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Green economy: a dialogue between the state and the economy

Speech from Dr. Bruno Oberle, Director of the Federal Office for the Environment at the Swiss Green Economy Symposium, on Friday 18 Januray 2013.

Ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to be able to explain to you briefly what the state can contribute to a green economy. You have given me the most important slot in the list of speakers, that is to say, the final one - which means that the state has the final word.
That is very kind of you, and I would like thank you for this nice gesture.
But of course we all know that if we want to push forward with a green economy in Switzerland, we can only do this by engaging in dialogue.

The task of environmental policy is to regulate access to natural resources so that they remain available for use in both a stable quality and quantity. (If we replace the term "resources" with "money", we have a fairly accurate description of the National Bank's constitutional mandate...)
Natural resources are a scarce commodity - just like money - and one that is also an essential factor in any production process. If natural resources such as water, soil, clean air or raw materials are no longer available in sufficient quantity and quality, then not only is our quality of life at risk, the economy is also seriously affected.

Resource policy and economic policy therefore always overlap.

Today we are discussing the green economy. Definitions have already been provided by my fellow-speakers: thank you very much. There is not much more I can add to this.

A green economy means increasing resource efficiency - at all stages of the value creation chain:

  • From raw materials extraction to
  • production,
  • transport,
  • trading and
  • consumption through to the
  • disposal, recovery and reuse of waste materials.

Our current production and consumption patterns are a threat to our natural resources. In Switzerland we currently consume almost three times what our planet can provide. Worldwide, this figure is about 1.5 times. If we think of this in terms of annual salary, then by mid-August we have already spent our available funds for the whole year.

At DETEC, the Federal Department

of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications, to which the Federal Office for the Environment belongs, our aim is therefore to increase efficiency in Switzerland threefold.

Ladies and gentlemen it will take us many years to achieve this aim. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. And if we are to perform well, Switzerland's economy needs to be in top form. Because to succeed in creating a green economy, our industry and businesses need to be innovative and capable of using and offering resource-efficient processes and products.

Politics needs to create general conditions which are compatible with economic activity. This means taking into account the impact of all political measures proposed on employment, competitiveness and economic growth. Goals set should remain as stable as possible, and implementation deadlines need to be generous enough. For this to happen, players in politics and industry need to communicate closely.

Symposia such as today's provide an excellent communication platform, and I would like to thank you for this opportunity to exchange our thoughts and ideas.

So, what is on the political agenda? We do not act only at national level, but in a highly globalised context. This is partly because environmental problems do not stop at national boundaries;  therefore they can only be addressed if we work together at an international level. This realisation is not new. What is new, however, is the attention given to the issue of a green economy, which rose on the international political agenda six months ago at the UN Conference in Rio. This, perhaps, was the unusual thing about the Rio+20 summit-

- and something that was rather neglected by most commentators - that business and industry sent out very clear signals in favour of the green economy. The Swiss business federation, Economiesuisse, has joined in with this international trend - and rightly so: the OECD also now pursues a Green Growth Strategy and the EU the ‘Roadmap to a resource-efficient Europe'. There is considerable investment in resource efficiency throughout the world.

So when we talk about the green economy, it is no longer a question of whether or not we want the economy to be green. Nor is it a question of Switzerland going it alone. It is a question of the Swiss economy's international competitiveness - does Switzerland know how to make the most of the opportunities offered by the green economy and can it position itself internationally with innovative products and processes? Switzerland has what it takes to play and exemplary role, with its high levels of education and research. We have a high standard of living. And the Made in Switzerland quality label enjoys international renown and credibility. Strengthened by resource-efficient green technology, it will be fit for a future on the world markets.

The importance of the green economy in Switzerland is not only growing internationally, it is also gaining in domestic significance.

  1. Two years ago the Federal Council gave the federal administration six tasks relating to a green economy. These included pushing forward with the Cleantech Master Plan improving environmental product information  and making the taxation system more environmentally friendly.
  2. We have made good progress in all these areas. The Cleantech Master Plan has been approved and first steps have been taken in implementing it. Important work has been done on environmental product information.

