us, but you too!» For two decades developed countries have been making promises, the fulfilment of which they are subsequently tying to demands on developing countries. No wonder distrust is growing.

Credibility on the line

Since the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, industrialized countries have been promising to shoulder greater responsibility and provide poorer countries with financial and technological support. The world has changed considerably since then. Industrialized countries have shifted a large part of emissions abroad, especially to China and other Asian countries, where labour is cheaper and environmental regulations are less stringent. Having failed to keep their promises, they are now demanding actions from emerging developing countries. The buck is thus still being passed and climate change continues unhindered – to the delight of all those who make money from the extraction and sale of fossil fuels.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be hosting Heads of State at an extraordinary climate summit in New York in September 2014. The hope is that all States will then set the climate goals that are really needed. Should the Swiss Government fail to raise its targets by then, voters will no longer believe in its self-portrayal as progressive in climate protection matters.