Sweden: Global leader in environment

Timothée De Rauglaudre translated by Megan Spada
28 Novembre 2015

Sweden is one of the few countries to represent an example to follow in matters of climate and environmental policies. On the occasion of the COP21, its government is counting on taking advantage of its position to drag its colleagues to the top and secure an efficient deal.

Credits Thierry Deschamps
Credits Thierry Deschamps
The 21st United Nations Conference on climate change will bring together, from the 30th of November to the 11th of December, the leaders of 195 states. One country might have an important place in this conference and the following negotiations as it held the first international conference on climate change in its capital in 1972: Sweden. Its government, busy since October 2014 working on a coalition between the Social Democrats and the Green party, is striving to reaffirm its place as an environmental leader during the COP21. Following the success of its policies on the environment and climate, Sweden wants to demonstrate its constant progress in this matter.

Sweden is planning to boost its partnerships, particularly by pushing the European Union to review its ambitions in terms of the reduction of emission of carbon dioxide, but also by pinpointing the crucial issues, such as financing climate policies or the use of new technologies. “By taking responsibility for climate change in our country, we pave the way for every nation in the world”, says the ministry of Environment and Ecology, led by Asa Romson, also vice Prime Minister and spokesperson of the Green Party.

The government is hoping for an innovative, dynamic and uniting deal between the countries who are willing to cooperate, notably those more exposed to the consequences of climate change. It wants to act as defender of the poorer and more vulnerable countries, who have access to fewer resources to fight against climate change.

The Scandinavian country, populated by 9.5 million people, is entitled in its hope to represent the leader in this field. In 2010, Sweden was ranked 4th in the Global Environmental Performance Index, conducted by academics from Yale and Colombia universities, just behind Iceland, Switzerland and Costa Rica. The country has already reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by 9% between 1990 and 2006, becoming one of the countries with the lowest emissions of greenhouse gas in the European Union and the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), whilst being the country where energy consumption per inhabitant is the highest in the world.

Sweden is not stopping in its achievements and keeps setting ambitious goals for the decades to come. Among these goals are the end of burning fossil fuels for heating by 2020, carbon neutrality and the improvement of energy efficiency by 2050. The presence of renewable energies in the energy supply of the country, already up to 45%, should reach 50% by 2020. This performance results from efforts approved by the citizens, who do not stop the Swedish economy from being the 7th most prosperous worldwide in GDP per person, from having an opening rate of 90%, twice superior to France’s, maintaining an industrial dynamism, held by well-known companies such as Volvo, IKEA and Electrolux, and specialising in high technology and green economy.

A public-private cooperation

To consolidate the country’s efforts, many different projects at different scales have been launched, involving both public and private agents. If Swedish success is made possible by the strong economic intervention of the state, inherent to the socio-democratic model, this intervention does not exclude the private sector. This sector does not lack the innovative spirit to support the country’s green revolution, as demonstrated by IKEA who in June announced its wish to obtain energy independence by 2020 by investing in wind and solar power. Private and public agents are working together to construct a model for sustainable cities, a crucial goal in order to be able to reconcile growing urbanisation and ecology.

The city of Göteborg, the second largest in Sweden, launched in June a silent and non- polluting bus line, supplied with wind and hydraulic power, by putting into circulation three electric buses and seven hybrid buses from the brand Volvo Buses. In the same sense of cooperation, Stockholm launched last August a ‘smart city’ project in the Stockholm Royal Seaport neighbourhood, which should have negative greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This project, aiming to build a model of a city with zero ecological impact and to boost innovation and employment, relies on new technologies to organize a smart waste collection with a network of underground collection, or with a journey-sharing system.

Historically, Sweden has always preferred to stay in the background of the international stage. The attitude of the country does not encourage it to distinguish itself as a power, despite its multiple assets, whether cultural or economical. By asserting its environmental leadership, Sweden can seize the opportunity to invent a new form of power, by leading the other countries on the ecological road without turning it into an international competition.