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Ambition gap

What is Switzerlandʼs pathway to limit global warming to 1.5°C?

1.5°C compatible pathways

On June 12 2021, a referendum on Switzerland’s updated CO₂ Act failed to pass, pushing the Swiss 2030 domestic emissions target back to that recommended by the Federal Council in 2016, a 30% reduction below 1990 levels. The stronger 37.5% target included in Switzerland’s rejected CO₂ Act and updated NDC already failed to achieve compatibility with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit; the failure of the CO₂ Act and reversion to the previous target places them even further behind.

The proposed reformulation of the law, released in late 2021, waters down key elements of the rejected version, and fails to ensure Switzerland’s 2030 target is a sufficiently ambitious contribution to limiting warming to 1.5°C. A 63% reduction of domestic emissions below 1990 levels (excluding LULUCF) would place Switzerland’s 2030 target safely within a 1.5°C compatible range. More stringent policies, particularly for the transport and buildings sectors, would also be required to achieve such a target.

Long-term pathway

Switzerland has set the goal to reach net zero GHG emissions by 2050. Paris Agreement compatible pathways show that excluding the contribution of LULUCF sinks, the country would already have negative emissions by 2050 of around -11 MtCO₂e/yr for some scenarios, thus having reached net zero GHG prior to that date. Other pathways show that this would mean for the country, remaining level of positive emissions not higher than 3-5 MtCO₂e/yr by 2050 to be aligned with Paris Agreement compatible pathway.21 Switzerland would then need to balance its remaining emissions through the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) approaches, either by increasing its land sink(around -1 MtCO₂e/yr in 2018) or by developing technological options.

1 IEA. World Energy Balances 2020 Edition. (2020).

2 Government of Switzerland. Switzerland. 2020 Common Reporting Format (CRF) Table.

3 Climate Action Tracker. Switzerland – November 2020 Update.

4 Swiss Federal Office of Energy. CO2 emission regulations for new cars and light commercial vehicles.

5 Bundesamt für Energie. Energieverbrauch und Energieeffizienz der neuen Personenwagen und leichten Nutzfahrzeuge 2019. (2020).

6 Bundesamt für Energie. Faktenblatt Vollzug der CO2-Emissionsvorschriften für Personenwagen 2017 Neuzugelassene Personenwagen und ihre CO2-Emissionen. (2018).

7 Bundesamt für Energie & Bundesamt für Strassen. Roadmap Elektromobilität 2022. (2018).

8 ACEA. Fuel types of new cars: diesel -23.6%, electric +33.1% in fourth quarter of 2018 | ACEA – European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

9 ACEA. Fuel types of new cars: diesel -17.9%, petrol +3.3%, electric +40.0% in first quarter of 2019 | ACEA – European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association.

10 ICAP. Swiss ETS. (2020).

11 Schweizer Parlament. Bundesgesetz über die Verminderung von Treibhausgasemissionen (CO2-Gesetz). (2020).

12 Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft. Switzerland’s Fourth Biennial Report under the UNFCCC. (2020).

13 der Bundesrat. Verordnung vom 30. November 2012 über die Reduktion der CO2 Emissionen. (2012).

14 Schweizer Parlament. Bundesgesetz über die Verminderung von Treibhausgasemissionen (CO2-Gesetz).

15 Swiss Confederation. Revision of the CO2 law: Explanatory report on the consultation draft. (2021).

16 Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft. Switzerland’s Fourth Biennial Report under the UNFCCC.(2020).

17 ICAP. ICAP Allowance Price Explorer. (2022).

18 European Alternative Fuels Observatory. Switzerland – Vehicles and fleet. (2022).

19 Kuramochi, T. et al. Ten key short-term sectoral benchmarks to limit warming to 1.5°C. Clim. Policy (2017).

20 Some pathways include sinks based on bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS).

21 While global cost-effective pathways assessed by the IPCC Special Report 1.5°C provide useful guidance for an upper-limit of emissions trajectories for developed countries, they underestimate the feasible space for such countries to reach net zero earlier. The current generation of models tend to depend strongly on land-use sinks outside of currently developed countries and include fossil fuel use well beyond the time at which these could be phased out, compared to what is understood from bottom-up approaches. The scientific teams which provide these global pathways constantly improve the technologies represented in their models – and novel CDR technologies are now being included in new studies focused on deep mitigation scenarios meeting the Paris Agreement. A wide assessment database of these new scenarios is not yet available; thus, we rely on available scenarios which focus particularly on BECCS as a net-negative emission technology. Accordingly, we do not yet consider land-sector emissions (LULUCF) and other CDR approaches which developed countries will need to implement in order to counterbalance their remaining emissions and reach net zero GHG are not considered here due to data availability.


Switzerlandʼs total GHG emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂e/yr

Displayed values
Reference year
Net zero GHG excl. LULUCF*
Reference year
1.5°C emissions level
NDC (Domestic target)
Ambition gap
  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Current policy projections
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Historical emissions
2030 emissions levels
Current policy projections
NDC (Domestic target)
1.5°C emissions level
Ref. year 1990

Energy system transformation

Unlike most countries, Switzerland’s energy-related emissions primarily originate from the transport and building sectors, as the power sector is close to being zero carbon. Industry sector emissions from fuel combustion make up around 14% of total energy-related emissions.2 Clear and ambitious government policies will be critical in the transformation of these sectors.

Electric vehicles (EVs) have the potential to realise higher emissions reductions in Switzerland than in most countries due to how little fossil fuel generation there is in the power sector. Heat pumps are another readily available technology that could replace gas boilers for space and water heating. Both of these technologies can be rapidly integrated and provide large emissions reductions, but would require strong policy intervention to achieve the rapid uptake needed to decarbonise these sectors.


Switzerlandʼs primary energy mix

petajoule per year

SSP1 Low CDR reliance
20192030204020501 000
SSP1 High CDR reliance
20192030204020501 000
Low Energy Demand
20192030204020501 000
High Energy Demand - Low CDR reliance
20192030204020501 000
  • Negative emissions technologies via BECCS
  • Unabated fossil
  • Renewables incl. Biomass
  • Nuclear and/or fossil with CCS

Switzerlandʼs total CO₂ emissions

excl. LULUCF MtCO₂/yr

  • 1.5°C compatible pathways
  • 1.5°C emissions range
  • Middle of the 1.5°C compatible range
  • Historical emissions

1.5°C compatible emissions benchmarks

Key emissions benchmarks of Paris compatible Pathways for Switzerland. The 1.5°C compatible range is based on the Paris Agreement compatible pathways from the IPCC SR1.5 filtered with sustainability criteria. The median (50th percentile) to 5th percentile and middle of the range are provided here. Relative reductions are provided based on the reference year.

Reference year
Reference year
Year of net zero GHG
incl. BECCS excl. LULUCF and novel CDR
Total GHG
Megatonnes CO₂ equivalent per year
16 to 25
1 to 13
−11 to 6
Relative to reference year in %
−70 to −53%
−98 to −75%
−120 to −89%
Total CO₂
11 to 20
−3 to 8
−14 to 1
2038 to 2054
Relative to reference year in %
−74 to −55%
−107 to −82%
−131 to −97%