Pilot-Study for the Analysis of the Environmental Impacts of Commodities Traded in Switzerland

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October 2018
Authors: 
Niels Jungbluth, Christoph Meili
Source: 
ESU-services

Commodities such as metals, crude oil and products such as diesel or staple foods (e.g. coffee, wheat, etc.) are often traded by Swiss companies, without being physically transported to Switzerland. Like this, they are excluded from foreign trade statistics or input-output analyses. Associated environmental impacts have not been evaluated in former studies.

A pilot-study closes this gap. It answers key questions for 16 selected commodities:

  • What quantities are traded by Swiss companies?
  • What are the environmental impacts caused by the extraction, production and transport of these commodities?
  • Which countries of origin are relevant for the global production of these commodities?

Information about the traded quantities was gathered from literature, statistics, online company reports and interviews with experts and documented in the study. Environmental impacts are analysed through a set of seven “footprint indicators”. Depending on the commodity, between 20 to 65% of global trade is traded by Swiss companies. Extraction, production and transport to market cause, per year, more than 4 quadrillion (4e15) ecological scarcity points. Commodities from the energy sector (e.g crude oil) have the highest relevance regarding mass traded, eco-points and kg CO2-eq. Most relevant are production in USA, Russia, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Indonesia and China.

Environmental impacts caused by the production of commodities traded by Swiss companies are substantially higher than the direct environmental impacts of Swiss production and consumption. In any commercial transaction, in addition to the goods, the associated environmental impact changes hands from the seller to the buyer. Therefore, the trading sector has a direct connection to monitoring and maybe influencing large environmental impacts. If there were better steering measures for such trades, environmental impacts might be reduced. A first measure to get there would be to increase transparency on origin, production method and related environmental impacts for commodities traded globally.

Countries: 
Switzerland