Switzerland

   

Environmental Policies

#4
Key Findings
With a historically clean industrial sector and a slow phase-out of nuclear energy underway, Switzerland falls into the top ranks internationally (rank 4) with regard to environmental policy. Its score on this measure has improved by 0.1 point relative to its 2014 level.

The country has committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% relative to 1990 levels by 2030, including international credits. The actual domestic reduction is to be 30%. A state of net zero emissions (including credits) is planned for 2050. An ambitious set of emissions-reductions measures is under development.

Under an energy strategy passed in 2016, no new nuclear-power stations will be built, but existing stations may operate as long as they are deemed safe. Control of water pollution and waste management are particular strengths. The country’s public expenditure on environmental protection is substantially higher than the OECD average.

Biodiversity is a problem area, as the country has Europe’s lowest share of conservation areas for this purpose. Pesticide use on a per capita basis is high, despite the rather small agricultural sector.

Environment

#5

How effectively does environmental policy in your country protect and preserve the sustainability of natural resources and environmental quality?

10
 9

Environmental policy goals are ambitious and effectively implemented as well as monitored within and across most relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 8
 7
 6


Environmental policy goals are mainly ambitious and effectively implemented and are monitored within and across some of the relevant policy sectors that account for the largest share of resource use and emissions.
 5
 4
 3


Environmental policy goals are neither particularly ambitious nor are they effectively implemented and coordinated across relevant policy sectors.
 2
 1

Environmental concerns have been largely abandoned.
Environmental Policy
9
In this area, the most remarkable developments in recent years have been made through the integration of environmental protection and sustainability issues into a wide range of areas that both directly and indirectly concern environmental policy per se. Following the OECD’s strategy of green growth, Switzerland has launched several studies aimed at reconciling the goals of sustainability and economic development. Furthermore, Switzerland has in recent years developed several cross-sectoral strategies focusing on issues including noise management, pesticide mitigation, sustainability, biodiversity, climate change adaptation and forest management. New guidelines for integrated water management were published in 2011, taking into consideration the use and protection of natural water sources.

In 2011, the federal government decided to phase out the use of nuclear power over the course of the next several decades. In 2016, the “Energy Strategy 2050” was adopted by parliament and won a majority in a popular vote in May 2017. It aims to significantly develop energy efficiency and exploit the potential of hydropower as well as other renewable energies (e.g., solar, wind, geothermal and biomass). There will be no permits for the construction of new nuclear power stations or any fundamental changes to existing nuclear power stations. However, existing nuclear power stations may stay in operation for as long as they are deemed safe. A more radical initiative was rejected in a popular vote on 27 November 2016. It would have led to the shutdown of existing nuclear power plants in the near future. Three out of the five nuclear power plants would have been closed down by 2017.

Switzerland invests considerable sums in the area of environmental protection. For example, there are about 8,000 jobs related to protection of the environment at the federal level (500), the cantons (1,500) and the municipalities (6,000) combined. Public spending on environmental protection amounts to 0.7% of GDP, substantially higher than the OECD average of 0.5%. A new article (Article 84.2) was added to the constitution in 1994, stating: “Transalpine freight in border-to-border transit shall be transported by rail. The federal government shall take the necessary measures. Exceptions shall be permitted only if they are inevitable. They shall be specified by statute.” This article has not yet been effectively implemented, but the country has made enormous investments in improved railway infrastructure, particularly with regard to transalpine freight.

In certain regards, the ecological challenges facing Swiss policymakers have been much less demanding than in other countries. Switzerland never developed significant smokestack industries and industrialization took place as a decentralized process. Thus, Switzerland has no regions with large concentrations of industries with significant emissions. Nonetheless, the country’s record is mixed in terms of environmental policy overall, as demonstrated by the following:

• Switzerland is ranked very highly internationally in terms of controlling water pollution and has implemented significant environmental-protection measures as a part of its water-infrastructure planning.

• Air quality has improved over the past 25 years, but ozone and other threshold values are frequently exceeded, and legislation for more ambitious norms on CO2 reduction has suffered setbacks.

• Switzerland recently updated its national climate change mitigation policy. A broad combination of voluntary, regulatory and market-based instruments are expected to produce a reduction in emissions through 2020. The country has committed to reducing by 2030 its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% (measured against 1990 levels), which includes purchasing international credits that reduce emissions elsewhere. The targeted domestic reduction amounts to 30%. Switzerland has also announced a goal of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 (including international credits).

• Considerable success has been achieved in the area of waste management policy, especially with respect to hazardous waste. Furthermore, Switzerland’s recycling rate is one of the highest worldwide. On the other hand, the volume of household waste remains large.

• In Switzerland, 1.6 million people (every fifth inhabitant) are exposed to harmful or disturbing road traffic noise during the day and every seventh inhabitant to overall noise disturbances. Total traffic noise generates costs of around CHF 1.9 billion annually.

• Soil protection has improved.

• Average to high levels of success have been achieved in regulating the use of chemical substances.

• Policies seeking to prevent the release of hazardous materials into the environment have been very successful.

• There has been little success in terms of nature conservation and protection. The number of animal and plant species that have become extinct or are at risk of extinction continues to rise. In Europe, Switzerland has the lowest share of conservation areas for sustaining biodiversity. Biodiversity remains therefore one of the most pressing environmental challenges for Switzerland.

• Even though Switzerland’s agricultural sector is rather small compared to other European countries, pesticide use per inhabitant is one of the highest in Europe. Negative externalities and exposure risks are to be addressed by the “plant protection action plan” introduced in 2018.

In the 2019 national election, the green parties recorded a major increase in votes received. The green party increased by six percentage points its share of votes and the green-liberal party increased this by three percentage points, while the two major parties suffered losses of four (Swiss People’s Party) and two percentage points (Social Democrats) respectively. By Swiss standards this is a tectonic change indicating much better prospects for enactment of environmental policies. A major challenge for environmental policies in Switzerland remains the adequate and bona fide implementation of federal rules by cantonal and municipal institutions.

In December 2018, the National Council failed to find a compromise on revising the 2012 CO2 law. The Council of States delivered an ambitious draft of comprehensive measures in the fall of 2019. Should this draft be implemented, the target of reducing by 2030 domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 30% could be reached.

Citations:
OECD 2017: OECD Environmental Performance Reviews: Switzerland 2017, Paris: OECD

OECD 2019: Economic Surveys. Switzerland, November 2019, Paris: OECD

Ingold K, Lieberherr E, Schläpfer I, Steinmann K, Zimmermann W 2016: Umweltpolitik der Schweiz: ein Lehrbuch. Zürich/St.Gallen: Dike Verlag.

Global Environmental Protection

#4

To what extent does the government actively contribute to the design and advancement of global environmental protection regimes?

10
 9

The government actively contributes to international efforts to design and advance global environmental protection regimes. In most cases, it demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, contributes to their being advanced and has introduced appropriate reforms.
 8
 7
 6


The government contributes to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes. It demonstrates commitment to existing regimes and occasionally contributes to their being advanced and/or has introduced some appropriate reforms.
 5
 4
 3


The government demonstrates commitment to existing regimes, but does not contribute to their being advanced and has not introduced appropriate reforms.
 2
 1

The government does not contribute to international efforts to strengthen global environmental protection regimes.
Global Environmental Policy
9
Global environmental policy is high among Switzerland’s foreign-policy priorities, and the country has played a significant role in designing and advancing global environmental-protection regimes. However, as a small country, Switzerland has limited independent influence. The European Union has taken a leading role in this area. Thus, Switzerland’s impact depends in large part upon efficient collaboration with the EU.
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