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Photograph: Fred Merz/Lundi13/EPFL

ETH President Joël Mesot (r.) and EPFL President Martin Vetterli (l.) are launching a green energy coalition together with partners. Photograph: Fred Merz/Lundi13/EPFL

Partner Content: ETH

Switzerland, time for the net-zero economy

The energy transition is not just about the price tag—it is about securing Switzerland’s economic future and keeping pace with a changing global landscape. The US is transforming its economy with the Inflation Reduction Act; the EU is working on a Net-Zero Industry Act. What will Switzerland do?

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Switzerland, time for the net-zero economy

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The race to net-zero emissions

Switzerland stands at a crossroads. Last summer, Swiss citizens confirmed the nation’s commitment to reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. Now, Switzerland must decide whether it also commits to developing the necessary technologies and skilled workforce.

Switzerland is not alone: the race to net-zero emissions has started all across the globe. Nearly thirty countries, including major economies like the United States, Japan, Germany, and France, have adopted net-zero emissions targets. The University of Oxford estimates that net-zero emissions commitments cover 92% of the global economy, a major economic opportunity for transforming old and creating new industries.

Opportunities for Switzerland

Switzerland could improve its energy security. Switzerland currently imports nearly 70% of its energy, primarily due to its need for fossil fuels and nuclear fuel. While this dependence has helped meet the country’s energy needs in the past, it also exposes the economy to price spikes whenever conflicts erupt—as we have seen in the past years. This is not just an economic vulnerability but a matter of national security.

Furthermore, Switzerland can reach net-zero emissions at moderate costs. Researchers at the Paul Scherrer Institute estimate that achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 requires investing between 300 and 1,400 CHF per year for every Swiss citizen, about as much as a dinner with friends or the latest smartphone. Although this figures do not mean the same for all Swiss citizens, it is a relatively small price to pay for more secure and clean energy.

And, of course, Switzerland can help mitigate climate change. The gravest risk that the Swiss Alps face is climate change. Measurements by MeteoSchweiz show that temperatures in Switzerland have already increased by 2.5 degrees Celsius, leaving profound scars in the Swiss natural landscape.

The path forward

The path forward is clear, and it starts with a bold commitment to innovation and investment in net-zero emissions technologies. Switzerland’s long-standing reputation for innovation and high quality must extend to this critical sector.

First and foremost, Switzerland should double down on deploying renewable energy, heat pumps, and electric vehicles, three technologies that can reduce about 80% of emissions.

Simultaneously, Switzerland must accelerate research and development in hydrogen production, carbon capture, and energy storage. These technologies are vital in reducing the remaining 20% of emissions. Collaborations between academia, industry, and policy can lead the effort by demonstrating these technologies at scale, as shown by the Coalition for Green Energy and Storage, recently launched by EPFL and ETH Zurich.

Moreover, policies must be put in place to incentivize businesses to adopt sustainable practices and invest in clean technologies, spurring innovation and job creation. The transformative impact of such policies is being seen in other countries, and it is time to adapt those lessons and apply them to Switzerland.

However, the transition is not without challenges. The costs could burden businesses and individuals unequally, and concerns about job displacement in specific sectors must also be addressed. Balancing the economic aspects across all regions is also crucial. All policies formulated for achieving net-zero emissions must ensure they contribute to a just transition.

The clock is ticking

Switzerland stands at a crossroads. If it acts now, it can be among the world leaders in an era defined by sustainability and innovation. The transition to net-zero emissions is not just a challenge but also a significant economic opportunity.

It is time to act boldly and decisively, and for Switzerland to embrace the spirit of innovation that has defined it for generations and invest in a cleaner, more sustainable future that secures its future prosperity.

The clock is ticking; time to board the train to the net-zero emissions economy.

Declaration: This content was created by ETH Zurich as part of the partnership with Sustainable Switzerland.

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