Why does our energy sector need to reduce its CO2 emissions?

The vast majority of the scientific community believes that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, linked to human activities, play an important role in the global warming and ocean acidification that is currently observed worldwide. If this warming is not controlled, the global economic and environmental consequences could be dramatic. Switzerland has a duty to contribute to the global effort to combat global warming by limiting its emissions, 80% of which come from the energy sector.

In 2003, Switzerland ratified the Kyoto Protocol. The agreement, concluded in 1997 under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, sets quantitative greenhouse gas reduction targets for several industrialised countries. Switzerland has thus committed itself to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 8% between 2008 and 2012 from their 1990 levels. Switzerland has not managed to reduce its overall domestic emissions as much as expected, with a reduction of only 4% in 2012 compared to 1990. Nevertheless, it has formally fulfilled its commitment by purchasing carbon credits abroad [→ Q83]. The second commitment concerns the period 2012-2020. Global domestic emissions fell sharply between 2013 and 2015, with a decrease of more than 10% in 2015 compared to their 1990 levels.

Switzerland is continuing its reduction efforts on a voluntary basis, pending the conclusion of a new successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. Despite the hesitations and slowness of international climate negotiations, it is essential that rich countries, which have been the main sources of CO2 emissions so far, show the way in the fight against global warming. Otherwise it will be difficult for other countries to commit themselves.

Global warming is expected to cause profound climatic and environmental disturbances. Switzerland is already facing the accelerated retreat of its glaciers, which will largely disappear by 2100. The gradual melting of permanently frozen upper ground (permafrost) is also being observed, leading to increased risks of landslides that could threaten inhabited areas.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessed the overall costs of climate change impacts: $1,450 billion for a 2.5-degree increase by 2100. As far as the European Union is concerned, the Brussels Commission quantifies the impacts of this warming for the same period in a range of 250 to 320 billion euros. This amount represents a net decrease in its GDP of up to nearly 2%. Inaction could well cost more than action… [→ Q99].

The socio-economic impact for Switzerland has not been assessed so far, but will undoubtedly be very significant. In particular, the melting of glaciers could have a major impact on our energy system in the long term [→ Q14].


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