On May 15, 2022, Swiss voters in the canton of Zurich approved a constitutional amendment codifying a target to achieve net zero, meaning “cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible.” The vote was 67.12%–32.88%, with voter turnout at 45.21%. The specific year by which net zero must be achieved will be defined in an implementing act.
The constitutional amendment, a new article 102a, instructs the canton and the municipalities to actively limit climate change and its consequences. In their efforts, they must take into account the goals of the federal government and the international agreements that are binding for Switzerland, such as the 2015 Paris Agreement. The goal of the Paris Agreement is 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. In particular, the cantons and municipalities must take measures to cut greenhouse gas emissions to achieve net zero.
Furthermore, the amendment provides that appropriate measures to achieve these goals must be implemented — namely, with regard to human settlement, construction, transport, agriculture, forestry, and trade and industry. The canton and the municipalities may support the development and use of technologies, materials, and processes that contribute to climate protection and adaption to climate change.
In the city of Zurich, voters additionally approved by a vote of 74.89%–25.11% an amendment to the municipal code that codifies the net zero target, but specifies that it must be achieved by 2040. The city administration itself must achieve net zero by 2035.
Background to the Amendment
Currently, the Constitution of the Canton of Zurich provides only for “environmental protection” and not specific climate protection. Article 102 states that “[t]he canton and the municipalities must protect humans and the environment from harmful or annoying influences,” which are to be avoided as much as possible and, if necessary, removed. The cantons and the municipalities may support the use of sustainable technologies. A parliamentary initiative was submitted to amend the cantonal constitution to codify climate protection as an explicit objective. The cantonal parliament (Kantonsrat) adopted the constitutional amendment on October 25, 2021, with a vote of 119–43. (Kanton Zürich. Kantonale Volksabstimmung. 15. Mai 2022 at 5.)
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 December 17, 2021, the Federal Council (the Swiss government), started the consultation on an amended CO2 Act to implement the Swiss climate goals. The bill takes into account concerns that led to the rejection of the amendment in June 2021, such as adding new levies for air travel.
In addition, another popular initiative (the “Glacier Initiative”) to codify a net zero target by 2050 in the federal constitution is currently pending. No date has been set for the vote, but it will take place between 2022 and 2024, depending on how long the parliamentary process takes. The parliament has submitted a direct counterproposal to the popular initiative that includes the 2050 net zero target but does not completely prohibit the use of fossil fuels as the glacier initiative proposes.
Related DevelopmentsOn September 26, 2021, Swiss voters in the canton of Bern approved a constitutional amendment that codifies the goal to become climate neutral by 2050 as a legally binding obligation. The cantons of Appenzell-Ausserrhoden, Aargau, Geneva, Glarus, and Tessin are working on similar proposals. (Kanton Zürich. Kantonale Volksabstimmung. 15. Mai 2022 at 6.)