In a Nutshell
- Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) plays an important role in Swiss climate policy. Specific CDR targets are outlined in the Swiss National Long-Term Strategy and a roadmap for carbon capture and storage (CCS) and CDR. Namely, Switzerland aims to remove 2 Mt of CO2 per year within its national territory by 2050, as well as 5 Mt of CO2 per year abroad.
- Most CDR methods are already recognised under Swiss law, through emission reduction and sequestration programs. An agreement has been signed between the Swiss Confederation and waste incineration plants managers obliging the latter to develop CDR and/or CCS capacities.
- The Federal government’s CCS and CDR Roadmap gathers numerous initiatives and instruments to support R&D and innovation, mostly on the research side. It also outlines the measures identified as needed to scale up CCS and CDR in Switzerland until 2030.
- Now that CDR is enshrined in Swiss law, the implementation of the CDR and CCS Roadmap should be followed closely.
Role for carbon removal in national climate policy
CDR plays an important role in Swiss climate policy. The Swiss National Long-Term Strategy labels it as necessary to reach net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050. It quantifies a need for CDR of 7 MtCO2/year by 2050, 2 Mt of which are to be conducted nationally, mostly through bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS), and 5 Mt of which are to be conducted abroad, mostly through direct air carbon capture and storage (DACCS). Other novel CDR methods are considered as well, especially biochar. Conventional removals are only cautiously considered owing to their lower permanence.
In May 2022, the Swiss Federal Council launched a comprehensive roadmap on how to scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) and CDR to the required levels by 2050. It is composed of two main phases: the pioneering phase, up to 2030, and the scale up phase, from 2031 to 2050. A list of over 40 measures and their implementation timeframes breaks down the path for Switzerland to reach its 2050 CCS and CDR targets.
Regionally, CDR is currently recognised in the cantonal climate policies of 12 out of 26 cantons as a key requirement to reach net GHG emissions by 2050.
Relevant legal frameworks
The Swiss climate law is mainly defined by two key legislations: the CO2 Act and the CO2 Ordinance. The former provides the legal framework, the policy instruments and the key objectives, and the latter provides legal guidance for the implementation of the CO2 Act.
After the Swiss population refused its revision that would have allowed the country to reach its target of reducing GHG emissions to 50% of 1990 levels by 2030 in the June 2021 referendum, the CO2 Act exists only in a crippled form. A new version is currently under parliamentary review and is due for the end of 2024. It would enable the legal tools for Swiss climate policy until 2030 and would enshrine CDR in Swiss law. At the same time, the CO2 Ordinance, a complement to the CO2 Act, does not enshrine CDR use in Swiss law explicitly, but does recognise certain forms of CDR as eligible for Swiss emission reduction and sequestration credits as part of a related program.
On 18 June 2023, the Climate and Innovation Act enshrined the objective to reach net GHG neutrality, defined as a balance between emissions and removals to compensate for residual emissions, by 2050. After 2050, removals should be higher than GHG emissions, thus creating a net negative target.
The Agreement with Managers of Waste Treatment Installations provides another legal basis for CDR. Effectively, it creates a legal obligation for operators of waste treatment installations to put at least one CO2 capture plant into operation by 2030, with a minimum capacity of 100,000 tons of CO2/year. Since a share of the incinerated waste is of biogenic origin, this incineration of is considered as creating negative emissions. The target of 100,000 tonnes of CO2/year therefore applies both to CCS and CDR.
Internationally, Switzerland has been very active in concluding bilateral agreements under Article 6.2 of the Paris Agreement, with 12 already signed. These agreements essentially allow emission reductions and removals taking place in a partner country to account for Swiss emission reductions and removals. Furthermore, Switzerland has also signed declarations of intent to bilaterally collaborate on CDR and CCS with Iceland and the Netherlands, and it has approached Norway as well. Finally, in November 2023, Switzerland decided to ratify the amendment to Article 6 of the London Protocol, which allows and regulates the storage of CO2 in geological formations under the seabed.
Support for R&D and Innovation
The CCS and CDR Roadmap provides several support mechanisms for the development of CDR. For instance, the Environment Research Master Plan 2021-2024 ranked CDR as a top research priority. Moreover, several research funding programmes were and will be created. The ETH Board also has several research streams that include CDR.
At the national level, there are several major research projects ongoing. For instance, DemoUp Carma, which runs a pilot project on CO2 transport and exportation abroad, plays a key role in the development of Swiss CDR and CCS plans. CO2NET explores how to decarbonise the waste incineration sector through CCS and CDR, while DecarbCem assesses CCS and CDR methods to decarbonise the cement industry.
Several national and regional research projects are exploring the potential use of biochar, including a project led by Agroscope and led by the Zürich School of Life Sciences and Applied Management. (However, the ‘Emission Reduction and Carbon Storage Projects and Programmes’ under the CO2 Ordinance does not recognise projects undertaking biological sequestration of CO2 abroad nor national large scale biochar projects as CDR methods eligible for Swiss emission reduction and sequestration credits.)
The Climate Cent Foundation, the former institution in charge of offsetting the oil motor industry’s environmental footprint, must invest its remaining funds (equivalent to around EUR 58 million) in the field of CDR. In August 2023, five projects were selected and granted around EUR 48 million. The foundation has been liquidated and replaced by the KLiK Foundation, which is now the institution in charge of conducting international projects under Article 6 of the Paris Agreement.
On the horizon
The CCS and CDR Roadmap mentioned above indicates the timeline of measures needed to scale up CDR in Switzerland. The first phase, i.e. the pioneering phase, is mostly targeted towards R&D and innovation on several key components, including CDR technologies and CO2 transport and storage (both nationally and abroad). It also aims to create the right legal framework at the national and international levels for CDR to scale. Key measures outlined include the integration of CCS in the Swiss Emission Trading System, as well as the admission of BECCS at ETS installations as compensation projects (due by 2025).
- Net zero target: 2050
- First interim target: 2030
- Type of interim target: Emissions reduction target
- GHGs covered: Carbon dioxide and other GHGs
- Separate target for emission reduction and removals: No
- Comprehensive CDR Target: yes
- CDR Target for Conventional Removals: no
- CDR Target for Novel Removals: yes
- Historical emissions: No
- Annual reporting mechanism: Annual reporting
- Plans for carbon removal (CDR): Yes (nature-based removals e.g. Forestation, soil carbon enhancement)
- Planning to use external carbon credits: Yes
- Conditions on use of carbon credits: a
Public consultations and upcoming policies
- A complete revision of the CO2 Act is due at the end of 2024. A parliamentary review of the draft version [available in French, German and Italian only] is ongoing.
- Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, federal department in charge of climate and energy policy in Switzerland. It includes two specialised agencies:
Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)
Swiss Federal Office for Energy (SFOE)
- Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, federal department in charge of the national research programme, priorities and funding and of agricultural policy. It includes the following specialised agencies:
Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG)
State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)