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Analyzing the First “INDC”: Switzerland Releases New Climate Action Commitment

Switzerland announced its post-2020 climate action plan yesterday, making it the first country to officially submit its contribution to the international climate agreement to be finalized in Paris at the end of this year. More countries are expected to propose their commitments, known as intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs), over the coming months. These plans are an important piece of the puzzle to determine whether the world can reduce emissions enough to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), thus preventing some of the worst impacts of climate change.

The Swiss climate plan is in many ways a promising start to the global INDC submission process, articulating a long-term pathway for the country’s emissions reductions. Yet there are also some areas where the INDC could be strengthened, such as focusing more on a domestic transition to a low carbon economy and limiting the use of emissions reductions beyond Swiss borders towards its own target.

Here’s our quick take on some of the pros and cons:

Pathway for Emissions Reductions

The way Switzerland has submitted its plan is simple and straightforward. It’s comprehensive enough that the INDC can serve as a starting point for other countries when submitting their own plans.

Switzerland commits to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 35 percent below 1990 levels by 2025, 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and 70-85 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Their proposal also includes a wide coverage of greenhouse gases and sectors, allowing for maximum reduction opportunities.

However, the INDC allows for the country to heavily use international market mechanisms, such as offsets or through carbon trading, to reach its goals. For the 50 percent reduction goal, for example, up to two-fifths of the reductions could come from projects to reduce emissions beyond Swiss borders. It would strengthen the contribution if Switzerland undertook further domestic emission reductions, where much potential still exists, in order to drive ambition and usher in a low-carbon economy.

High Marks for Transparency

The Swiss INDC is also noteworthy in being highly transparent. This will build trust among countries, and make it easier to track whether global efforts are collectively ambitious enough to limit global warming. Through our Open Book initiative, WRI researchers have developed suggestions for what information countries should provide to be adequately transparent. The Swiss INDC aligns with many of the key elements, clearly describing:

  • The timeframe for the contribution, including expected emissions reductions in both 2025 and 2030;

  • How use of credits from market mechanisms, such as offsets, would avoid double-counting of reductions by more than one country and maintain environmental integrity; and

  • How the country views its contribution as fair and ambitious, as well as how it contributes to achieving the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. For example, the INDC explicitly recognizes that GDP per capita, along with greenhouse gas emissions per capita, are important considerations in determining whether a contribution is fair. Yet there’s still room for improvement as countries should also include the underlying data and analysis to support their statements on fairness and ambition. For example, Switzerland could have been more transparent in explaining its capabilities and the limitations on its domestic mitigation potential, particularly given its reliance on international emission reductions.

Kicking Off Post-2020 Climate Action

While just a tiny country with a small fraction of global emissions, Switzerland has put forward a good starting model. It’s important that other countries follow suit with their own ambitious, comprehensive plans—both to curb climate change globally, and to keep the glaciers on top of Switzerland’s majestic mountains.

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