On September 26, 2021, Swiss voters in the canton of Bern approved by a vote of 63.9% to 36.1% a constitutional amendment that codifies the goal to become climate neutral by 2050 as a legally binding obligation. Voter turnout was 49.8%. The precise measures to implement this goal will be specified in legislation to be passed by the cantonal parliament (Großer Rat).
The constitutional amendment instructs the canton and the municipalities to actively limit climate change and its negative consequences within their respective areas of competence with the goal to become climate neutral by 2050. This goal is in line with the goal of the 2015 Paris Agreement to limit the global average temperature increase above preindustrial levels to well below 2 degrees Celsius. Switzerland ratified the Paris Agreement on October 6, 2017. The climate protection measures must strengthen the economy and be environmentally and socially sustainable. Among other things, such measures include support for innovation and technology. The canton and municipalities are further instructed to align public finances in general with the goals of climate neutrality and resistance to climate change.
Background to the Amendment
The preamble of the Constitution of the Canton of Bern proclaims the intention to “creat[e] a body politic in which everyone may … fulfil their responsibility to Creation.” Article 31 requires the state to preserve the natural environment for present and future generations. The environment must be polluted as little as possible by state and private actions. A parliamentary initiative was submitted to codify climate protection, not just environmental protection, as an explicit objective of the state because the authors of the initiative felt that the constitutional protection was insufficient. The cantonal parliament adopted the parliamentary initiative in the spring of 2021 by a vote of 98 to 44, with 10 abstentions. (Message from the Großer Rat of the Canton Bern at 6.)
Federal Climate Policy
On June 13, 2021, Swiss voters rejected an amendment to the Federal Act on the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions (CO2 Act). The amendment to the CO2 Act contained several measures to further reduce CO2 output in Switzerland in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2030 and to net zero by 2050 in line with the “nationally determined contribution” (NDC) under the Paris Climate Agreement. On September 17, 2021, the Federal Council, the Swiss government, announced that it would prepare a new bill by the end of the year to implement the Swiss climate goals. The bill will take into account concerns that led to the rejection of the amendment in June.