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Environment sometimes lacks priority, says Swiss minister Leuthard

Oct 30, 2012

The Swiss Minister for Environment, Transport, Energy and Communication, Doris Leuthard, was recently in India to participate in the UN Conference on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad. She speaks to OnWorld South Asia’s Rahul Kumar about what holds back countries from committing themselves to a better environment and how Switzerland is upholding its part of the global promise.

Doris Leuthard

OWSA: Over the last couple of years, we had a number of international meets on environment. Still the world is not a greener place. Why is that so?
Doris Leuthard: To take action is always difficult. In Switzerland, I think, we are one of the most sustainable countries all over the world. Every year we are doing something even better than the previous year, and I agree in a lot of conferences you have a lot of commitments—we should, we could, we do, but nothing is happening. I think, as long as you have other priorities—growth and creating jobs—environment sometimes lacks a little bit behind.

OWSA: You talk about commitments not being met and that action is not really taking place. At the same time, the rich nations want commitment from the countries of the South. When it comes to putting in money or finances for biodiversity, we find that the rich countries fall behind. How do we push them or work towards that?
Leuthard: I don’t agree with you. On climate change we had fast tracked. Switzerland financed, other industrial countries financed but the developing countries blocked off an international agreement because every country has to contribute and tell what are your actions. You indicate the money or tell what you are doing, what are your plans. When you do not have a legally binding system all over the world—every country from America to India says we also make our way—it does not work.

Here we know from the past in climate change we have a responsibility. That’s why we pay much more and we may also finance. The Kyoto protocol too… well it is mainly Europe, Switzerland, Norway and perhaps New Zealand. All other states say goodbye. Therefore as long as you do not have a new convention, this will continue.

Regarding biodiversity, every country decides itself what it wants. It is a country-driven process. We are also working on a strategy and ever country decides if they would like to cut their trees, how would they like to treat their forests. They decide themselves. Therefore Switzerland increased the money in general for the ODA to 0.5 per cent last year with regard to more prioritising of environmental aspects. So, we do what we have to do but others also have to do as well. Therefore, I think it is not always a question of financing. It is technical cooperation, education, information and every country has to fulfil its responsibilities here.

OWSA: You have been talking about abandoning the ‘unanimity approach’. If the countries do not arrive at a consensus at international meetings how does the world move forward?
Leuthard: I do not know where this (unanimity approach) comes from. We have in a lot of UN organisations rotations, we have in some organisations universal approach. We have a lot of different approaches. It seems to me difficult that one country can block a consensus. This I think is a little bit difficult but normally by a lot of dialogue; by a lot of understanding and discussions, its possible to find solutions. If you look at a lot of multi-lateral processes they take a lot of time because of the system. Everybody can block a solution and therefore it needs a lot of understand and pragmatism. For the moment, pragmatism is not the overall goal.

OWSA: You would be meeting Indian government officials and ministers. What is your main thrust in your talks with them?
Leuthard: The main goal is actually resource efficiency because Switzerland cares a lot about resource efficiency. We are all consuming more than what is available on this planet. You are coming up quite fast and we should go down in our consumption and here I think we should meet. We should make more interlinkages between transport, energy also building construction because it is all about resources.

Here we can bridge these gaps together and we can help by technology. Through small solutions in our behaviour, we can make the best of this world. Switzerland with India has a long relation. You have excellent engineers here but we also need qualified people at a lower lever who need a lot of information. Here we discussed, technology transfer, manufacturing, education of people and what Switzerland can contribute to solve these issues.

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