Is Switzerland the only country facing an energy transition?
Switzerland is by no means an exception in this regard. All countries, depending on their particular circumstances, face an obligation to embark on an energy transition, given the global nature of the energy issues: greenhouse gas emissions, an increasingly costly and polluting quest for new fossil resources, questions about nuclear energy, geopolitical instability.
For almost two centuries, natural resources, especially fossil fuels(oil, coal, natural gas), have been exploited at an accelerated and worrying pace. The global economic system today consumes 90 million barrels of oil per day, mostly burned as fuel in our vehicles (petrol, diesel, kerosene) and fuel oil in our boilers.
For several years, we have seen that conventional (easily accessible)fossil resources are beginning to dry up. So we began to exploit so-called unconventional resources (deep-water or polar oil wells, shale gas, oil sands, etc.). These new resources are more expensive and increase the risk of environmental degradation. They will extend the deadline for a few decades, but will not fundamentally change the situation. Fossil-fuel reserves are shrinking inexorably, and their use generates greenhouse gas emissions (mainly CO2), which is disrupting the Earth’s climate system at an accelerated and unprecedented rate.
Different countries, each in their own way, want to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels to increase their security of supply, and are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So the two objectives are linked; by acting on one, we are also acting on the other. Reducing CO2 emissions while abandoning nuclear power is a particular challenge that other countries, such as Germany and Belgium, have also decided to address. Spain is considering it, while the current French government has included in its 2015 energy transition law the desire to reduce its share of nuclear energy by 75 to 50% by 2025. Italy in 1987 and Sweden in 1980 also made the choice to phase out nuclear power, even though the issue is regularly raised in political debates. Austria, for its part, decided as long ago as 1978 not to use nuclear power.
Finally, it should be stressed that the current energy transition is neither the first nor certainly the last. Humanity has undergone many changes in its energy systems in the past. The earliest (and probably most decisive) was the result of the mastery of fire, some 400,000 years ago. The gradual shift from traditional renewable energy (windmills, water mills) to fossil fuels (coal in the nineteenth century, then oil in the twentieth century), and then to nuclear power from the 1960s onwards, was another major transition to an energy system that today seems to have reached its limits.