Key aspects of environmental protection in Switzerland
Lakes, mountains and clean air are associated with Switzerland's quality of life. Beyond its picture postcard image, the natural environment is an integral part of Switzerland's identity and has forged the national spirit. To safeguard this environmental heritage the Federal Council and the people of Switzerland have implemented a series of concrete measures in recent years. Here are some of the key aspects of Switzerland's environmental policy.
Protection of natural resources
Population growth, increasing consumption and economic development: these are the three biggest factors impacting on natural resources. To ensure their sustainability, Switzerland encourages its citizens to consume resources responsibly and has put in place an environmental policy that promotes optimal techniques for their use. One area of action, for example, is to give priority to renewable energy in the use and production of resources. The policy on waste and primary products is to be developed as part of the green economy with the aim of further closing materials cycles, promoting the recycling of primary products, reducing both the demand for them and the creation of waste products.
Higher density urban planning
Urbanisation is in a constant state of change. It involves, however, the risk of urban sprawl where residential areas extend over wide areas with low density housing. The Spatial Planning Act, which was accepted by the people of Switzerland in March 2013, has two main objectives: to use available space more economically and to combat the excessive spread of building zones. This is an effective way to limit urban expansion and construction on farmland.
Contribution to the fight against global warming
Climate warming is a global problem. In Switzerland, various steps have been taken to limit the increase in atmospheric temperature to less than 2°C. The focus is on reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases, one of the main causes of global warming. In addition to a plan of action adopted in 2014, the carbon tax has been revised upwards. This affects in particular the construction and transport sectors, two major CO2 emitters.
Preservation of water quality: a national responsibility
Switzerland, which on occasions is referred to as Europe's water tower, has many lakes and waterways, such as the Rhine and the Rhone, whose sources are in Switzerland. The water purification stations which were built in the 1960s and 70s guarantee very high water quality. To eliminate micropollutants caused by phytosanitary products in agriculture, Switzerland decided to add a new step in the treatment of waste water in a hundred or more water treatment plants. The state of Swiss waterways is expected to improve by 2030 thanks to the new constructions under way and the renovation of existing water-treatment plants.
Maintaining biodiversity: long-term commitment
The differences in altitude, climate and types of soil have created a wealth of biodiversity in Switzerland with more than 50,000 living species. For some years the reduction in the area of natural habitats is having a negative impact on the balance of fauna and flora. More than 30% of species surveyed are currently under threat. In 2012, the Federal Council set 10 objectives in Switzerland's strategy on biodiversity, including the definition of protected zones that spearheads the action plan for managing biodiversity.
We breathe well but we will breathe better
The quality of air in Switzerland is good and is constantly improving. In the last 25 years the emission of fine particles in cities has fallen by more than 50%. To maintain these good results Switzerland supports the development and use of technologies that pollute the least. This is especially the case in the automobile industry – one of the most polluting sectors – where the Confederation imposes strict standards of CO2 emissions on the industry through the installation of high-performance filters and catalytic converters in vehicles.
Soils, a rich asset for environmental equilibrium
Soil is an essential part of environmental cycles and facilitates in particular the absorption of rainfall and the replenishment of groundwater tables. Nevertheless, urbanisation and natural reforestation are reducing the total area of available fertile land every year. The Federal Council has responded: it now supports farmers by offering them the tools to limit permanent damage caused by their use of the land, and trains specialists who advise building contractors on major development projects.
The countryside, an essential national asset
Respecting the integrity of the countryside improves the quality of life, conserves biodiversity, and helps to promote green tourism. In developing the Spatial Strategy for Switzerland, the Confederation identified the countryside as one of the key factors of any development project. This includes, for example, the definition of zones where the conservation of the countryside takes priority over every other project, including those concerning energy, industry or transport. The ambition is simple: respect and protect the countryside more today than yesterday!