Achieving net-zero emissions in our operations by 2030

In 2019, we committed to reaching net-zero emissions in our own operations by 2030. In making this major new commitment, we built on the many initiatives and achievements of our Greenhouse Neutral Programme, at the same time bringing our efforts to a new level of ambition.

Net-zero emissions is a challenging concept. It means that at a certain point in time the net amount of emissions entering the atmosphere must reach zero. In other words, for every tonne of CO2 that cannot be avoided yet, another tonne needs to be removed from the atmosphere and stored permanently through so-called carbon removal solutions. To keep global warming well below 2°C as stated in the Paris Agreement, the world needs to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and stay at net-negative emissions throughout the second half of the century. The climate models predict that this will take billions of tonnes of negative emissions per year.

It is important to note that claiming “net-zero emissions” is not the same as claiming “emission neutrality”. The former marks a clear – and necessary – step up in climate change mitigation efforts. Here’s the difference in a nutshell:

  • Emission neutrality: Emitters pay third parties to avoid equivalent amounts of emissions to those the emitters cannot yet avoid themselves, by purchasing carbon avoidance certificates (commonly known as “carbon offsets”).
  • Net-zero emissions: Emitters pay third parties to remove equivalent amounts of emissions to those they cannot yet avoid, by purchasing carbon removal certificates (also known as “removals”).

The illustration below shows the difference between these concepts and how they have evolved at Swiss Re:

"Net-zero emissions" concept (graphic)

The illustration shows how the different stages of emissions management at Swiss Re have been impacting the climate balance.

We have set our internal net-zero emissions target for 2030, which is highly ambitious. It requires us to take concerted action under the motto: “Do our best, remove the rest”.

Firstly, we are further reinforcing our efforts to reduce the CO2 emissions caused by our own operations. We have set a target to reduce emissions from air travel by 30% in 2021, relative to the 2018 level, and will define a new, ambitious target for the post-pandemic period. In addition to this, we are committed to continuing to reduce our energy intensity (kWh/FTE) by 2% per year throughout the decade, relative to the 2018 level.

Secondly, we need to purchase carbon removal certificates from impactful projects. As the carbon removal market is still in its infancy, we are keen to catalyse its development through our early engagement.

The most important step to meet these two objectives is the announcement of a triple-digit real internal carbon levy we made in 2020. You can read more about this under “Introducing our triple-digit Carbon Steering Levy”.