The City of Zurich is actively committed to environmental and climate protection - globally and locally. Within its environmental strategy, the city sets itself clear environmental goals.
Four Concrete Environmental Goals
The Environmental Strategy defines the goals and develops corresponding environmental specifications. The various service departments incorporate these into the relevant strategies and instruments. The Environmental Strategy also defines the indicators for the individual environmental targets and regularly presents the progress made in the City of Zurich's environmental report.
1. Climate Neutral City
Zurich is climate neutral and takes responsibility beyond the city limits. Direct greenhouse gas emissions are to be reduced to net zero by 2040. For the first time, the city also defines a target for indirect greenhouse gas emissions per inhabitant. These are to be reduced by 30 % by 2040 compared to 1990.
Climate Protection Target Net Zero Greenhouse Gases by 2040
The City of Zurich wants to become climate neutral by 2040. For the administration of Zurich, net zero applies by 2035. It is planned to include the new climate protection target in the municipal code: The referendum will take place on 15 May 2022.
Why does the City of Zurich have a Food Strategy? - Food accounts for one third of the environmental impact and 20 % of the greenhouse gas emissions of the goods we consume, and, it is important for health. With a self-sufficiency rate of 48 %, more than half of our food comes from abroad. It is therefore important to look at the entire production chain – including outside the city and national borders. The referendum of November 2017, adds the «promotion of environmentally friendly nutrition and information on the influence nutrition has on the global climate» to the municipal code. In addition, the «Milan Urban Food Policy Pact» is be implemented.
The energy policy of the City of Zurich aims to ensure an adequate, secure, environmentally friendly and resource-efficient energy supply whilst achieving significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy consumption.
2. Healthy Urban Environment
High environmental qualities in Zurich are the prerequisite offering everyone a healthy life in the city. High environmental quality includes protection from sound and noise, temperature, light and radiation, besides a high quality of air. These elements are an important factor for well-being in the city and, thus, contribute to health protection.
Heat Mitigation Plan
The Heat Mitigation Plan (2021) identifies the most important fields of action for heat mitigation and develops concrete approaches for action for the city. Stakeholders can draw on a wide-ranging toolbox to contribute to heat reduction in their respective spheres of action, both as a precautionary measure and directly.
Noise Protection Strategy
In its Noise Protection Strategy (2020), the city focuses on three areas with high potential impact: road traffic noise, noise prevention in planning and building, and everyday noise. The strategy defines goals and guiding principles, determines the fields of action and addresses the most important actors.
Air Pollution Control Action Plan
The goal of the Air Pollution Control Action Plan (2020) is to improve air quality. In order to reduce the amount of air pollutants, the City of Zurich relies on different measures: Pollutant limitation at source, effective control measures via the wallet, and regulations to protect the neighbourhood.
Urban Trees Plan
The Urban Trees Plan (2022) serves as the basis for long-term preservation and promotion of vital urban trees in the city. Overall, the area shaded by trees (crown area) is to increase across the entire city on average from approx. 17 % (state in 2018) to 25 %.
The plan sets guideline values regarding crown surface areas in street and green spaces as well as around residential and commercial buildings as targets for 2050.
3. Networked Urban Nature
Zurich complements urbanity with a variety of interconnected ecologically valuable habitats. Outdoor spaces and building shells provide habitats for native plants and animals. This ecological infrastructure ensures a high level of biodiversity and, thus, a high-quality supply of the environmental goods drinking water, air and soil, but also recreation, identity, climate and health.
Green Book of the City of Zurich
The Green Book (2019) shows how the green and open spaces of the city of Zurich are to develop in the future and sets out the goals and measures of Green City of Zurich up to 2030. Recreation and nature are focal points. Population growth and changing climate conditions are among the challenges.
Concept of Species and Habitat Promotion
The Concept of Species and Habitat Promotion provides basic principles and arguments for effective biodiversity promotion in urban areas. It points out concrete goals and measures on how this can be achieved in the City of Zurich. Moreover, in view of the ongoing loss of land, its strategies concern maintaining the existing quality and how to create new biotopes.
4. Intelligent Use of Resources
The city is a role model for resource conservation and an innovation driver for a circular economy. Zurich promotes technological, economic and social innovations. This is important for the careful and ever more efficient use of energy, water, soil and natural raw materials along the entire value chain. Material flows are reduced, slowed down and – where it makes sense – closed in cycles.
Sustainability Standards in Procurement
With around 28,000 employees, the City of Zurich is a large corporation. It constructs and maintains buildings, awards contracts to third parties and makes purchases. The expenditure for this amounts to two billion Swiss francs annually. This expenditure is made as carefully as possible in accordance with the City of Zurich's procurement guidelines: The most economically favourable solutions are to be found throughout the entire life cycle (production, use, disposal), which meet high environmental standards in addition to social aspects.
Greater Consideration of Climate Relevance in Purchasing
A study of the climate protection potential in procurement shows that obvious savings have already been realised for the most relevant product groups (March 2020). Further progress requires better data, a focus on user behaviour or a rethinking of conflicting goals. The climate protection contribution should be taken up in reporting.
