Switzerland as a Guide for Environmental Policy
The case of Switzerland:
For decades Switzerland has consistently been ranked among the best of other OECD countries for its policies towards the environment; most recently, it ranked 1 out of 180 countries in Yale’s Environmental Performance Index (EPI), that measures environmental health and ecosystem vitality. People all over the world associate Switzerland with its beautiful flora and fauna spread between the majestic mountains and lakes of its region. Because of this association, Switzerland has worked for the last five decades to pass ambitious environmental policies that have done wonders for its air quality and water purity. Starting in the 1970’s, the country’s policies have been implemented so successfully because of their large public support, thorough integration with economic sectors, and high financial expenditure. Over this time of long-running environmental action, a relationship has developed, linking Switzerland’s natural environment with the Swiss people’s feeling of national identity.
Through a dual effort by the people and government of Switzerland, many effective policies have been passed towards preventing damage of the environment. The three comprehensive plans that make up the country’s recent climate policy are The Green Plan (2013), Environmental Protection Act, and Swiss Biodiversity Strategy (2012). Notable among these policies are plans to protect natural resources, maintain biodiversity, prevent urban sprawl, and preserve water quality. As Switzerland recognizes the importance of its natural resources, the government has passed legislation that will protect it through various sustainability measures. Additionally, its vast array of habitats spread between the tall mountains and deep lakes of the country, have allowed over 50,000 species to exist there; Switzerland has also passed numerous legislation to protect these areas and the species living on them. Switzerland has identified urban sprawl as one of the biggest threats to its natural environment. Hence, it has implemented the spatial planning act, which advocates for higher density urban planning, where cities grow upwards, rather than out. Often called “Europe’s water tower” Switzerland has also implemented additional policies to further its robust water purification system; it has decided to add a new step in the treatment of waste water to eliminate micropollutants found in phytosanitary products.
Switzerland’s commitment to sustainability has led to it being the first country to integrate a green economy into its legislature. This means that after this 2016 vote, Switzerland will focus more on resource efficiency and implementation of a circular economy. It has the additional goal of reducing its resource consumption to a level that can be replicated world wide. Previously the Swiss consumed resources at rate that would require three Earths to sustain. Their new aggressive policy has cut that consumption to a realistic amount in which only one earth is required to sustain.
What makes Switzerland different from many other countries is its powerful dual support for climate policy by both the government and the people. The natural environment of mountains, lakes, and countryside is part of Switzerland’s national identity, and because of this, the Swiss feel a strong commitment towards protecting it.
Other countries using Switzerland as a guide should note this strong dual commitment towards policy. They should also note that this commitment presents itself not only through support of the policy, but also in its creation. Swiss climate policies are created to be integrated across sectors, be those in the economy, the public field, the government, or elsewhere.