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SWEDEN ELECTS

Sweden Elects: Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election?

Will the summer heatwave push the environmental agenda to the forefront of the Swedish election campaign? The Local's editor Emma Löfgren asks journalist and sociologist Dominic Hinde to explain how Sweden views the climate crisis – and how to figure out who to vote for in the election.

Sweden Elects: Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election?
Sweden almost had its hottest day ever this month. Photo: Ali Lorestani/TT

Sweden last week recorded its highest temperature since 1947 – and it came close to beating its all-time record. And we’re not the only ones. Europe and the rest of the world have seen the impact of the climate crisis in recent years, we’ve seen how it’s putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

Green issues are not absent from the agenda in the run-up to Sweden’s September 11th election, but many are asking why they’re not front and centre. Even when the Green Party co-leader himself gave his most high-profile speech of the year the other week, while much of the speech was indeed dedicated to the climate, it took him over 13 minutes to get there.

For The Local’s Sweden Elects newsletter, I asked Dominic Hinde, a former foreign correspondent in the Nordic countries and sociologist of environmental communication (you can follow him on Twitter here), to help explain what role the climate crisis might play in the Swedish election campaign and to voters on election day: 

Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election? Or is that about to change ‘thanks to’ the current heatwave in Europe?

“Sweden is in a strange position in that voters care about the environment a lot, and throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s we saw parties compete for environmentally minded voters. Most people probably don’t know for example that in the 70s not only did the Centre Party hold the post of PM, they ran the campaign on a strong environmental ticket. In the 80s the Greens entered parliament, and the bigger parties started to change their image and policies towards being more sustainable.

“This led to lots of progress compared to many other countries, and Sweden became known as a bit of a green pioneer, but the problem is that now people think Sweden doesn’t need to do any more because most visible environmental problems have been made to disappear. The issue is that as Sweden is so rich, Swedes still produce a lot of carbon, taking holidays in the US or Thailand and buying lots of consumer goods.

“What we’ve seen in the election is a clash between people like the Greens and some in the Centre and Social Democrats who want to have more deep and meaningful transition, and those further to the right on the spectrum who think Swedes should not have to pay any more for their lifestyles or change how they live. It will be interesting to see whether Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson’s statement that he would make sure the middle and upper classes he wants to vote for him don’t need to adapt their lifestyles gets a bad reception after the summer heatwave.”

How well do Swedish media cover the climate crisis and what needs to improve?

“In many ways Sweden has a good record on covering the climate crisis. Swedish public service media and the big newspapers have all taken a keen interest in climate change since it was brought to mainstream attention in the early 1990s. Unlike the US or the UK Swedish media has never really tried to deny climate change to any great degree, though the suggested solutions have of course varied depending on political views. If we look at a newspaper like Aftonbladet for example, it has often been more radical on climate change than the Social Democratic party it nominally supports, and equally Svenska Dagbladet has had some really good climate journalism despite some reluctance to move quickly from the Moderate and Liberal parties it would ordinarily support.

“There’s no shortage of good information out there, but journalists can only inform and not tell people how to vote.”

What are Sweden’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of environmental policies?

“Sweden is lucky in that it industrialised late and was able to electrify large parts of the country with hydro power, topped up with nuclear from the 1960s. That means that Sweden already had low emissions compared to the rest of Western Europe and has been able to build upon that. There is some really exciting stuff happening such as the zero-carbon steel plant in northern Sweden and a new electric car industry, but Swedes are also very eager consumers and use a lot of energy travelling around and keeping warm in the winter especially.

“A good example of the problems we still have is something like the new Stockholm western bypass road. It is going to cost 28 billion kronor and the government’s own figures show it might increase car use in and around Stockholm, but the government pushed ahead with it because there was a demand from commuters and suburban swing voters. Then of course there is also the question of ‘Thailandsresor’ (trips to Thailand) and other luxuries Swedes have grown to love. A single trip to Bangkok cancels out every bit of green behaviour your average Swede might do in a whole year, from cycling to work to going vegan, but those emissions don’t count as Swedish as they mostly happen somewhere over Central Asia.”

If you’re a voter who cares about the environment, what are some key party policies or soundbites to keep an ear out for in the election campaign? I.e. what Swedish issues matter the most in terms of having an impact on climate change?

“This is a tricky question. Naturskyddsföreningen (The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation) use experts to rank the policies of parties at each election, with the Greens coming out top across the board and the Left, Social Democrats, Liberals and Centre coming in behind them, and the Moderates and Sweden Democrats ranking much lower, as do the Christian Democrats.

“Obviously the readers of The Local will want to make a choice based on other questions too such as the economy, taxation and business interests, but right now we are seeing a lot of smoke and mirrors around the question of fuel prices for example. In the medium-term, investment in shifting to electric cars and making use of Sweden’s exceptionally easy access to electrical power will bring bills down more than cutting the price of fuel at the pump can.

