Switzerland Sustainability Issues

The critical environmental and sustainability issues of Switzerland:

  1. Air quality

The level of atmospheric PM2.5 – tiny air pollutant particles small enough to enter and cause damage to the lungs – is 14.5 micrograms per cubic meter, higher than the 13.9 micrograms OECD average. Pollution from respirable particulate matter (PM10), ozone (O3) and nitrogen oxides (NOX) continues to exceed the legally prescribed ambient limit values. The scale of ammonia (NH3) pollution also exceeds the critical limit value.


  1. Water Quality

Half of the 20 largest Swiss lakes suffer from eutrophication and lack of oxygen, particularly in areas of intensive farming. Micro-pollutants, from urban sewage or diffuse agricultural sources detected in surface waters. Roughly 40% of rivers significantly modified as a result of land use. River flows altered and artificial barriers hindering fish movement.

Hydropower production also altered river flows.Nutrient loads still very high at 10% of monitored river stations, would be higher if more smaller rivers were monitored.

Levels of nitrates from fertilisers exceeded the legal limit of 25 milligrams per litre (mg/l) in 15% of sample areas in 2014. This increased to 40% in areas where there is a high degree of arable farming.


  1. Healthcare

Society is ageing, life expectancies are rising, and premature death is less likely. These trends are expected to continue and become global. The Federal Statistical Office expects the number of retired people in Switzerland to increase by 50% by 2045.

The average age of foreigners living in Switzerland is 36, while that of Swiss is 44, there is a higher percentage of foreign residents of working age than of Swiss citizens. Without exceptionally strong productivity growth or a continuing inflow of young foreign labor, in the long run, the retirement age or tax revenue and pension contributions must be raised or the level of benefits reduced.

Besides an ageing population, the increasing demand for health care services has made the Swiss healthcare system one of the most expensive. Since the introduction of compulsory basic health insurance in 1996, health costs have more than doubled. In the four years from 2010 to 2014, per capita Swiss health care costs rose 10.2%.


  1. Biodiversity and habitat loss

Half of Switzerland’s natural habitats and more than a third of its animal and plant species were under threat – much more than in most European Union countries. About half of 235 Swiss habitat types are endangered, with a high proportion of threatened species. Only 6.5% of its land is set aside as protected area. 

Overall 36% of evaluated species have been categorised as threatened. As of the late 2000s, 79% of reptiles, 62% of amphibians and a third of mammals are classified as endangered, vulnerable or critically endangered. About 60% of bats are threatened mainly due to pesticides.

The percentage of threatened habitats and species in bodies of water and wetlands is particularly high. Most bodies of water and mires in agricultural areas were drained in the last century, while rivers, streams and lakes were robbed of their natural dynamic. Around one ­fifth of Swiss watercourses are today completely artificial, heavily damaged or culverted.


  1. Waste generation

Because of its high standard of living, Switzerland has one of the highest municipal waste volumes in the world, at 742kg per capita in 2015. Volume of municipal waste increased by 27% since 2000, in line with private consumption.