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Swiss climate law approved amid calls for faster renewable rollout

Switzerland made a step forward in tackling climate change as the country passed a Climate Law which sets the goal of achieving Swiss climate neutrality by 2050.

View of the town of Stans in Switzerland from the foot of Mt. Stanserhorn (Photo credit: Adobe Stock/navintar)

Switzerland made a step forward in tackling climate change on Sunday as the country passed a Climate Law which sets the goal of achieving Swiss climate neutrality by 2050, however more concrete measures to speed up renewable rollout are needed amid an expected power generation shortfall by mid-century, energy industry and environmental groups sources told Gas Outlook.

On June 18, Swiss voters backed in a referendum the government’s new Climate and Innovation Law, which stipulates that by 2040, the country must reduce emissions by 75% against 1990 levels with a view to achieving net-zero by 2050.

It also sets indicative emission reduction targets by sector: emissions must be cut by 82% in the buildings sector, by 57% in transport and by 50% in the industry sector by 2040.

The law also allocates around 2 billion Swiss francs over the next decade towards energy efficiency investments and to replace fossil fuel heating with climate friendly alternatives, and SF1.2 billion for businesses to invest in green innovation.

Power shortfall

The approval of the law marks “a step in the right direction,” Lisa Givert, a spokesperson for Switzerland’s largest renewable power producer Axpo, told Gas Outlook.

“It is good news that the climate targets will now become law in Switzerland as it means that more changes will have to be made, if we want to reach these targets, for example to Switzerland’s permitting system” for new renewable capacity, she said.

At the same time “much more needs to change, mainly in terms of speeding up the permitting process in order to allow renewable projects to go ahead.”

One key issue is that the “current permitting system is spread over three state levels, and every citizen can  block and stop a project in its tracks, if they object to it being in their back yard.”

“This makes it difficult for project developers to move forward with confidence that a project will be realised.”

Power supply is projected to see a shortfall of 50 TWh by 2050, according to Axpo.

“This is a huge gap to fill and the country needs to seriously speed up the build-out of renewables,” she added.

The Swiss climate law “is an important climate policy step for Switzerland” as it “secured by law the net-zero target by 2050,” Michael Casanova, head of water protection, energy and climate policy at Swiss environmental group Pro Natura, told Gas Outlook.

While the law “only addresses the targets and does not contain any effective, concrete measures” it nevertheless creates a legislative basis for “measures to promote new technologies and processes … As well as the obligation to make adaptations to protect against climate change,” he added.

“Switzerland is in the advantageous position that a large part of our electricity already comes from renewable sources,” he continued.

“Hydropower has been developed for more than 100 years and supplies almost 60% of the electricity we need.”

“However, this is also associated with major ecological impairments,” he said.

“The goal must now be to tap the huge potential in the efficiency sector and to push the expansion of (rooftop) photovoltaics,” he explained.

The sector holds “untapped potential…Unfortunately, policymakers are reluctant to set targets for tapping this potential and to introduce a solar standard that makes PV systems mandatory for new buildings and for major renovations,” he added.

The law also stipulates that the Swiss financial sector should support climate-friendly investments.

These requirements are “of great importance for Switzerland’s international responsibility in matters of climate change, however, concrete measures still need to be adopted here as well.”

Political divide

The bill was opposed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, which triggered the referendum, on the basis that drastically reducing fossil fuels reliance would lead to higher energy bills for consumers, and amid concerns that renewable installation would negatively impact the Swiss landscape.

And while the majority of voters (59.1%) voted in support of the law, the referendum also highlighted a divide among Swiss society on climate matters, with support mostly concentrated in the larger cities and cantons.

A previous referendum in 2021 rejected proposals to curb emissions despite the fact Switzerland is battling the increasingly faster melting of its Alpine glaciers.

“Sustainable consumption is still often perceived as a restriction of personal freedom, and there is a prevailing attitude that overconsumption is an individual right that must not be restricted,” Casanova said.

“There is therefore still great resistance to sustainable policies” which “is clearly reflected in the results of elections and votes.”

This attitude “pushes us further and further into the consumption trap that stands in the way of implementing sustainable goals,” he added.

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