Two examples of the City of Zurich's commitment:
- Procurement of recycled concrete / asphalt: Media release (in German)
- Ecological procurement of uniforms, Specialist article on the sustainable procurement of work clothes (in German)
Building and Waste
Two relevant strategies concerning specific requirements for sustainable construction and municipal services:
State and Measures in the Environmental Sector
Climate change, species extinction, resource consumption, population growth – What are currently the most important challenges? And how is the City of Zurich going about reducing the burden on the environment – globally and locally? What is being done to maintain the quality of life and to protect the population? With the Environmental Report, the City of Zurich regularly informs on its activities in the environmental field.
An Overview of the Environmental Quality in Zurich
Zurich has a good environmental quality. The air quality is very good by international standards, but the pollution levels on busy roads are clearly too high. One third of the city's inhabitants suffer health problems as a result of excessive noise pollution. 20 % of the urban settlement area is overheated in summer nights, so that some of the inhabitants are more frequently confronted with tropical nights than others. About 60 % of residents can easily reach open spaces with a high quality of life. The water quality in Lake Zurich and in the rivers is good, the drinking water quality excellent. However, the waters offer less good conditions for aquatic life. Ecologically valuable areas with high biodiversity are only gradually increasing, despite great efforts made by the city. In the case of light pollution in the urban area, the city advocates sensible measures so that people and animals are as undisturbed as possible when it is dark. The same applies to mobile phone antennas. In the case of transmitters on city territory, the city ensures compliance with the limit values.
The Earth's Boundaries
The Earth's boundaries in terms of pollution limits have been exceeded. Even if Switzerland's share of the total global impact is low – 0.2 % for greenhouse gases – the environmental impact per person is still many times over too high. Depending on the boundary considered, the main polluters are motorised private transport, heating requirements and food. This was shown in the first calculation on the City of Zurich's contributions. The results make clear that the average environmental impact is too high in five out of eight globally important areas, especially in greenhouse gas emissions and the impact on species extinction.
To reduce environmental pollution and relieve the planet, each and everyone needs to engage: administration, the population, the economy and research. The provision of energy, the production of goods and services must be as resource-efficient as possible, and the framework conditions must be designed in such a way that a sustainable lifestyle is taken for granted and, at the same time, there is room to accommodate different needs.
Climate Protection and Climate Adaptation
Climate change has long arrived in Zurich. In the last 155 years, the average temperature has already risen by a good 2 °C. The city is committed to active climate protection and is implementing measures to reduce direct and indirect greenhouse gas emissions in all climate-relevant areas – up until now, in accordance with the target of 1 ton of CO2 per person per year by 2050, as anchored in the municipal code. In view of the Paris Agreement, according to which man-made warming is to be limited to around 1.5 °C, the targets were adjusted. Should the people approve the new targets in the referendum mid-May 2022, direct emissions will be reduced to net zero by 2040 and indirect emissions will be reduced by 30% by 2040 compared to 1990.
The reduction of greenhouse gases is at the top of the political environmental agenda and is included in all strategies relating to the environment, energy and transport, as well as in public procurement. New municipal buildings meet the highest energy requirements, the buses of Zurich's public transport company will soon be powered solely by electricity, and the city is expanding its district heating network. For companies, private individuals and schools, the city offers various services for climate protection and resource conservation, for example environmental or mobility advice for companies or advice on heating system replacement.
The warming in the city is felt on hot days or tropical nights, which occur significantly more often than in the past. Around 20 % of the settlement area of the city of Zurich is already overheated at night. To react to this, aspects of urban climate are taken up by planning instruments, based on new principles laid out in the city's Heat Mitigation Plan (in German). Specifically, existing and new green and open spaces cool the surroundings and, thus, improve the local climate. In addition to heat mitigation, the challenges of climate adaptation due to increasing drought and extreme precipitation include water storage and flood protection, but also the increase of invasive plants and animals.
Personal mobility accounts for almost 30 % of the 13 tons of CO2 emissions produced annually by an average citizen of Zurich, with private motorised transport accounting for 17 % or almost two-thirds of this. The latter also emits pollutants into the air, causes noise and can lead to stress. Around 140,000 people in the city are burdened by excessive noise at their place of residence. Densification, new jobs and commuter traffic pose major challenges for urban transport policy. The focus is on climate protection, the reduction of noise emissions and the improvement of air quality.
An important goal of the Urban Transport 2025 programme is to make public transport as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic more attractive and to, thus, further increase their share of the total traffic volume. Although the share of private motorised transport is decreasing and at 25 % is low compared to other large cities, reducing the share to 20 % by 2025 remains ambitious.
Today, public transport handles 41 % of the total traffic volume, while cycling accounts for only 8 %. As far as air traffic is concerned, the kilometres flown per person in Switzerland increased by 78 % within 5 years (2010 to 2015) - and Zurich's population flies significantly more than the Swiss average. This places a considerable burden on the city's climate budget.
