Switzerland has four distinct seasons. Its varied topography and elevations make it a country of microclimates. Depending on the location and the time of year, it can be as cold as Siberia or as mild as the Mediterranean.

Trees line the banks of the River Aare in the canton of Solothurn. The golden and russet autumn leaves are reflected in the water.
A beautiful autumn day – the River Aare, not far from Solothurn. © astrogator /

Owing to its central location in Europe, Switzerland finds itself at the intersection of several major climate zones. Winds from the Atlantic transport moist and mild maritime air towards the Alps and have a considerable influence on the climate. These westerly winds mean that both winter and summer are mild but also bring rain throughout the year.

The Alps – a natural climatic barrier

The Alps form an important climatic barrier between the north and south of Switzerland. The region also has a multitude of complex microclimates, particularly in the valleys of Graubünden and Valais, which are noted for their dry climate. The 'Foehn' is another peculiarity of the Swiss climate. This downslope wind blows over the Alps from autumn to spring, bringing with it very mild, dry weather.

Link between temperatures and topography

Temperatures are conditioned by altitude and vary considerably in Switzerland. The average temperature on the Central Plateau is 1°C in January and 17°C in July. Ticino generally enjoys temperatures that are 2 to 3°C higher than those of the Plateau. The average temperature at an elevation of 1,500 metres is around -5°C in January and 11°C in July. At this altitude, precipitation in winter tends to fall as snow. Snowfall is rare in the lowest regions of western Switzerland (around Geneva), northern Switzerland (around Basel) and in the far south of Ticino.

The Alps – a bellwether of global warming

Switzerland is already starting to experience the impact of global warming: melting glaciers, recurring dry spells, heat waves and permafrost destabilisation. The annual average temperature rose by around 2°C between 1864 and 2019, with the largest increases occurring in recent decades. Models suggest that summers will become drier and discharge patterns of rivers and streams may change.

Switzerland can also expect continuing changes in extreme weather events, such as more heat waves and heavy precipitation events and fewer cold spells.

Cutting greenhouse gas emissions

Greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland decreased by 14% between 1990 and 2018. During the same period, 32% of all emissions in Switzerland were caused by passenger and freight traffic (excl. international air and maritime traffic), 24% by buildings, 24% by industry, and 19% by agriculture, waste management and the emission of synthetic gases. Switzerland is committed to meeting the internationally agreed target of limiting global warming. The CO2 Act aims to achieve at least a 20% reduction in 1990 levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions in Switzerland decreased by 14% between 1990 and 2018.