March 15, 2022 | News

Net Zero means that from some date on, all remaining greenhouse gas emissions will have to be taken back out of the atmosphere. This raises two issues: How can emissions be removed? Who will pay for that? 

The first question was at the core of a white paper written by Sascha Nick and Philippe Thalmann published by E4S in December: “Carbon removal, net zero, and implications for Switzerland”.

Today, the authors released a new paper focusing on the second question: “Swiss Negative Emissions Fund – paying for Net Zero”.

In this paper, they propose to create a public fund to finance carbon removal projects. Starting in 2025 and reaching full scale in 2030, it would create an incentive to reduce emissions faster and deeper, allowing Switzerland to respect IPCC’s 1.5°C carbon budget.

Financing carbon removal projects poses several challenges. Although there is an urgent call for climate action, removal technologies are currently expensive. Their cost will fall but only if we start de-polluting now. For fairness and to create the right incentive, polluters should pay – not the whole community. Finally, cleanup will only work if we stop polluting.

The proposed fund answers these issues. Based on the “polluter-pays” principle, the compulsory payments by all Swiss emitters of greenhouse gases would be used to remove CO2 via biological and geological projects.

This initiative would enable Switzerland to reach Net Zero around 2040, a full decade earlier than the official commitment, and gradually remove all greenhouse gases emitted from 2030 on.

Importantly, the projects would lead to significant social and environmental co-benefits by engaging local communities and creating jobs, restoring ecosystems, improving biodiversity, regenerating soils, and increasing food resilience.

The results are backed up by a numerical model based on costs and potentials of different carbon removal methods, as well as a financial analysis of cash flows in and out of the fund. To test, refine and validate their assumptions, the authors also propose a pilot fund, starting in 2022, on a voluntary basis, at about 1% of the size of the full fund.

In this context, the E4S Center plans to contribute to the societal dialogue on decarbonization with a series of events, discussions, research, teaching, and pilot projects. 

A first event will be held on May 6th at EPFL (in French): “En route pour Zéro émission nette en Suisse en 2050 : la contribution du retrait du carbone”. More information about the event and a registration link can be found here.