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Environmental Protection in Switzerland

A GLOBAL FORCE FOR CHANGE

From causing the extinction of multiple species within its borders, to ravaging entire ecosystems through the creation of unsafe dams, to contributing to acid rain through unregulated factories, Switzerland kept up with the rest of the world’s developed nations in a drive to benefit from and assert control over nature. The people’s actions on individual and societal levels throughout the 19th and 20th centuries caused significant harm.

The turn of the 21st century looked nothing like these earlier times. In 2005, the Swiss government created a new Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) by combining efforts of the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests, and Landscapes with large sections of the Federal Office for Water and Geology. The agency defines “environment” as “covering not only forests, landscape, and water but also biodiversity, air pollution control, noise abatement, or natural hazards.” The agency wants to balance different needs–protecting the environment and developing strategies for sustainable management of resources.

Not only has Switzerland committed to taking action at home, the government plays a significant role in spearheading efforts to curb environmental hazards internationally. Swiss representatives helped develop and work hard to implement the Sustainable Development Goals that sets out “social, economic, and environmental milestones to be reached worldwide by 2030.” All 193 UN member states adopted the agenda in 2015. The Swiss take action to implement the recommendations through partnerships among cantons, businesses, civil society and academia. Switzerland also helps provide financial and human resources to support poorer countries in achieving the goals.

Beyond these goals, Switzerland was the first country to adopt a law for the reduction of CO2 gas emissions in 1997 and provided tax money to help achieve this goal. With regard to acid rain, Switzerland has already met internationally agreed upon targets for the reduction of relevant hazardous emissions. Harmful effects from agricultural practices, such as fertilizers and polluted ground water run-off, still pose a significant problem for the country. Only 6% of farmers use organic practices.

RED PAPERS WITH POWER

Research on ecosystems and how best to protect Switzerland’s fauna and flora thrived from the mid-1960s onward. Swiss researchers and officials participated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to gather data and publish Red Papers (a symbolic color used to heighten awareness of the most threatened species and ecosystems that needed urgent action on their behalf).

The first Red List paper to come out of Switzerland in 1977, focused on birds because of the excellent data available. Later papers included wider ranges of fauna, flora, and ecosystems at risk looking at tiny insects all the way up to vast areas of land. None of the information led to binding action until the formation of the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests, and Landscape (SAEFL, which merged into the FOEN).

The FOEN monitors and recommends policies to protect at risk species, both flora and fauna, as well as ecosystems at risk from human intervention. As in all countries, Swiss officials must balance the need for a thriving economy and low unemployment rate against concerns for a healthy environment. At least now the people are aware and care deeply about protecting their natural treasures and work hard to do so.
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