Switzerland should do more to address threats to biodiversity


27/11/2017 - Switzerland has a low-carbon energy mix and falling emissions, and is working to restore the health of its rivers and lakes. It should now try to reduce threats to biodiversity and seek more sustainable consumption patterns, as high levels of waste generation and road traffic are putting pressure on the densely populated Central Plateau, according to a new OECD Review.


The OECD’s third Environmental Performance Review of Switzerland finds that despite being one of the greenest OECD countries in terms of energy supply, greenhouse gas emissions and domestic material consumption per unit of GDP, Switzerland urgently needs to address pressures on its biodiversity. Four out of five Swiss reptiles, two in three amphibians and one in three mammals and birds are classed as vulnerable or endangered, including 60% of the country’s bats. These are high percentages by OECD standards.


There is also room to broaden environment-related taxes, currently among the lowest in the OECD as a share of GDP and decreasing. For example, Switzerland’s carbon tax is high at EUR 77 per tonne but narrowly applied: transport fuels are exempt, as are companies that voluntarily commit to reducing their emissions. More taxes could also be applied to reduce environmental and health damage from pesticides used in agriculture, and mobility pricing – such as congestion charges – could be introduced.


“Switzerland is one of the greenest countries in terms of its energy supply, but unsustainable consumption patterns and biodiversity loss are driving down its environmental performance,” said OECD Deputy Secretary-General Masamichi Kono, presenting the Review in Bern. “As a world leader in research and innovation and a finance hub, Switzerland is in a good position to foster development of green alternatives and encourage climate finance.”


Switzerland has the lowest carbon intensity of OECD countries, thanks to high shares of renewable and nuclear energy and a service-led economy. Fossil fuels make up less than half the primary energy supply, far below the OECD average of 84%, with coal accounting for less than any other OECD country at below 1%. However, Switzerland’s decision to phase out nuclear energy means it will need to scale up the deployment of renewable sources and energy efficiency solutions.


Switzerland is one of the first countries to start removing micro-pollutants from municipal sewage, and is working to restore its rivers and lakes, many of which suffer from pollution or have been structurally modified due to construction and hydropower infrastructure.


At the same time, the Swiss produce the second-highest amount of municipal waste per inhabitant in the OECD (after Denmark), up 27% since 2000 to 742 kg per head in 2015 and rising. Waste from construction and demolition produces 15 million tonnes a year. The country also has high road traffic intensity compared to other OECD countries.


The Review’s recommendations include:


  • Move forward with implementation of the country’s long-awaited biodiversity action plan, ensuring quantifiable objectives are set and clear indicators used to measure progress.


  • Find ways to improve consumption patterns, such as preparing federal waste prevention and resource efficiency strategies and increasing taxation of road fuels.


  • Expand the carbon tax base and phase out remaining tax exemptions and rebates on fossil fuel use.


  • Ensure coherence between different river health restoration objectives and their financing.


  • Further reduce emissions of air pollutants, including ammonia, in accordance with the polluter-pays principle.


  • Foster eco-innovation, including through venture capital, and capitalise on Switzerland’s position as a major financial centre to promote green investment.


Download an embeddable version of the Review.

Read the Review Highlights online in English, French, German or Italian.


Read more on the OECD’s Environmental Performance Reviews:


For further information, or to arrange an interview with the author, journalists should contact Catherine Bremer in the OECD Media Office (+33 1 45 24 97 00).


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