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Switzerland takes on Green Economy debate

On 20 September, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and the Geneva Environment Network  hosted a thought-provoking discussion on the Green Economy ahead of the first ever nationwide vote on a popular initiative on the subject in Switzerland.


On 25 September, Swiss voters went to the booths to reject a proposal tabled by the country’s Green Party by 63.6% to 36.4%.


Under the proposal – which the Canton of Geneva voted in favour of - the Swiss constitution would have been modified and a raft of policy changes would have been initiated. These would set the country on a course to lowering its ecological footprint by using resources only as quickly as they are renewed by the planet.


Green Economy policies are a crucial part of countries’ efforts towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, said Philip Gass, Senior Researcher at the IISD. Meanwhile, for developing states Green Economy policies can ensure that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced without compromising their development needs, he stressed.


It is also important to consider the national versus local effects of Green Economy actions, underlined Andrea Bassi - founder of the KnowlEdge green consulting company. While no studies currently exist that can attribute nation-wide economic benefits to Green Economy policies alone, the case for their economic viability can easily be made at municipal level, he pointed out.


Benjamin Simmons, head of the Green Growth Knowledge Platform, also underlined the importance of continuing the debate, particularly due to trade-offs in terms of job losses in ‘brown’ sectors. He acknowledged that a full social inclusiveness remains a major challenge for a Green Economy but positive trends in decoupling greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth can already be observed across the globe.


During the subsequent discussion, participants considered how lowering material consumption could be hard for a country like Switzerland that is heavily dependent on high-tech sectors, but also that this initiative would ensure it remains a leader in this field. It was underlined that - whatever the result - the referendum and nationwide discussion is a success in itself and that other countries would benefit from holding them too.


Switzerland Green Economy Action Plan adopted in 2013 and its further development over the period 2016-2019 is the centrepiece of the Green Economy in the country. It contains various measures in the priority areas of consumption and production, waste and raw materials, and cross-cutting instruments.


Switzerland also continues to play a key role at the Pan-European level in driving the Batumi Initiative on Green Economy, which has seen over 100 pledges for making the Green Economy a reality made by countries and organisations in the region.


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