European Ministers Commit to “Big” Efforts in the Transition to a Green Economy: Q&A with Martine Rohn-Brossard of Switzerland

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Projects & Initiatives
10 February 2017

Significant efforts to support the transition to a green economy were agreed by European Ministers at the Eighth Environment for Europe Ministerial Conference. In this Q&A, the GGKP sits down with Martine Rohn-Brossard, Deputy Head of the International Affairs Division, Federal Office for the Environment, Switzerland to discuss what was agreed by Ministers and how this will support the transition to a green economy across the Pan-European region and beyond.

Last Spring, in Batumi Georgia, European Ministers endorsed the Pan-European Strategic Framework for Greening the Economy – a tool supporting countries’ efforts in transitioning to a green economy and, at the same time, contributing to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Governments also launched the Batumi Initiative on Green Economy (BIG-E), which consists of voluntary commitments to operationalize the Strategic Framework.

Can you explain the importance of the Strategic Framework and BIG-E, and how these efforts will support the transition to a green economy across the Pan-European region? 

Countries in the Pan-European region face very different challenges as regards the transition to a green economy. There is definitely no “one size fits all” approach. However, it is crucial to provide countries with a common vision and objectives. This is what the Pan-European Strategic Framework for Greening the Economy intends to do. The Framework gives a direction, it is the “compass” for this journey while respecting national and regional specificities. Concretely, it helps ministers and policy-makers in the dialogue within their government and beyond, among multi-stakeholders. By being this “compass”, it facilitates not only public but also private initiatives, voluntary and legally binding. The Batumi Initiative on Green Economy (BIG-E) complements the Framework, at an operative level: countries, organisations and other stakeholders are invited to announce concrete actions to achieve the objectives of the Framework, for the period 2016-2030, and regularly report on their achievements. Hence, the BIG-E mobilises action across the region, and importantly, enables the sharing of experiences and best practices – the GGKP BIG-E database is a very easy tool to inspire and learn from each other. At national level, identifying actions foster inter-ministerial dialogue and policy processes, which is essential. I am really pleased to see the enthusiasm that was raised by BIG-E: already 113 commitments were submitted by 24 countries and 12 organisations all over the world. May this inspire further action! 

Switzerland was a leading champion in the development and endorsement of the Strategic Framework and BIG-E.  Why were these efforts so important for Switzerland? And how do you expect they will support Switzerland’s green economy ambitions? 

Switzerland is very committed to the Green Economy for almost a decade now. In 2010, the Federal Council mandated action for a Green Economy and adopted the Green Economy Action Plan in 2013 with no less than 27 measures to strengthen the circular economy and reduce Switzerland’s environmental footprint. In April last year, it approved a report on what was achieved and decided on further developments. It is along this strong commitment that Switzerland has been engaged in the development of the Strategic framework and the “BIG-E”. Knowing that almost three-quarters of Switzerland’s environmental footprint arises abroad - because we import so many goods and materials that are produced abroad - our involvement at international level is very important to us. So the efforts involved in developing the Framework and BIG-E are of particular importance to Switzerland and support our ambitions.

Under BIG-E, countries and organisations were invited to identify and voluntarily commit green economy actions. Can you provide examples of the types of commitments Switzerland has made under BIG-E?

Last June, Switzerland announced five actions to be implemented on the national level, covering different focus areas such as, (improve the measurement and valuation of natural capital) and economic sectors such as (economy-wide, manufacturing). One of them is the platform It is a network of experts offering advice to companies, especially SMEs, to increase their material and energy efficiency and so, reduce their costs and environmental impacts throughout their value chain. Enterprises can first take an online quick assessment and if needed, get more targeted advice in face-to-face meetings. Since its creation (2014), Reffnet has already achieved great results: 183 enterprises have registered to get advice; the number increased by 40% every three months. 42 enterprises already have adopted concrete measures that altogether will allow cumulated economic savings of CHF 20 million per year. This amounts to the environmental footprint of 2’500 persons leaving in Switzerland. And the cost-benefits ratio seems very positive: until today, every 1 Swiss franc that was invested by the government in this program allowed to save about 12 Swiss Francs. Despite those encouraging results, we are aware that there is still a lot of potential: we estimate that in Switzerland, around 40’000 businesses have significant resource consumption and could therefore potentially benefit from Reffnet.

Another example relates to phosphorus. It is a fundamental element to life - essential for present and future food security. However, only a few countries in the world can extract phosphorus, their stock will deplete in a few decades, and we do not have substitutes. In Switzerland, we face a real challenge with respect to phosphorus: we need to import it - the agricultural sector alone consumes about 90 % of phosphorus imports - and we loose it in production processes. Therefore, last year, the Swiss Federal Council introduced environmental regulation to promote phosphorus recovery and reuse. With this regulation, Switzerland is the world’s first country to have compulsory phosphorus recovery and reuse from sewage sludge. The new regulation entered into force on 1.1.2016. It provides a transition period of 10 years, to adapt technologies and existing infrastructure.

In order to share experiences and promote global learning, governments encouraged the promotion of the BIG-E through existing knowledge-sharing platforms, such as the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP). How can a strong knowledge base help to support the implementation of the BIG-E commitments and what type of support do you hope to see from the GGKP? 

I strongly believe that sound policy-making need a strong knowledge basis, and that government and other stakeholders can greatly learn from each other. Switzerland already beneficiated from the BIG-E: thanks to BIG-E, we found out that the Netherlands is also working on phosphorus recycling and recuperation, and were able to put our national experts in contact to exchange experiences. We use also the information available on specific countries for our daily work, e.g. to prepare high-level political bilateral meetings, among others. GGKP, as the leading global network on green economy platform can also support countries in identifying gaps and synergies. Coordination and synergies are especially needed for areas such as the environment - the BIG-E can be a very powerful tool to that end. 
Martine Rohn-Brossard,
Deputy Head of the International Affairs Division,
Federal Office for the Environment,