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Study warns of ‘harmful subsidies’ for Swiss biodiversity

Water is being diverted from many small mountain streams to state-supported hydroelectric power stations. Lena Gubler, WSL

Over 160 subsidies – mainly in the fields of transport, farming and energy – are damaging biodiversity in Switzerland, a new study concludes.

This content was published on August 24, 2020 - 12:42
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Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Alpine nation has committed to adapt or abolish by 2020 any state aid that harms biodiversity.

However, a study published on August 24 by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) and the Biodiversity Forum of the Swiss Academy of Sciences says the authorities have approved over 160 grants that are having a negative impact on biodiversity - while at the same time promoting their intended objectives.

The list of subsidies include state aid towards small hydroelectric power stations, reduced tax rates on mineral oil, and tax deductions for under-used residential property.

“The biodiversity crisis could be alleviated if subsidies were only granted when it can be demonstrated that they do not impair biodiversity,” said Irmi Seidl a researcher at WSL.

Biodiversity is under threat around the world. In Switzerland, about one-third of plant and animal species are under threat, according to the environment ministry.

The authors of the study said the subsidies identified were not only ecologically problematic, but also economically inefficient. They said the initial damage caused to the environment often required public money to sort out later on - and then additional funds to help support biodiversity.

And such costs were rising, the study said. In 30 years, damage to fertile soil or clean water is expected to cost around 4% of gross domestic product.

To slow the decline in biodiversity and to comply with the Swiss Biodiversity Strategy, the authors issued a number of recommendations. They demanded, for example that biodiversity be properly considered when reviewing subsidies across the country and that state aid to farmers be linked to the promotion of biodiversity.

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