    In the next few weeks, DETEC will present a report on the work done so far to the Federal Council, and I hope that the federal government will approve further measures to promote the green economy. Several suggestions on how to do so have already been made.

    You will understand that I cannot give you any further details until the Federal Council has made a statement.

    But you may be sure that any measures  will be drawn up in conjunction with partners from industry, science and civil society. We do not want to rush blindly ahead towards achieving a green economy; we want to take firm, confident steps, the right steps.

  3. Political pressure to create a green economy is also coming in the form of popular initiatives and parliamentary requests.
    The main initiative at the moment is that of the Green Party, entitled "for a sustainable and resource-efficient economy". This initiative wants to change the Federal Constitution for it to include the aim of reducing Switzerland's ecological footprint by the year 2050 to a level where it ‘does not exceed one earth, extrapolated to the world population'.
  4. The Federal Council will soon decide how it wishes to react to this proposal for a political ‘sprint', and whether or not to make a counter-proposal to the initiative.

  5. and thirdly - as we have already heard today from a number of people - measures have already been taken in climate and carbon policy, spatial policy, the Energy Strategy 2050 and on a voluntary level. Swiss businesses have already made an important contribution to forming a green economy.

And so it is clear that the external and domestic factors provide Swiss businesses and industry with a unique opportunity to develop to become part of a green economy, to use natural resources efficiently and to access new markets. It is now a matter of how well we manage this transition and what the state can do to support this process. 

At this point I would like to make clear that we cannot achieve this without state intervention. Don't forget: the economy needs regulation. As far back as the Middle Ages, merchants in the market place were glad that a place was clearly designated where people could trade, and that there were rules on the size of market stands and the precision of the weights and measures used - and that there were overseers ensuring that these regulations were kept.

In providing an operative framework, the state ensures a level playing field for all.

This is the basis of effective competition. But regulations are not an end in themselves. They are a means to an end - and in our case, they set a path towards creating the

green economy.

Besides rules and regulations, we also have market-based instruments which have been tested over the past few years.

You are familiar with these - for example, incentive taxes to control the total pollution load and emissions trading which allocates emission production rights.

We have also tested voluntary measures with varying levels of success.

  • An agreement with car importers which aimed to reduce the petrol consumption of new cars was less successful. Instead, this is now regulated in the new CO2 Act.
  • By contrast, agreements over PET recycling have worked very well: we have recycling levels of 81%, and I believe it is fair to say that everyone is very happy with this.

The state drew up and tested these voluntary measures in conjunction with businesses, and wishes to pursue this voluntary system. It is typically Swiss, guaranteeing a high degree of transparency and planning security. It requires fair and open dialogue, international

coordination and clear agreement.

Such agreements must never aim simply to kill time.

This year, we will start work on voluntary agreements with respect to resource efficiency. Rest assured that we will work with you and listen to your ideas.

The role of the state must also be to establish ecological transparency and true costs. In a green economy, markets need to be assessed ecologically, so that prices reflect the real value of natural resources. This allows the buyer to make an informed decision, taking into account a product's environmental biography. This will hopefully increase the incentive to create resource-efficient products.

The role of the state is also to promote research and help create networks to trigger innovation in the green sector.

It is essential that we coordinate resources in private R&D and make use of all existing instruments to encourage market penetration, from information to promoting exports.

And last but not least, the state also needs to cooperate in international bodies to guide the international economy towards a greener future. Agreed international standards create a level playing field for Swiss companies in competitive global markets.

Ladies and gentlemen, the state is constantly working to set incentives in the right places. It cannot do this by wielding a stick, or by imposing regulations. If we want to keep up the pace and continue in the right direction, we should not be training for a sprint, but set our sights on a marathon - to be more precise, a marathon run with others. And we can only achieve this aim if we, as partners, engage in dialogue.

I was given the final speaker's slot today. But if you look at the programme you'll see that Kurz Lanz from economiesuisse will be rounding off the day with a some concluding words. Because he will follow immediately after me, I do not interpret this as giving business the final word, but as an excellent example of successful dialogue.

Many thanks to economiesuisse for instigating this symposium and many thanks to you all for your attention.

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Last updated on: 18.01.2013

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