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SWIC: The Swiss contribution to the establishment of an international regime on Biodiversity


Can small players make a difference? A multilevel governance assessment of the Swiss contribution to the establishment of an international regime on Biodiversity (SWIC)

Somewhat kept in the background compared with climate change, biodiversity is still one of the most crucial issues linked with global environmental change. But despite an important institutionalization and much investment, successes remain limited. Part of the explanation might be that, as an ‘umbrella regime’, it covers and touches many complex and interlinked issues (conservation, forests, biosecurity, food security, trade in wild species, etc.). Maybe it also due to the fact that it lacks a strong leadership, as it was not a priority for the USA. This void has not been filled with Europe, as one could have expected. But it has left much political space for intermediate and small states, and multiple non state actors. It is thus a domain where coordination of multiple actors at all political levels is the rule, in contrast with domains with strong guidance. The understanding of this process and its consequences for the action has been neglected in the literature.


This project seeks to address this neglect by analyzing the multilevel process of policy formation and norms-building, taking the case of Switzerland as a marker. In spite of its modest size, Switzerland has been an important contributor to global environmental governance. It was an initiator of many international conventions and it is home to many international organizations, secretariats and other organizations or coordination mechanisms related to the environment. But there is no systematic analysis of these processes. This research project thus aims to understand and explain: 1) at the national level the process through which the Swiss positions in international negotiations are elaborated; 2) at the regional level, the processes of interaction and coordination with European countries and the EU regarding these issues; and 3) the role played by Switzerland in international negotiations.

Research Design

To address these, this project builds on the theoretical literature on policy formation, governance, organizational sociology and international relations. It will reconstruct historical information from documents as well as conduct qualitative interviews with former and current representatives of different organizations involved in negotiating a biodiversity-policy at the national, regional and international level. The analysis will examine the most salient negotiation rounds that have triggered position formation processes at the national level and the opportunities for national position formation processes that are independent of the international context. The results will contribute to the understanding and theoretical development of multi-level environmental governance, in line with COST IS00802 and to draw lessons to help improve the effectiveness of Swiss foreign policy on biodiversity matters.


  • Marc Hufty, Tobias Schulz and Maurice Tschopp (2013): The Role of Switzerland in the Nagoya Protocol Negotiations. In: Sebastian Obertühr und Kirstin Rosendal (Hrsg.): Global Governance of Genetic Resources. Access and Benefit Sharing after the Nagoya Protocol. Routledge Research in Gobal Environmental Governance. Routledge.
  • Tobias Schulz and Marc Hufty and Maurice Tschopp (under review). Small and Smart: The role of Switzerland in the Cartagena and Nagoya Protocols negotiations. International Environmental Agreements.


This research project is led by Prof. Marc Hufty, Graduate Institute, Geneva and Tobias Schulz, Swiss Research Institute, WSL.


The research project ist funded by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education and Research in relation to the COST Action ISO208.