Switzerland is aiming to be climate-neutral by 2050 - accelerating a target it set just three years ago.

The move comes as a new United Nations report shows a record level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and a global energy system still dominated by fossil fuels. Climate impacts are now thought to be hitting much harder and sooner than predicted.

A new UN study shows that climate impacts are happening faster and harder than expected.
Image: UN

By signing the Paris Climate Agreement in 2016, Switzerland committed itself to reducing its carbon emissions by 70-85% by 2050. This was in line with findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that global warming would have to be reduced to less than 2°C by 2100 in order to avoid serious consequences for the planet.

Switzerland has adjusted its goals following the release of updated figures from the IPCC, suggesting that many of the worst effects of climate change could be triggered by a temperature increase of just 1.5°C.

Around the world, temperatures since 2015 have been the hottest on record. Switzerland is particularly affected by climate change, with temperatures rising twice as quickly as the global average.

Temperatures in Switzerland are rising twice as fast as the global average.
Image: Swissinfo

Other nations, such as Bhutan and Suriname, have already exceeded net-zero – absorbing more carbon dioxide than they emit.

The low-carbon league

Switzerland joins a number of other countries in setting a target of net-zero, where any emissions are balanced out by absorbing an equal amount from the atmosphere - for example, through the planting of trees or the use of carbon capture and storage technology.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

In June 2019, the UK became the first major economy to pass a net-zero emissions law.

New Zealand has introduced net-zero legislation that also includes a target for reducing the methane produced by livestock by up to 47% by 2050.

Ice melts inside a glacier cave in Fiesch, Switzerland. We have experienced the warmest five years on record.
Ice melts inside a glacier cave in Fiesch, Switzerland.
Image: Reuters/Denis Balibouse

But is it enough?

As sea levels continue to rise and we experience ever more extreme weather, there are concerns about whether the targets being set are enough to stall climate change.

The UN is calling for radical change - from closing coal plants to supporting electric cars - to help speed up climate solutions in a way that will protect biodiversity and vulnerable populations.