Interview with Doris Leuthard

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Interview of the brazilian news agency ABRA with Federal Councillor Doris Leuthard

What are the Swiss expectations for the Rio +20 event?

Switzerland is committed to work constructively towards a successful and ambitious outcome of the Rio+20 Conference. The Conference should renew and strengthen the political commitment to sustainable development. In addition, Switzerland is convinced that the Rio+20 Conference could be an important milestone in the transition towards a green economy that contributes to a sustainable development and poverty eradication. We therefore proposed the establishment of an international Green Economy Roadmap which contains concrete measures and targets. With regard to the second theme of the conference, the strengthening of the international institutions in charge of sustainable development matters, we propose on the one hand to strengthen the governance for sustainable development by establishing a Council for Sustainable Development that replaces the existing Commission for Sustainable Development. This Council should be better equipped to monitor progress in achieving sustainable development for example through peer reviews. On the other hand, we propose concrete measures for reforming the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in order to strengthen the international environmental regime.

In 1992, the city of Rio de Janeiro received the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which gathered 172 countries. In your opinion, what has changed ever since?

The results of the Rio Conference in 1992 such as the three Rio Conventions, the Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration were milestones in international policy making. They have not only influenced the international debate but also the national sustainable development policy. Poverty could be reduced in certain parts of the world. There are success stories in international environmental policy-making like the protection of the ozone layer or the fight of regional air pollution. However, overall it is evident that many problems still exist or have even become more pressing and that we are still a long way from developing in a sustainable manner. We are therefore committed that Rio 2012 will not fall behind 1992 and that it brings us a step closer to the future we want.

What are the measures adopted by the Swiss government for increasing sustainability policies?

Switzerland has taken actions in most key areas of sustainable development and the government’s commitment has certainly increased over the last 20 years. Amongst others, the federal government has adopted four sustainability strategies since 1992 (1997, 2002, 2008, 2012). They identify focus areas and concrete measures for advancing the implementation of sustainable development in Switzerland. In addition, sustainable development was anchored in the federal constitution in 1999. Furthermore, we have established governance mechanisms like the “Interdepartmental Sustainable Development Committee” (ISDC) for horizontal coordination, the “Forum for Sustainable Development” for vertical coordination, and the “Sustainable Development Dialogue” for stakeholder participation. Moreover, Switzerland has also put in place a comprehensive monitoring, controlling and evaluation mechanism for the sustainable development strategy including a sustainability assessment methodology on the project level.

How does the Swiss government interact with Swiss companies in order to deal with environmental issues?

The main role of the Swiss government is to create the appropriate framework conditions that allow for companies to conduct their business in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner. A mix of regulations and marked-based instruments as well as voluntary measures are needed. Besides, the Swiss government occasionally works directly with companies or private institutions. The EURO 2008 would be such an example. The European Football Championship in 2008, was the first major football tournament to feature an integrated sustainability strategy which will also help to offer guidelines for major (football) events in the future. The strategy was based on the three target dimensions of sustainable development – the environment, economy and society/culture – and contains a total of almost 60 measures divided into 12 topics. These measures were implemented both by Euro 2008 SA – the company responsible for organizing the tournament – and the public sector, in particular the host countries and cities, as well as other private organizers. Published in November 2008, the EURO 2008 Sustainability Report assesses how the targets laid down in the sustainability strategy were reached, and formulates proposals for future major events.

In your opinion, developed countries should work together with emerging countries to elaborate a more integrated project related to environmental as well as development sustainability issues?

Switzerland considers international cooperation for sustainable development as very important. Emerging countries play an important role in international politics. Switzerland therefore considers it important that these emerging countries are contributing constructively to the international debate, take on their responsibilities and show strong leadership for sustainable development.

Can the international commerce be affected with the advances of the debate on sustainability

The international trade in goods and services and international investments have positive and negative effects on the environment. Thus, environmental issues must be reflected in trade policies so as to ensure that trade and environmental protection are mutual supportive components of a green economy. The Rio+20 process is an opportunity to harness the resulting potential for green economies, such as the opening of markets for green technologies and the promotion and dissemination of innovations for example. To contribute to advancing the sustainability debate in the field of trade and environment Switzerland has organized several workshops with UNCTAD for the people involved in the Rio+20 process. The workshops help countries, particularly developing countries, to identify development opportunities as well as threats related to the interlinkages of trade and environment. Switzerland, like a growing number of countries, is committed to streamline environmental provisions into the WTO negotiations, free trade agreements and investment protection agreements to promote sustainable development.

As for the poorer countries, which struggle to find ways to develop their economies, how to persuade them on the importance of sustainability and help them to reduce poverty at the same time?

Any development that takes place at the cost of environmental degradation or that increases social inequalities is not sustainable in the long run. It might lead to short term gains, but will reduce opportunities in the future and cause costs on different levels. Developed countries have learned over time that it is much more costly to reverse environmental damages than to avoid them in the first place. It is therefore in the interest of developing countries to embark on a sustainable development path right away and avoid the mistakes that were made by developed countries. Developing countries can thereby also benefit from the knowledge and technology developed in the last years in order to have a development that profits all people, expecially the most vulnerable and poor, and that protects our environment.

How do you see Brazil in this process?

Brazil as the host country of the rio+20 conference has a special role. The host country should have a clear vision for an ambitious outcome and take an active role in order to constructively advance the discussions and negotiations. We consider it important that Brazil leads by example. Switzerland stands ready to support Brazil in this endeavor.

Is there any government partnership in the sustainability area?

Our constitution outlines sustainability issues such as poverty reduction and the protection of the environment as core to our foreign policy. In our bilateral cooperation with, we have many projects related to sustainability issues. For example, Switzerland provides funding to a pilot project to recycle used refrigerators in Brazil in order to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gases that massively contribute to ozon layer depletion and global warming. In multilateral fora, we have a close cooperation with several states, for example in Central Asia, and collaborate in order to advance sustainability issues.

Do you believe that the current international financial crisis can divert the debate on environment and sustainability issues?

In the debate about the financial crisis, sustainability is core. While the attention in the short term might be on the financial stability, the long term perspective of the debate is a financial sustainability that allows to tackle sustainability issues such as poverty eradication and environmental protection.