Switzerland strengthens environment reporting

1997 survey marks "important step" towards integrated reporting, says Swiss government

The state of Switzerland's environment "remains unsatisfactory," according to the 1997 annual report from the Swiss environment ministry. The report gives the first ever "global overview" of environmental quality in Switzerland, according to the national statistical office, which collaborated in its preparation.

Several types of environmental problems "remain very serious or are worsening," the report reveals. Nitrate pollution from agriculture has not been reduced, and fine dust emissions pose considerable health risks requiring further measures to reduce them. Progress on noise pollution remains "completely insufficient," while soils and the landscape "continue to be used more and more intensely".

In other areas, improvements have been achieved but remain insufficient. Emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) have been cut by 20% and 30% respectively in the first half of the 1990s. However, emissions remain a half and a third respectively above legal limits, and are forecast to rise again from 2005. Likewise, air quality standards for nitrogen dioxide and ozone "remain greatly exceeded".

Despite the ministry's cautious summary of the state of the Swiss environment, the report reveals considerable progress on a number of fronts. One is heavy metal contamination in sewage sludge, which fell 20% between 1989 and 1994. Phosphate levels in rivers are also continuing to fall ten years after phosphates were banned in laundry washing powders.

"Impressive results" have been achieved in the separate collection of waste for recycling, the report notes. Currently, around 40% of municipal wastes are recycled, one of the highest proportions in Europe. The volume of municipal wastes incinerated or landfilled fell by 13% between 1989 and 1996.

For the Swiss government, much of the report's importance lies in its broad overview of environmental trends, extending beyond observations of the state of the environment to broader indicators of progress towards the goal of sustainable development.

For the first time, according to the national statistical office, "[the report's] primary goal is not to be a management report but to encourage a global approach presenting the state and evolution of the environment in a way that can inspire everybody to act in a responsible manner".

Follow Up:
Swiss environment ministry, tel: +43 31 322 9311; Federal statistical office, tel: +43 31 . References: "The Environment in Switzerland 1997: Facts, Figures, Perspectives," available in English, French, German and Italian.

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