‘The green revolution is blue’: reflections from Life Below Water in Malmö

‘The green revolution is blue’: reflections from Life Below Water in Malmö
NFGL members - Bushra, Muthoni, and Anup - at the opening day of the conference. Photo: Ekatherina Zhukova
NFGL member Ekatherina Zhukova from Belarus shares her thoughts from the Life Below Water 2017 conference in Malmö.

I had a pleasure to attend a conference entitled “Life Below Water” in Malmö on October 11th-13th. It was dedicated to the local implementation of UN Goal 14 (within Agenda 2030 – Global Goals for Sustainable Development), which focuses on “conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development”.

Malmö is one of the cities that have seriously embraced this task. I was happy to share this experience with 12 more colleagues from NFGL Local Networks from Lund, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Linkoping, Norrköping, and Uppsala.

For me personally, the highlight of the opening day was a visit by Her Royal Highness (HRH) Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden. Crown Princess Victoria is one of 17 UN Ambassadors for Global Goals.

HRH Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden is greeting people at the conference foyer

Water and health are two issues HRH is especially passionate about. She had been invited to Malmö to inaugurate the Marine Educational Center, which aims to increase ocean literacy among the local inhabitants. If you like to practice your Swedish, I invite you to read the HRH’s speech at the inauguration.

‘A call for collective action’

In addition, we had an opportunity to listen to a talk by Sweden’s Minister for the Environment, Karolina Skog, and the Mayor of the City of Malmö, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh.

Note that all three respected guests – HRH, Minister, and Mayor – are women. This is a good example of gender equality in action in Sweden, especially in the sphere of sustainability.

And I was not the only one to notice that.

Åsa Hellström, responsible for the environmental management at the City of Malmö, posted on Facebook: “Tre starka kvinnor på samma plats” [translation: Three strong women at one place].

The Mayor of the City of Malmo, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh, talking about the contribution of cities in responding to UN Goal 14

During her talk, Katrin Stjernfeldt Jammeh said that, “Everything we do in our city affects the world around us”. This was a call for a collective action on a local level in order to translate local practices to national and global levels.

The problem of visibility

Karolina Skog, in turn, said that Sweden’s ambition is to become the world’s leader in implementing UN Goal 14. According to the Minister, cities should be the primary drivers in this task because if every local community contributes, we will all have a healthy ocean worldwide. She added that one of the crucial strengths of local levels is education through visibility: “If kids see the beach covered with plastics, they understand that something is wrong.” 

The problem of visibility is related to how much waste we generate and where it goes after we throw it away. To be able to see where our waste goes, October 12th offered a study visit to a waste management plant, among a variety of other technical visits (e.g., a boat trip to learn how Malmö tackles the problem of sea rising levels).

I chose to go to Sysav – a waste treatment facility in Malmö, because I am passionate about recycling.

Sysav’s main building

Sysav has several facilities: a waste-to-energy plant that incinerates waste to produce electricity and district heating; a pre-treatment plant that processes food waste to receive biogas and bio-fertilizer; a facility for hazardous waste; and a recycling centre.

Educating the public

We first had a bus tour around the outdoor waste sites. We could see how composting, sorting of bulky waste, chipping of wood, recovery of metals, and landfilling are organised.

After that, we had a very inspiring presentation by Rustan Nilsson, a communications officer. He told us that apart from managing waste, Sysav’s goal is to educate the public.

This waste is ready for incineration (you can still see some items that could have been recycled, but people have thrown them into the container with other waste – this makes Sysav’s employees, including Rustan, very upset!)

He believes that when people see with their own eyes what happens with their waste (especially if they do not sort it properly), they become more aware and responsible citizens.

His motto is the following: “You buy your waste, shop less!”

Rustan added that while Sweden is a leading force in preventing waste to go to a landfill, 50 percent of the world’s population has no system of dealing with waste. Finally, we had a guided tour by foot around the waste-to-energy plant and saw how waste is burned to produce electricity and energy. 

Yulya is watching how the waste burns to create energy for electricity and heating.

On this note, I would like to finish with a quote from the conference:

“Work with people who want to do something instead of fighting with people that you don’t agree with.” -Frederic Hauge, Bellona Foundation

Ekatherina Zhukova is a Visby Programme Postdoctoral Fellow in Gender Studies at Lund University