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The Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) is responsible for the sustainable use of natural resources, including soil, water, air and forests. The FOEN’s tasks include minimising natural hazards, protecting the environment and reducing risks to human health from excessive pollution, maintaining biological diversity and representing Switzerland in international environmental policy arenas.
Natural resources are limited. Often already overexploited, their use continues to intensify. The aim of Swiss environmental policy is to ensure that natural resources are maintained over the long term and continue to be available to future generations.
The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) contributes in four key areas. At national level, it is responsible for protecting the population against natural hazards. It protects the environment and human health by reducing the adverse effects of pollutants, noxious substances and noise. It works to preserve and promote biological and landscape diversity. Finally, the FOEN is responsible for Switzerland's international environmental policy.
Global warming is putting societies and economies at risk. This calls for resolute action. Switzerland has resolved to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020 - and by 30 per cent if other states adopt similar commitments. Each year, CHF 200 million generated by the CO2 tax are spent on upgrading the thermal performance of buildings, while a further CHF 400 million are redistributed to individuals and businesses. At international level, Switzerland is promoting integration with the European emissions trading system and is calling for climate change adaptation in the developing world to be financed in ways that assign costs to emitters.
Efficient technologies, processes and products need to be harnessed to minimise environmental impacts while simultaneously boosting competitiveness. Acting on behalf of the Swiss Federal Council, the FOEN delivers the fundamentals for putting Swiss industry on a resource-conserving track. This work includes enhancing the setting for innovation, especially in the cleantech sector. Moreover, the FOEN generates standardised, internationally coordinated tools by which to assess natural resource consumption and the environmental impacts of products and services, thus improving transparency for consumers.
Soil is Switzerland's scarcest non-renewable resource. With its numerous economic and ecological functions, soil is vital to human well-being. It provides food, biomass and geothermal energy, stores and purifies water, and is the very basis of biodiversity. Undisturbed soils are an archive of natural and cultural history. They are the solid ground on which buildings and transport infrastructure rest. The FOEN strives to ensure that all these functions continue to be performed in order that Switzerland always has enough soil to serve all essential uses in the future.
There is no absolute safety against natural hazards. This makes natural hazard reduction so important. Tailoring land uses to prevailing natural hazards is the most effective route. Spatial planning provides the tools. Where this approach does not suffice, further structural or organisational measures are needed to avert hazards and minimise damage. Safety infrastructure needs to be maintained over long periods of time and adapted to changing circumstances. Assuring the financing of such infrastructure in the long term therefore has high priority.
Biodiversity - the natural diversity of genes, species and ecosystems - is vital to human existence. Its services are considerable: they include fertile soils, effective medicines, CO2 storage, protection against landslides, and the pollination by insects of crops and plants in the wild. Switzerland has committed internationally to take action to halt the loss of biodiversity. The FOEN is working on behalf of the Federal Council and Federal Assembly to design a strategy that maintains, over the long term, a rich and resilient biological diversity with all its services.
The Swiss Constitution, together with 10 federal acts and 52 statutory ordinances, establishes the basis for Swiss environmental policy. The FOEN is the federal centre of competence designated to implement this policy. It also has ministerial functions. The FOEN's four prime tasks are:
Environmental monitoring provides facts and figures on the state of the environment and changes to it. This gives early warning of environmental problems.
Working on behalf of the Federal Council and Federal Assembly, the FOEN lays the groundwork for statutory instruments designed to maintain natural resources and safeguard their sustainable use.
The FOEN helps cantonal authorities and other executive agencies implement laws and ordinances. This work involves, for instance, providing guidance on enforcement, designing economic incentive systems and voluntary schemes, providing advice on protective measures and acting as agent for payments for ecological services.
The FOEN is responsible for Switzerland's contributions to international environmental policy. Switzerland's aim is to make such policy integrated, comprehensive and efficient. Work concentrates on selected themes: climate, biodiversity, chemicals and waste, forests and water.
The FOEN currently employs some 455 staff to carry out its tasks. It administers a budget of about CHF 1.2 billion. This amounts to approximately 1.9 percent of the Swiss Confederation's budget. About 89 percent of these funds is paid out in subsidies and in redistributing incentive tax revenues (CO2 and VOC). Eleven per cent of the FOEN's budget is spent on personnel, material and operating costs.
The FOEN is an office of the Federal Department of the Environment, Transport, Energy and Communications (DETEC).
1971: Creation of the Federal Office for Environmental Protection at a time when awareness of environmental issues was just developing.
1989: Merger with the Federal Office for Forests and Landscape Protection to form the Swiss Agency for the Environment, Forests and Landscape (SAEFL).
2006: Merger with large sections of the Federal Office of Water and Geology (FOWG) to form the present Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN).
Since 1997 the offices of the FOEN have been located at Papiermühlestrasse 172 and Worblentalstrasse 68 in Ittigen just outside Bern. The work "Naturkonserven", created by the architect Andrea Roost and the landscape designer Ernst Samuel Eigenheer, stands in front of the main building P172. The oversized cans from which indigenous wild plants grow are intended as food for thought along the lines of "replacing or preserving nature" ?
High resolution photos of the FOEN main building
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