There is potential in the switch from fossil fuel drives to electromobility: with Zurich's electricity mix, 50 % of CO2 emissions can be saved if petrol and diesel vehicles are replaced. In addition, digitalisation should be increasingly employed as an opportunity for more sustainable mobility. The speed limit to 30 km/hour is an effective measure to make pedestrian and bicycle traffic safer and more attractive. In addition, a speed reduction reduces noise pollution and improves road safety, is effective, inexpensive and increases the quality of life.
Our diet is responsible for one third of environmental pollution and causes one tenth of greenhouse gas emissions. The reasons for this high share lie in the production of food, which pollutes the soil, water and air, reduces biodiversity and pollutes the climate. The most environmentally friendly products are those based on seasonal vegetable grown in the region. Greenhouse gases are produced in heated greenhouses, in the rearing of animals, but also in processing, storage, cooling and transport.
There is great potential for saving in avoiding food waste; the environmental impact of food could be reduced by 22 %. One third of all food in Switzerland goes to waste, two thirds of which would still be edible.
With its Food Strategy, the City of Zurich identifies challenges and opportunities, defines the direction for future measures and consistently implements them in the city's catering businesses. It advocates sustainable procurement criteria throughout the entire value chain, promotes sustainable production, the cooperation of regional actors and short-distance distribution. The City of Zurich has also launched a label of origin (Stadtpur) for local agricultural products and has already been able to reduce food waste in retirement centres by 18 % in 2021. Purchasing for municipal businesses is consistently carried out according to sustainable procurement guidelines.
According to forecasts by the Federal Statistical Office, Switzerland's population will continue to grow in the coming years. The Federal Government and the Cantons want to concentrate the population increase in the cities to prevent further loss of green and open spaces outside the settlement area through building. For the City of Zurich, this means around a quarter more inhabitants by 2040. In addition, the number of jobs in the city will continue to rise.
To be able to preserve green and open spaces for nature, agriculture and recreation in the vicinity of the city, the only option is to develop settlements inwards. The City of Zurich understands the growth of the residential and working population as a framework condition and opportunity to convert the demands triggered into advantages in quality urban spaces planning. It wants to develop public transport further and bring together residents and commerce in buildings so that people have the shortest possible travel distances. The city also wants to preserve near-natural and interconnected habitats of wild native plants and animals while providing sufficient recreational space for the population.
Economy and Finance
Current investments in the financial market support an economic approach that is far from the climate goals set in Paris and would lead to further global warming in the longer term. Companies are among the main polluters of the environment. It is therefore important to support and promote the transformation of the economy towards a more ecologically and socially responsible mode of production.
The City of Zurich assumes its responsibility at various levels: with a strategy for sustainable procurement and in dialogue as well as with consultations for more ecologically conscious corporate managers. In addition, the pension fund and the accident insurance company comply with sustainability criteria financial market players.
Ten years ago, the vision of a «2000-Watt Society» was developed at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. It is a model for energy policy which demonstrates how it is possible to consume only as much energy as worldwide energy reserves permit and which is justifiable in terms of the impact on the environment. It is possible when every person in every society limits their energy consumption to a maximum of 2000 watts.
Furthermore, at least 75 % of energy needs need to be met using renewable energy sources, meaning that on an annual basis only one tonne of greenhouse gas is given off per person per year. The 2000-Watt Society is Zurich’s approach to tackling climate change and the future conflict of resources.
Striking a global balance
Today, each person requires 17,500 kilowatt-hours of energy per year on global average, which corresponds to a continuous requirement of 2000 watts. In Switzerland the figure is three times higher – 6000 watts per person – while people in some Asian and African countries need barely a fraction of that figure. The vision of a 2000-Watt society makes it possible to strike a balance between industrialized and developing countries and for everyone to thus enjoy a good standard of living.
Using 2000 watts for a higher quality of life
The quality of life in the 2000-Watt Society does not entail any restrictions. On the contrary, security, health, comfort and the development of the individual are all improved, with incomes increasing by around 60 % over 50 years. On a global level, sustainability will be a necessary condition for peaceful social co-existence.
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology (ETH) and other institutions have confirmed that the vision of a 2000-watt society is feasible. They have been closely examining the largely unexploited efficiency and substitution potentials that exist in Switzerland and have come to the conclusion that a period between 50 and 100 years will be required for this vision to become reality.
To achieve this goal by 2050, the city of Zurich is making commitments in the following areas:
- Energy efficiency and renewable energies Comprehensive energy services are offered along with consulting for constructioncompanies to pass on the necessary expertise.
- Sustainable buildings
Almost all new constructions such as housing estates, school buildings and retirement homes, correspond to the Minergie Standard (for low-energy housing).
- Mobility for the future
Zurich promotes means of transport which make efficient use of urban spaces and energy resources, namely public transport, pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
Regular events to increase public awareness are held, such as the annual environment days and the Zurich Multimobil action day (where the inner-city is closed to cars).
To promote sustainable consumption the city uses measures like a wide range of recycling options, a strategy to widen healthy and climate-friendly food or a sustainable procurement strategy in the administration.