In 2016 the so-called 'Responsible Business Initiative' was submitted to the Swiss Federal Chancellery. A key element of the initiative is the introduction of a legal obligation on Swiss-based multinationals to respect international environmental standards in all of their business activities worldwide. As the popular vote on the initiative is expected to take place in February 2020, Swiss-based companies should analyse whether they may be affected and, if so, determine appropriate implementation measures.
This article summarises key amendments to Swiss environmental laws which either came into effect in recent months or will come into effect in the foreseeable future. Recent developments in this area affect, among other things, plant and water protection, chemicals, non-ionising radiation, energy and CO2 reduction.
While the Federal Act on the Reduction of CO2 Emissions (CO2 Act) has had some success in reducing CO2 emissions, the average CO2 emissions of passenger cars have increased in recent years. As the existing law cannot sufficiently meet the ambitious goals of the Paris Convention, Parliament should agree on a revised CO2 Act that can provide for appropriate instruments to reach these goals.
The Federal Supreme Court recently ruled on the allocation of clean-up costs where certain polluters are exempt from liability. For the first time, the court discussed the question of whether a contaminated site owner's exemption from liability leads to a corresponding additional burden on the polluter which, through its own conduct, caused the clean-up measures or whether the additional burden passes to the canton and the municipality.
Various amendments to Swiss environmental statutes and ordinances have recently entered into effect or will come into effect in the foreseeable future. These new measures include certain amendments to the Energy Act, the Water Protection Ordinance, the Ordinance on the Prevention and the Disposal of Waste and the Ordinance on Protection against Major Accidents.
The Federal Council recently published its dispatch regarding the total revision of the Federal Act on the Reduction of Carbon Dioxide Emissions for 2021 to 2030. The parliamentary debate on the revision of the act will start in 2018. This will define the development and course of Swiss climate policy for upcoming years. Switzerland aims to tighten the act and reinforce its contribution to the limitation of global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
Contrary to the EU emissions trading system (ETS), thus far the Swiss ETS does not incorporate aviation emissions. In order to align and link the Swiss and EU ETS, the Swiss system must include these emissions. As such, the Federal Council recently adopted the Ordinance on the Acquisition and Reporting of Tonne-Kilometre Data relating to Distances Covered by Aircraft.
Various amendments to Swiss environmental statutes and ordinances came into effect in 2016 or will come into effect in 2017. These new measures include certain amendments to the adjustments to the Ordinance on Movements of Waste, a revision of the Ordinance on the Protection against Non-ionising Radiation and amendments to the Federal Act on Forests and the Ordinance on Forests.
Swiss environmental laws provide for certain requirements to allow new building zones and new buildings in areas that are affected by noise. To assess compliance with these requirements, noise measurements are required. In a recent decision, the Federal Supreme Court decided that a widely used method of measurement – so-called 'ventilation-window practice' – is not compatible with legal requirements.
The Federal Supreme Court recently decided on the environmental liability of owners that make their property available to landfill operators in return for financial compensation. The court also held that the cost-bearing duty of the initial property owner did not transfer to the heirs and so they must therefore be released from any cost-bearing duty.
Various amendments to Swiss environmental statutes and ordinances came into effect in 2015 or will come into effect in 2016. These new measures include certain amendments to the Ordinance on Air Pollution Control to reflect technical improvements and amendments to the Ordinance on the Reduction of Risks Relating to the Use of Certain Particularly Dangerous Substances, Preparations and Articles to align Swiss laws with international regulations.
The Federal Supreme Court recently decided three cases concerning the undertaking of construction activities in aquatic areas, which is limited by federal water protection laws and allowed only in exceptional cases. While only fixed installations that serve the public interest may be built in such areas, the authorities may authorise exceptions in certain circumstances.
The Federal Supreme Court recently decided on whether a canton is entitled to federal subsidies for remediation measures in connection with a project on a site that, without the building project, would not be in need of remediation. The court held that there is no legal ground obliging the confederation to subsidise remediation on sites that do not generally need it and that require remediation due only to a particular construction project.
The Federal Council recently enacted amendments to the Environmental Protection Act, the Waters Protection Act and the Gene Technology Act. The amendments relate to the ratification of the Aarhus Convention. Amendments to the Carbon Dioxide Ordinance and the Energy Ordinance have also entered into force, with amendments expected to the Ordinance on the Remediation of Polluted Sites and the Major Accident Ordinance.
Swiss agriculture is free of genetic engineering, with a moratorium banning genetically modified plants and seeds and banning animals from being imported and placed on the Swiss market. The main rules on genetic engineering concern agricultural products, foodstuffs, industrial activities and research and international commerce.
Pursuant to a recent amendment to the federal Environmental Protection Act, polluters may be required to provide appropriate security for the costs of cleaning up a contaminated site. The new approval requirement for the sale or parcelling of a contaminated site can considerably delay a transaction. It is therefore advisable to check the Register of Contaminated Sites and to involve the competent authority in good time.
Various amendments to Swiss environmental statutes and ordinances came into effect in 2013 or will come into effect in 2014. These new measures include stipulations that the sale or parcelling of land listed in the register of contaminated sites will be subject to approval by the responsible authority, as well as amendments which aim to reframe energy politics and facilitate the installation of small power-generating systems.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury is a global treaty to protect human health and the environment from the adverse effects of mercury. The convention will lead to amendments of the exceptions from the general prohibition to place on the market mercury-containing preparations or articles in Switzerland. The Swiss government has announced its intention to support the convention financially.
Federal case law on light emissions focuses on the legal provisions governing such emissions and the assessment of their harmful effects. Since no explicit provisions govern the maximum permitted amount of light emissions, the Environmental Protection Act provisions on the maximum emission values for air pollution and the act's general provisions on emissions apply.
The Federal Supreme Court recently confirmed the scope of the 'polluter pays' principle. The possessor of a contaminated site at the time of its clean-up is always a polluter for environmental law purposes and the persons that caused the pollution must bear the costs of the clean-up. The court specified that a cost share of between 10% and 30% might be inappropriate if the persons concerned are not responsible for the pollution.