Sunday, March 8, 2015

Little Switzerland ...

... last week became the first of the world's nations to file its climate change plan with the UN office charged with organizing the Paris conference. All 195 COP 21 nations are expected to file such a plan, by April if possible, so that the results can be aggregated. In October the UN will try to determine whether these individual voluntary national plans add up to an adequate global blueprint, whose goal would be to limit temperature rise to 2 degrees C.

Switzerland, representing slightly less than .1% of the global economy and about .1% of its carbon emissions, is not a major player, but by filing the first INDC or national plan, it sets an important benchmark. So how did Switzerland do?

  • Overall, the Swiss propose a 50% reduction (from 1990 levels) of carbon emissions by 2030, with aspirations for 70-85% by 2050. This places them above the EU's proposed target of 40%, but the details raise questions. Noting that their per capita carbon emissions are already below the world average--Switzerland produces a lot of 'clean' hydro power, but imports most of its energy in fossil-fuel forms--Switzerland proposes to decrease domestic carbon emissions by only 30%, while achieving the rest in "carbon markets and other offsets." Perhaps someone can enlighten me on just what this means.
  • Environmental critics note that the overall goal is not fleshed out with specific proposals for achieving it. This will, I expect, become a leitmotif of most of these INDC national plans, and a serious problem for the whole UN process: it's easier to set a figure--as the US has rather vaguely done--but much harder to set down proposals that will challenge vested interests.

  • A bigger criticism, from the Swiss environmental group Alliance Sud, is that “there is no word about climate finance and support for developing countries." This notion that the wealthier nations of the world--and Switzerland is surely one of them--will create a solidarity fund to helpo poorer nations meet their goals will be a major bone of contention in any final deal. Switzerland's draft plan sets an unfortunate example in this regard. 

So--it's exciting in a way to see this process start to unfold, but alarming that one of the wealthier and perhaps 'cleaner' nations is not setting the bar as high as it might. With its melting glaciers graphically displaying the consequences of indifference, perhaps Switzerland can be prodded to do more.

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