Sustainable Sweden 2019: This will happen

At the time of writing, Sweden doesn’t even have a government and who will form it is far from clear. However, the ever brave 2030-secretariat still dare to give us seven predictions on Sweden’s future direction in terms of sustainability, climate and transport.

Climate first, every other aspect second
. The coming government will be the first to start with the climate act as part of the frame for what can be decided, with the targets of a 63% CO2 emissions reduction between 1990 and 2030, and a whopping 70% for the transport sector between 2010 and 2030. The Swedish Climate Policy Council will focus on transports in their first report, due this spring, the Environmental Protection Agency will deliver a ”smorgasbord” on how to cut emissions rapidly and the new government will have to come up with a long-term plan for emissions reductions. At the same time, Sweden has 15 other national environmental targets and there are 17 sustainable development goals – they will all have to be part of the plan.

Carrots and sticks. The first of July 2018, Sweden launched the bonus-malus taxation on new cars, where the ones with the lowest emissions get a large bonus, paid for by an extra tax on vehicles with high emissions (a ”malus”). This led to immediate changes in the new car sales, and Sweden is now, after Norway, the market with the highest share of electric cars in Europe. At the same time, the state budget was protected from the high costs of previous incentives, keeping the governments of the future happy and minimizing the risk of the allocated funds running dry. Expect to see this kind of carrots and sticks-solutions in many other parts of the climate and sustainability work.

Flavor of the month is over. Like most other countries, Sweden has invented specific funds and incentives for technologies that the politicians favor for the time being; e-bikes, electric buses, biogas plants… While many have benefitted, even the ones who have been given the subsidies – like the Swedish solar power association – have been reluctant to embrace the premiums since it has also led to a lack of long-term clarity and a very bouncy market. In the future, expect much more technology neutral incentives, not least when it comes to how we shall fuel our cars in the future – the government will simply decide on the needed emissions reductions, and let the market find the best way to achieve this.

Trains and planes. Within the transport sector, all eyes have been on the cars, as is indeed the case all over the world. We now expect there to be more emphasis on trains, where some kind of high-speed train between Sweden’s main cities is to be decided upon and potentially inaugurated around 2040. They won’t be part of the 2030-target, but night-trains between at least Stockholm and a few of Europe’s capitals will; expect the first to be launched in the coming year. At the same time, Sweden is expected to do more to reach sustainable aviation; the general tax on flying will be either complemented or replaced by financial instruments to speed up the change to low-emissions and probably partially electric aviation.

Modernizing legislation. The municipality of Stockholm was recently told in court that they cannot collect parking fees the way they see fit, since the parking legislation only allows for such fees where there is congestion. This showed the politicians the need to modernize the legislation, which is from the 1950s. Other pieces of legislation also need to be overseen, such as the congestion charges, where every minor change has to go through the parliament, even though the charges are there to regulate transport and emissions in Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Keep the agreement alive. As any observer of Swedish politics will have noticed, it has not been very easy to deliver cross-party agreements, which is why politicians of all parties will strive to protect the wide agreements already reached, where the climate legislation and its targets are among the very few pieces where seven parties (all of the parties in parliament except for the xenophobic Sweden Democrats) agree.

Show leadership. When deciding on the tough climate targets, a significant reason was that this was to ensure that Sweden would show the way for others and create opportunities for Swedish businesses. Thus, it can be expected that Sweden will focus its sustainability work on areas that are relevant for export businesses, and on ways that can inspire other countries.

Mattias Goldmann
CEO Fores with the 2030-secretariat for a fossil independent transport sector