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Sound and independent information
on the environment

Switzerland

Air pollution (Switzerland)

Why should we care about this issue

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Air pollution has adverse effects on people, ecosystems, buildings, materials and the climate. In Switzerland, it causes respiratory and cardiovascular diseases and is responsible for premature deaths. Sensitive ecosystems are over-fertilised by nitrogen compounds, which cause acidification. Acute impacts on plant life can also be found. As a result, ozone exposure can cause harvest losses of up to 15 % in agriculture, depending on specific crop and weather conditions. In addition to these harvest losses, materials and buildings also suffer damage.

The Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment aims to protect human beings, animals and plants against harmful effects or nuisances and to maintain the fertility of the soil.

 

The state and impacts

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Air quality in Switzerland has improved greatly over the past 25 years. Immissions of particulate matter, ozone and nitrogen dioxide, as well as of nitrogen compounds continue to be excessive. This is largely due to emissions of particulate matter (PM10), nitrogen oxides (NOx), volatile organic compounds (NMVOC), and ammonia (NH3).

Young children, the chronically ill and some elderly people are particularly affected by air pollution. Especially at risk are people who live close to busy roads. A particularly serious problem is exposure to excessive levels of particulate matter (PM10). Air pollution in Switzerland is responsible for respiratory and cardiovascular disorders, leading to around 3000 to 4000 premature deaths per year (ARE/FOEN, 2008).

Air pollution in Switzerland generates external costs totalling several billion Swiss francs every year. In the health sector alone, the costs are estimated at CHF 5.1 billion for the year 2005 (ARE/FOEN, 2008). None of these external costs are borne by the polluters.

 

The key drivers and pressures

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Ultimately, it is human behaviour that determines emission levels. Mobility, energy consumption, industrial and agricultural production and consumption patterns are the principal contributors. On the other hand, it is the development and resolute use of clean technologies that reduces emissions. This process can be supported by tightening limit values and providing economic incentives, such as the CO2 levy on fossil fuels that was introduced on 1 January 2008.

 

The principal sources are transport, industry, households and agriculture (emissions 2008).

 

Households

Industry

Agriculture/forestry

Transport

Total

 

%

%

%

%

%

SO2

27

68

1

5

100

NOx

9

25

11

55

100

NMVOC

18

57

8

17

100

CO

16

15

11

58

100

NH3

2

2

95

2

100

HCl

34

66

0

0

100

HF

7

93

0

0

100

Particulate Matter PM10 1

14

29

30

27

100

Pb

42

28

1

29

100

Zn

3

8

0

89

100

Cd

24

69

0

7

100

Hg

15

84

1

0

100

PCDF

44

45

2

9

100

CH4

1

15

83

0

100

N2O

2

19

75

4

100

1 currently under revision

 

 

 

 

The 2020 outlook

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Emissions are projected to decrease to 2020

Under current policies, emissions of air pollutants will further decline towards 2010. After 2010, with continuation of current policies and additional measures, emissions of NOx, SO2, NMVOC and ammonia are expected to continue to decline.

 

Number of exceedances will strongly decline

With current and proposed national and international legislation and the expected effect on emissions, the number of exceedances will strongly decline by the year 2020.

 

Premature mortality from particulate matter is projected to decline further

If proposed national and international policies are put in place, the number of life-years lost will continue to decline to 2020. Where health effects are caused mainly by primary emitted combustion-related aerosols such as soot, health improvements may even be greater.

 

Critical loads may continue to be exceeded to 2020

While emissions of acidifying and eutrophying substances are expected to decrease, critical loads, particularly those for eutrophication, may still be exceeded in 2020.

 

Existing and planned responses

Published: 26 Nov 2010 Modified: 23 Nov 2010

Since the air pollution control legislation entered into force, the Confederation, the cantons and municipalities have adopted a raft of measures. These include at federal level strict emission rules for heating systems, industrial facilities and motorised vehicles, as well as quality standards for fuels. In addition, incentive instruments such as the mileage-related heavy vehicle tax (MRHVT) or the levy on volatile organic compounds (VOC) have been introduced. Furthermore, public transport is supported vigorously.

Additional measures with lasting effect need to be taken. These include deploying the best available technology in vehicles and facilities, and establishing more economic incentive instruments such as the CO2 levy on fossil fuels that was introduced on 1 January 2008. The 2006 action plan against particulate matter requires particle filters for diesel vehicles of the public transport sector as well as for building machinery and also more stringent emission limit values for particulate matter from wood-burning systems and industrial facilities. With these measures, Switzerland has taken a further, substantial step to reduce emissions of air pollutants. With its updated clean-air strategy of 11 September 2009, the Swiss Federal Council has presented a set of abatement measures for further assessment and development of proposals for later decisions. These measures address all the sectors that emit air pollutants (industry, combustion facilities, transport and agriculture) and include regulations as well as incentives. Furthermore it is essential to continue to use existing incentive instruments such as the MRHVT and the levy on VOC.

In addition, air pollution needs to be reduced through sustained measures taken in other countries. Therefore, further efforts must be made at the international level (notably under the UNECE Geneva Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution).

These measures should make it possible for most air pollutants to reach the Swiss air quality standards as well as internationally adopted critical loads and levels by the year 2020, in order to satisfy the requirements of human health and environmental protection.

  

References:

ARE/FOEN 2008: Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE), Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN), Externe Kosten des Verkehrs in der Schweiz, Aktualisierung für das Jahr 2005 mit Bandbreiten, Zusammenfassung, Bern, 2008.

 

Disclaimer

The country assessments are the sole responsibility of the EEA member and cooperating countries supported by the EEA through guidance, translation and editing.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
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1050 Copenhagen K
Denmark
Phone: +45 3336 7100