No-one will seriously dispute that climate policy must be transnational in nature. But which department should be responsible for it? The Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC), which is responsible for the (revised) CO2 Act? The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) because the Paris Climate Agreement sets cross-border objectives and responsibilities? The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER), as climate issues relate essentially to the economy and research? The Federal Department of Finance (FDF) would also be well positioned, considering that Switzerland’s financial centre would offer some powerful levers that could influence climate policy. It is obvious, however, that the accelerating climate crisis can only be tackled interdepartmentally, outside of traditional conceptual and policy patterns, and with a coordinated strategy. Yet so far there is no sign of any such thing in federal Switzerland.
One key problem of Swiss climate policy is the (deliberate?) arbitrary handling of national borders. Although it is common knowledge that greenhouse gases know no national boundaries, lawmakers still solely focus on domestic emissions in greenhouse gas accounting (see box “Holistic climate accounting for businesses and countries” below). At the same time, the new CO2 Act foresees to “offset” domestic CO2 emissions in developing countries. And a lively debate is just emerging about possible technologies for capturing CO2 and “disposing” of it abroad. Suggestions range from pipelines to Nordic countries to large-scale reforestation in the global South. The key objective in it all seems to be to keep Switzerland’s climate policies as low-cost as possible, while at the same time – embodying the pragmatic consensus that elicits justifiably sharp criticism from the climate strike movement – neither question our climate-damaging standard of living nor take political responsibility for Switzerland’s considerable carbon footprint beyond its own borders.
The bulk of international climate finance is currently being sourced from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, and more specifically from the budget of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). This means that under the guise of “development cooperation”, ever more action is being taken to attenuate the impacts of climate change caused by the rich countries. This is increasingly at odds with the SDC’s core mission to fight poverty and inequality on the ground. Global climate protection is undoubtedly important and pressing, but it isn’t equal to poverty alleviation – and therefore cannot be the task of the SDC alone and funded primarily from the (stagnating) development aid budget. – That is precisely the reason why the Paris Agreement demands “new an additional funding” for climate action in developing states, to to be mobilized by the industrialized world.
Two examples illustrating the confusion and uncoordinated nature of Switzerland’s climate action abroad:
SDC-funded industry research. Since 2013, SDC has ploughed CHF 11.7 million into a research project being run by the private sector and the Swiss Federal Insitut of Technology (EPFL), which produces and tests Low-Carbon Cement (LCC) in India, Cuba, Thailand, China and Brazil. Reducing CO2 emissions from clinker production by 10 to 30 per cent is unquestionably a good thing. Whether this is of any direct relief or other benefit to the poorest in those countries is questionable.
Rural development projects under the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). In July the FOEN proudly announced that 200,000 cook stoves were going to be distributed in Peru, in order to "reduce firewood consumption". The project spells progress for those Peruvian women and children who no longer must ruin their health in smoke-filled kitchens. It will be hard to gauge the extent to which this will protect forests and cut emissions. Yet Switzerland is determined to include a reduction of X tonnes of CO2 emissions for it in its natinal greenhouse gas inventory. Just as astounding is the fact that the SDC seems not involved in the project.
Switzerland’s climate policy is arbitrary and inconsistent as pertains to its aims and impacts beyond the country’s frontiers. From the approach through to funding and choice of instruments, different federal agencies promote their own programmes in a largely uncoordinated manner and with partly interchanged responsibilities. Besides private and political players, lawmakers too are contradictory and incoherent in their approach to formulating the new CO2 Act.
Conclusion: A comprehensive, transnational and interdepartmental climate (foreign) policy is urgently needed! Switzerland must reveal its motives as well as the instruments with which it proposes to cut emissions and boost resilience worldwide; be it directly or through third parties (such as the Green Climate Fund). On the basis of the precautionary as well as the polluter pays principles roles and duties need to be clearly assigned in accordance with the areas of competence and the capabilities of the Confederation and the business sector, while taking academia and civil society on board.