Safeguarding the future
We all want to save the climate, but face different challenges. Sweden is known for its undeveloped wilderness and archipelagoes, stretching from the European mainland to the Arctic. Meeting the environmental challenges of the future is not just about protecting landscapes though, and Sweden is making big strides towards safeguarding the future as well as conserving the past.
The first country in the world to pass an environmental protection act, Sweden also hosted the first UN conference on the global environment in 1972. Since then, Sweden has not looked back, managing to grow its economy substantially while reducing carbon emissions and limiting pollution, as shown in the chart above.
For more than a decade, Sweden has been in the top ten of the globally respected Environmental Performance Index produced by Columbia and Yale universities, with exceptionally clean air and clean water alongside its low emissions. There is still much to be done, though, and being one of the world’s wealthiest countries increases Sweden’s overall environmental footprint. It might seem an impossible struggle, but previous successes on everything from tackling acid rain to recycling show that environment and development can go hand in hand.
Ambitious goals for sustainability
Since 2014, Sweden has had a joint Social Democrat and Green government, which has set ambitious goals for sustainability, including the previous government’s target of a fossil-free vehicle fleet by 2030 and 100 per cent renewable energy. Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven recently unveiled plans to make Sweden one of the world’s first ‘fossil-free welfare states’. The government has also created the world’s first Minister for the Future (see video below), tasked with mapping out social and environmental challenges and coming up with ways to meet them.
‘Emissions need to be reduced at a speed to ensure sustainable global growth. Transition needs to be effective and establish long-term rules,’ Löfven has said about the challenges ahead.
The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency offers a breakdown of Sweden’s overall greenhouse gas emissions (webpage in Swedish, can be translated).
A hub for environmental research
The last few decades have seen Sweden become a focus for leading environmental research. Stockholm now boasts the Stockholm Environment Institute, the Stockholm Resilience Centre and the groundbreaking Environmental Humanities Laboratory at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
‘We can show the world that you can build a modern welfare state within nature’s limits.’
Professor Johan Rockström, the head of Stockholm Resilience Centre, thinks that Sweden can go even further and be a model for other countries to follow.
‘Sweden can develop a vision for transition to sustainable welfare, where we put down goals of being the world’s first fossil-free nation by 2030,’ Rockström says. ‘We can show the world that you can build a modern welfare state within nature’s limits.’
Sustainability and development hand in hand
The Swedish green model means integrating business and sustainability. Together with its Nordic neighbours, Sweden has emphasised that green growth can drive transition through technical innovation rather than pose a risk. This involves adapting society to cope with environmental changes already underway. Man-made global warming means temperatures are predicted to rise by at least 2 degrees centigrade over the next century, and issues such as food security, extreme weather and economic upheaval could be felt by countries all over the world.
The fight for sustainability is global, and in 2015 the world agreed on 17 sustainable development goals. Sweden still has some way to go, but the innovations being made now show that safeguarding our environment and developing society are part of the same challenge.
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