Delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the Paris Agreement and major infrastructure projects require large quantities of raw materials, including minerals. However, the extraction of these materials generates significant environmental impacts, such as biodiversity loss, mine waste (tailings), pollution of air and water and soil contamination. Switzerland works at an international level to reduce the environmental impacts associated with mineral raw materials and to promote sustainable infrastructure.
Mineral raw materials
The commodities sector will continue to face environmental challenges in the years ahead. Switzerland's commodities sector is vital to the Swiss economy, with nearly 900 companies operating in the area. In line with the Federal Council report 'The Swiss commodities sector: current situation and outlook' (2018), Switzerland aims to reduce the environmental impact of its extraction and trading activities, and to enhance environmental transparency and environmentally responsible corporate governance. In this context, Switzerland is working to strengthen existing international standards and to draw up international environmental guidelines for the sector, in particular by actively participating in the corresponding activities of UNEP, the OECD, and the UNECE.
At the last United Nations Environment Assembly, Switzerland co-sponsored the Resolution on the environmental aspects of minerals and metals management. This resolution requires member states to align their mining practices and investments with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and invites stakeholders from the public and private sectors to also do so. Switzerland is actively supporting UNEP with implementation of this resolution.
Sand resource governance is one of the biggest sustainability challenges of the 21st century, according to UNEP. Urbanisation and major infrastructure projects require large quantities of sand, gravel and aggregates. Sand is also found in many everyday items, such as glass, household products and cosmetics. Global demand for sand has therefore tripled over the last two decades, reaching 50 billion tonnes a year. This makes it the most extracted solid material in volume terms. Globally, this trend is expected to continue due to strong urbanisation and population growth.
Sand extraction presents major environmental problems in some contexts. While sand extraction can be satisfactorily managed in quarries, it is often also extracted in fragile environments, such as beaches, rivers and seabeds. In such areas, sand extraction has a major impact on ecosystems, biodiversity and wildlife, and affects fish and water quality, with local and global consequences. It is therefore important to develop knowledge to support decision-making and to strengthen best practice in sand extraction and use.
Mining waste (tailings)
Mining activities generate large quantities of hazardous and often toxic waste. This waste is stored in tailings management facilities that may pose significant risks to society and the environment if they are poorly constructed or maintained. The safe management of tailings facilities is therefore crucial for preventing failures and accidents. In light of this, UNEP supports various projects that aim to strengthen implementation of the UNECE Safety Guidelines and Good Practices for Tailings Management Facilities, within the framework of the Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents. The FOEN also helped develop and now monitors implementation of the Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management, initiated jointly by UNEP, the PRI and the ICMM.
Seabed mining in areas beyond national jurisdiction
Seabed mining – which has yet to occur – involves the retrieval of minerals (manganese, copper, nickel and cobalt) at depths of between 200 and 5,000 metres. The deep sea is the largest ecosystem on the planet and also the least understood, with less than 0.0001% of the deep ocean floor having been sampled and studied in detail. According to the scientific community, this type of mining could cause serious and irreversible environmental damage to the oceans and to marine life, and would jeopardise the world's climate (habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, turbidity, noise, temperature change and metal pollution, etc.) In areas beyond national jurisdiction, the International Seabed Authority (ISA) is responsible for managing mining activities and ensuring effective environmental protection. As a state party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), Switzerland is a member of the ISA.
Sustainable infrastructure is crucial to achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and influences nearly all 169 SDG targets. Around 75% of the infrastructure that will be needed by 2050 does not yet exist. The majority of this infrastructure will be built in developing countries, low- and middle-income countries, and emerging economies. The types of infrastructure we choose to build, its location, and the way in which it is designed, built and used have an impact on the environment and society. Infrastructure generally lasts for decades. The choices we make today are therefore crucial.
Switzerland works multilaterally to promote the highest environmental standards in this context, by participating actively in the corresponding activities of UNEP and the OECD. It has also set out voluntary commitments as part of the Batumi Initiative on Green Economy ('BIG-E'). In addition, Switzerland championed the resolution Sustainable and resilient infrastructure adopted by the United Nations Environment Assembly and supports its implementation.
Last modification 27.06.2023