Daniel Dubas: In terms of sustainability, every country in the world is actually a “developing country”. This applies even to Switzerland, despite its high standard of living – or perhaps precisely because of it. The problem here is that we have high levels of consumption – our consumption of energy and resources is enormous, so consequently we have a large carbon footprint. Likewise, the scale of biodiversity loss in Switzerland is also cause for concern. In other words, there is a need for action in many areas. To overcome global challenges, all countries must meet their responsibilities – it’s vital that we look both within and outside our national borders, and strive for joint solutions. Agenda 2030 takes account of this by addressing both domestic and foreign policy issues.
Agenda 2030 was adopted by the United Nations in 2015. We’re now at the halfway point. How are we doing in terms of reaching the goals?
In the first few years, significant progress was achieved around the world in areas such as hunger, health and equal opportunities. However, the Covid-19 pandemic thwarted some of that progress and set many countries back in their efforts, especially in the Global South. In Switzerland, we were in a stronger starting position to tackle this crisis. Although Covid-19 forced us to slow down somewhat on Agenda 2030, we’ve been able to make progress on most of the goals – for example, on resource efficiency. Overall, Switzerland is on the right path, but the pace is still too slow. It is imperative that we speed up the transformation towards sustainable systems.
What progress has Switzerland made on the goals relating to water usage and water protection?
We’re doing well in terms of drinking water supply and sewage disposal, but nowhere near as well when it comes to the water quality of bodies of water. Many Swiss rivers are highly polluted along certain stretches, primarily due to fertilisers and pesticide residues from agriculture. In order to improve this situation, we need to resolve the conflicting aims of agriculture and environmental protection. Another point that’s often overlooked is that our responsibility for water consumption and the pollution of bodies of water extends beyond our own borders. In fact, Switzerland’s water footprint abroad is enormous – for example, we import products such as avocados or beef that are produced using large quantities of water in regions that are often already arid. A considerable proportion of the water we consume indirectly is used and polluted elsewhere. These “spillover effects” also occur in other areas, such that three quarters of our ecological footprint and two thirds of our carbon footprint occur abroad.
Our consumption makes it harder for other countries to become more sustainable. How does Switzerland rise to this responsibility abroad?
Switzerland has built up considerable expertise and experience across many different fields. For instance, it actively participates in numerous international cooperation programmes dedicated to supporting affected countries in both public and private sectors. It’s also important for Swiss companies to operate responsibly throughout the supply chain both in Switzerland and abroad – specifically in terms of working conditions, human rights and the environment.
Is it even possible to measure sustainable development?
Measurability is an important issue – and not always an easy one to address. In principle, it is certainly possible to measure the various aspect of sustainable development, and the UN has defined numerous indicators for all of the goals. Switzerland is very conscious of the importance of data and statistics, which is why the Swiss government collaborated with the UN to organise the UN World Data Forum in Bern in 2021 with a view to improving global data collection and analysis in relation to Agenda 2030. For many years, Switzerland has had an indicator system known as MONET 2030, which the Federal Statistical Office uses to demonstrate sustainable development, as well as the Cercle Indicateurs system of indicators for cantons and cities.