Switzerland must step up its game post-Glasgow

Tuvalu's foreign minister did his COP26 statement like no other by speaking behind a podium at sea, standing in knee-deep water.
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The final declaration of the UN Climate Conference is by no means the end of the story – with the climate crisis intensifying and Switzerland's climate budget about to run out. From Glasgow Stefan Salzmann (Co-Chair of Climate Alliance Switzerland)

Summer hail and rain in Switzerland, heatwave in Canada, fires in Greece and Russia, drought in Iran; and in August the science-based red alert in the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climatologists state clearly that the scale of anthropogenic global warming has been unprecedented for many centuries, if not millennia. The frequency and intensity of heat extremes and heavy precipitation, and of agricultural and environmental droughts will increase and they will recur more and more often in combination. Changes already apparent today will intensify and become irreversible. Every 10th of a degree increase in the global average temperature makes a difference – especially for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

The new report published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in October, which compares the goals of the Paris Agreement with the promises made, finds that the targets submitted by countries are taking us towards global warming of 2.7 degrees. At the same time, UNEP also writes that still not enough funding is being provided for adaptation in poor countries: what is needed is up to 10 times what the industrialised nations are making available.

The will is there – but no-one is laying out a roadmap

In the circumstances, the United Kingdom organisers of the 26th World Climate Conference have shown much good will. New global initiatives were announced every day for the first week of the conference.  "Global Coal to Clean Power Transition", "Stop Global Deforestation" or the "Green Grids Initiative" are but a few. A euphoric International Energy Agency reckons that this could put us on track to global warming of just 1.8 degrees – if all the promises are kept. This is precisely the problem: there is no implementation plan for any of these initiatives. The countries going along with the promises are the very ones which up to 2020 had failed to provide the climate funds promised back in 2009. Besides, should a country like Brazil sign up to the deforestation initiative, it would indeed be a glimmer of hope, but in terms of realpolitik, perhaps more of a death knell for this ambitious plan. Like all other ambitious plans, this one too leaves implementation up to voluntary political action by individual countries.

And Switzerland?

Switzerland too is under pressure: after even the small step of the revised CO2 Act proved too much for most citizens in June 2021, the delegation led by the Federal Office for the Environment went to Glasgow with no legal basis. On this occasion yet again, all negotiations on additional climate funding were blocked. At first glance the reasons are understandable – rich emerging countries should also help provide climate financing and it is not acceptable for China and Singapore to pass themselves off as developing countries, and to want to pay nothing. But this kind of argument from one of the world’s richest nations is of no use to those whose livelihoods depend on these decisions, i.e. the poorest and most vulnerable around the world. For them, stalled talks, irrespective of who is responsible, spell hardship, suffering and precarious survival strategies.

Loss and damage

The livelihoods of many are at stake, and for some, they have already been destroyed. In the technical jargon, “loss and damage” describes the irreversible problems stemming from climate warming: in other words, climate impacts that outstrip the adaptive capacity of countries, communities and ecosystems. When a family loses its home to rising sea levels, it is lost for ever. Such loss and damage is already occurring today and will be amplified with every temperature rise of one-tenth of a degree. This is why civil society has made this issue the top priority in Glasgow.

Switzerland’s climate budget almost used up

The fact that Switzerland is one of the richest countries with a history of emitting large quantities of greenhouse gases is not the only reason why it would be appropriate to help others that have already suffered damage. In September, social ethicists from 10 church institutions held discussions about remaining CO2 budget that is compatible with a climate justice. On the basis of scientifically proven data, they calculated the share of the gigatonnes of CO2 still globally available that would corresponds to Switzerland, should it elect to act in a climate-friendly manner. In so doing, the social ethicists did what climate science cannot: they weighted and interpreted model calculations in moral terms. The upshot was that the remaining climate-compatible amount of CO2 would be used up by the spring of 2022. This is further proof that the Federal Council’s strategy of targeting net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 no longer has anything in common with justice.

What next?

Occasions like the Glasgow climate conference should be seized by official Switzerland to demonstrate that our country takes justice seriously. Providing funds for other countries is one of the easiest ways to do this: funds for mitigation and adaptation additional to development credit lines. And additional funds for loss and damage that has already occurred. The groundwork for such negotiating mandates is laid domestically, during the preparatory phase. The same applies to national climate targets, which will need to be more ambitious, including for Switzerland, if the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement are to remain within reach. The debates on the indirect counterproposal to the Glacier Initiative and the upcoming relaunch of the revision of the CO2 Act are the last opportunities before it is too late. We need a net-zero target by 2040 at the latest, a linear reduction pathway there and we must be resolute in phasing out fossil fuels.