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The Environment in Europe – State and Outlook 2020

Despite considerable progress, Europe continues to face great environmental challenges. This is the conclusion reached in the new Environment Report from the European Environment Agency (EEA). Compared with its neighbouring countries, Switzerland received mixed scores depending on the environmental sector concerned.

EEA (2019) The European environment — state and outlook 2020: knowledge for transition to a sustainable Europe
Image: EEA

Every five years the EEA publishes a report on the state of the environment in Europe (The Environment in Europe – State and Outlook, SOER). The report also describes the upcoming challenges in European environmental and climate policy.

The SOER Report 2020 evaluates data from 39 countries in relation to important environmental issues such as climate, biodiversity, air, water and soil. Pollution due to human activity is also recorded, by sectors such as energy use, mobility, housing, production, agriculture and consumption.

The overriding challenge for the coming decades is to achieve global development that aligns social, economic and environmental aspects. Europe is facing sustained problems such as loss of biodiversity, resource use, the effects of climate change and the environmental risks to health and well-being.

Environmental trends are analysed alongside the current situation. Transnational comparisons indicate among other things how Switzerland is performing compared with other countries.

Variable performance of Switzerland

Overall, Switzerland’s environmental pollution has fallen in the last 20 years. Switzerland is characterised by high resource productivity, which means low consumption of national resources relative to a high gross domestic product. Switzerland’s greenhouse gas emissions per head are among the lowest in Europe.

Legal requirements and technological advances in the country have ensured cleaner air and water. Most of the forests are now healthy. The number of contaminated sites continues to fall thanks to comprehensive remediation measures. Switzerland has also succeeded in separating energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from economic growth.

Despite this progress, natural resources continue to be under pressure. Switzerland’s worst result is obtained on biodiversity: It has the lowest proportion of protected areas as a percentage of land area of any European country. Plant protection products in soil and water are also causing loss of biodiversity. Switzerland also generates high levels of municipal waste. Its consumption and production behaviours mean the country is more than three times above the environmentally compatible level. Three quarters of Switzerland’s total environmental pollution is now generated in foreign countries and affects their climate, biodiversity and the availability of water. This pollution has a harmful effect on the health and well-being of the local populations and their natural habitats and on species diversity.