CDR in the ‘Glacier Initiative’ and the CO2 Act

The legal regulation of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) methods in Switzerland is currently actively underway and only a few aspects have already been conclusively regulated. In this article, we provide information on the current state of regulation in Switzerland and the upcoming developments in the coming years.

First of all, a list of the most important developments that are already underway:

  • At the national level, the In this article, we provide information on the current status of CDR regulation in Switzerland and the upcoming developments in the coming years. The CO2 Act and the associated Ordinance are currently being revised. It is expected that aspects such as emissions trading, the relationship between CDR in Switzerland and abroad, and the transport of CO2 will be regulated therein.
  • The use of NET, in particular BECCS, AFOLU and DACCS, is mentioned in passing in the Glacier Initiative. How the Glacier Initiative and the direct, respectively indirect counter-proposal discuss CDR can be found below.
  • The long-term plans of the administration can be derived from the Swiss Climate Strategy 2050 as well as from the NET and CCS Roadmap. However, these texts are not to be confused with legislative texts.
  • Measures such as research into the potential of the Swiss soil and subsoil for CO2 storage are emerging from various parliamentary initiatives and motions.

The Swiss Climate Strategy 2050 foresees in all scenarios (Energy Perspectives 2050+) the use of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) and CDR methods for reaching net zero. In 2050, 12 million tons of CO2-eq are to be captured and safely stored annually by CCS and CDR. These are so-called “difficult-to-avoid emissions,” primarily from industry, waste incineration and agriculture. It is important to make a clear distinction between CCS and CDR: 5 million metric tons are to be captured directly at the emission source with CCS. Another 7 million tons of CO2 are to be removed from the atmosphere with CDR methods (BECCS & DACCS) (2 million tons domestically, 5 million tons abroad). The CCS & CDR Roadmap, published in May 2022, paints a more detailed picture of how to get there (see below). A summary of the roadmap can be found in a recent CDR Swiss blog post.

CO2 sinks at home or abroad?

The popular initiative “For a healthy climate (Glacier Initiative)” submitted by the Swiss Climate Protection Association on November 27, 2019, demands that Switzerland should not emit more greenhouse gases from 2050 than natural and technical CO2 reservoirs can absorb. According to the initiative text, the resulting greenhouse gas emissions must be “neutralized by domestic sinks”.

The Federal Council supports the underlying message of net zero, but has changed some points in a direct counter-proposal (Federal Council Report 21.055): “The Federal Council would also like to leave it open whether the greenhouse gas emissions remaining in 2050 are to be offset with CO2 storage facilities at home or abroad.”

At the same time, the Commission for the Environment, Spatial Planning and Energy is drafting a bill for an indirect counter-proposal with the Federal Law on Climate Protection Targets (Ger. Bundesgesetz Entwurf über die Ziele im Klimaschutz, KIG, Stand 24.5.2022). Thus, the principles would be enshrined in legislative texts and not in the constitution, as the glacier initiative envisages, but in a law. In the draft KIG, foreign sinks are allowed alongside domestic sinks.

Neither the current CO2 Act, nor the climate strategy, nor the existing drafts and counterproposals for the Glacier Initiative define exactly which NET or sinks are considered domestic or foreign and under which conditions.

Net-zero targest for the privat sector?

Both the Glacier Initiative and the indirect counter-proposal state that the reduction of emissions has priority over removals. Only emissions that are difficult to avoid should be compensated with CDR methods. 

The initiative text provides for the phase-out of fossil fuels by 2050 – with the exception of “technically non-substitutable applications”, whose emissions are to be offset by CDR domestically. 

In the indirect counter-proposal, quantifiable interim targets are set for the reduction of emissions (e.g. 89% emission reduction on average for the years 2041-2050 compared to 1990), but with the restriction that the reduction targets must be “technically feasible and economically viable”. In addition, these emission reductions must be achieved domestically only “to the extent feasible,” which refers to the possible use of cross-border offset mechanisms. 

Net negative after 2050: According to the indirect counter-proposal, the amount of CO2 removed and stored through the application of CDR methods must exceed the remaining greenhouse gas emissions after 2050.

 In addition, the indirect counter-proposal provides for mandatory net-zero targets for all companies by 2050. The government is supposed to support this process, for example by providing standards and advice for proactive companies, promoting novel technologies, and hedging risks.

Net-zero targets for companies and a long-term net-negative target for Switzerland could significantly increase the demand for CDR on compulsory markets.

What’s next?

The legal basis and adjustments to address these and other issues should be clarified over the next two to five years, according to the CCS and CDR Roadmap action plan. While the roadmap is not a legislative text, it is intended to send clear signals to industry and researchers about the administration’s plans with respect to CDR in the medium to long term. In addition to exploring and promoting domestic CO2 storage options (both in products such as cement and underground geological storage), the action plan also calls for agreements with other countries to store CO2 abroad. In addition, the CO2 Ordinance is constantly being renewed.

In the version of the CO2 Ordinance that will be revised at the beginning of 2022 (see media release), some points regarding the creditability of sink performance (i.e. the long-term storage of CO2) will be regulated by various CDR methods, for example the sink performance through the application of biochar in fertilizer. The next revision is due in 2023, and by 2025 the CO2 Act and the associated Ordinance are to be totally revised.

It can be seen that the revision of the CO2 Act and the associated ordinance is urgently needed in order to legally anchor CDR methods and their use. Through consultations and the inclusion of stakeholder perspectives, bureaucratic hurdles can be reduced and concerns proactively addressed. In the meantime, the federal government’s roadmap provides planning certainty by announcing planned developments over the next few years. How these measures will be implemented in concrete terms remains to be seen. The Carbon Removal Platform stays on top of the topic for you and offers in its working groups and workshops the opportunity for the necessary exchange between different stakeholder groups on this complex topic.