As you may know, Switzerland has an unusual tradition of direct democracy, with citizens able to propose laws and policies and put them to a referendum. It can be abused, and bad ideas turn up as well as good ones, so it would be wrong to idealise the system. But one thing we can say for it is that it creates a forum for public discussion.
Switzerland has often had a national debate on radical ideas, sometimes well ahead of other nations, if they get there at all. Earlier this year the country discussed and declined a basic income. In the past it has voted on gun control, executive pay, animal welfare, even on whether or not to abolish its army. This summer marks another interesting discussion – in September Switzerland will decide whether or not to adopt one-planet living in its constitution.
The ‘Green Economy Popular Initiative’ would commit the country to a circular economy, to dramatically reducing waste, and to drawing its ecological footprint back towards a sustainable share by 2050. If the people vote yes, Switzerland will be the first country in the world to enshrine a commitment to sustainable resource use in law.
It has a chance. It’s been proposed by the Green Party and the Social Democrats, and apparently around 60% of people are in favour. The government is not, fearing that it is too ambitious and would damage the economy. Advocates contest that, insisting that their vision does not conflict with economic prosperity. We’ll find out which way it goes on the 25th of September.
Even if the idea doesn’t pass the public vote, it can still provoke government action. It already has. These things take time, and the government has had long enough to devise a Green Economy Action Plan in response to the campaign. It has strengthened it again this year as the campaign has gathered more interest – it’s that deadline of 2050 that they are most keen to fend off, rather than the circular economy policies per se.
So it’s already made a difference, but it would make a much bigger difference if the vote goes through. It would inevitably be higher profile. It would get international attention. It would break ground on the circular economy as a national vision, mark a major democratic vote for sustainability, and who knows what it might go on to inspire?