“The biggest contribution Sweden can probably make to cutting global emissions is to function as a kind of lab for what works. If Sweden can show it can be done then other developing countries could follow, and that is really important. Parties that pledge to invest in groundbreaking green technologies and in the famously shaky rail network are likely to be of more long-term benefit to the environment. It is also worth looking out for what they have to say on resilience and getting Sweden ready to deal with things like floods and forest fires.

“We can also say that voters in Sweden are lucky in that they can vote for a greener voice in a few different ways. The Green party provide an outlet for more left-minded environmentally conscious voters, but if you don’t want to vote for the Greens the Centre are a good bet for more economically liberal people who don’t quite trust the other centre-right parties on the environment.

“If you have the right to vote in Sweden, even if it is just in local elections, then it is worth taking the time to go to and talk to each of the parties when they set up shop in town squares around the election. They’ll likely all promise you they’re the best but if you go armed with some facts you’ll soon find out who knows their stuff and who is bluffing!”

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

Member comments

  1. Perhaps the general population has been fed too much “climate and environment” all day everyday through just about every form of media. Voters are now more concerned about rising criminality, schools, healthcare, their domestic finances, along with fuel + energy prices in particular.

    Add to that the disproportionate influence of Miljöpartiet in relation to their minimal number of parliamentary seats during Reinfeldt’s second term and seven years with the Löfven governments, but who are largely responsible for the closure of Sweden’s nuclear power plants and other catastrophic decisions – including the pending implementation of the EU directive regarding the protection of animal species which among other things will result in the potential closure of about 1,900 small hydropower plants in Sweden and impractical regulations for the forestry sector.

    Plus that while Swedes are keen to cycle when possible and use eco-friendly goods, Germany is reopening its old coal-fired power plants further to closing down their perfectly functioning nuclear plants, and Sweden often restarts its oil-fired power plant in Karlshamn to replace the shortfall of nuclear power. Hej ho. Go figure!

    Miljöpartiet has hopefully now had its day with just 3.6% of the vote according to the latest polls. But in the meantime they seem to have successfully infiltrated County Administrative Boards, Naturskyddsföreningen and various Environmental Courts resulting among other things in the crazy cement crisis in Gotland that was in the news a few months ago but still hasn’t been resolved, and the LKAB mining expansion application in Kiruna which was refused after years of preparation of very extensive documentation because the whole population of Kiruna was consulted instead of only a small number of those directly concerned (!!). The authors of the Swedish Environmental Code probably had good intentions, but it has become an administrative nightmare which in turn dissuades potential environment-friendly investment in Sweden.

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For members

2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

KEY POINTS: How election pledges would affect foreigners in Sweden

Sweden's political parties have made their first election speeches and released the key issues for their campaigns. What have they said which could affect foreigners in Sweden?

KEY POINTS: How election pledges would affect foreigners in Sweden

Social Democrats

The Social Democrats’ policies on migration are lumped together under the headline “Migration, asylum and refugee politics”, meaning there is a clear focus on topics affecting refugees and asylum seekers, and fewer policies affecting labour migrants or work permit holders.

They say, for example, that there should be “faster routes to work through language, education and housing”, and “no areas should be extremely vulnerable”, as well as proposals to provide more support to municipalities for welcoming refugees and reform laws on housing for newly-arrived refugees to prevent segregation.

They do say under the “work” section of their website, that they “want to tighten up labour migration”, which probably refers to their proposals to reintroduce arbetsmarknadsprövning – a system scrapped in 2008 where prospective labour migrants wanting to work in Sweden would only have their work permits approved if they were filling a position where there is a national shortage, and raising the salary threshold for work permits from 13,000 kronor to around 27,000 kronor.

Moderates

The Moderates’ manifesto is also lacking in policies specifically addressing immigration, although they do state that Sweden needs “tightened immigration for integration to succeed”.

On the migration policy section of their website, which is not highlighted as one of their key election issues, they propose introducing “a volume limit for reduced immigration”: a goal for how many immigrants Sweden can accept.

However, this does not cover all migrants – the Moderates specify later on that this goal is specifically for asylum-seekers in Sweden.

The right-wing Moderates do not want to reintroduce arbetsmarknadsprövning or the requirements suggested by the Social Democrats, but suggest instead that the should be a lower salary threshold should be raised to 27,540 kronor per month, which is 85 percent of the average Swedish salary (32,000 kronor per month). Seasonal workers such as berry pickers would be exempt from this requirement.

They also want to scrap the opportunity for people to change track from asylum to labour migration.

The Moderates are not opposed to working with the Sweden Democrats.

Sweden Democrats

Migration is – perhaps unsurprisingly – a key focus area on the Sweden Democrats’ website. They state that “mass migration to Sweden from illegal immigrants, economic migrants and asylum seekers has changed Sweden for the worse and has caused many societal problems that we now need to fix”.

To do this, the Sweden Democrats want to stop all refugees from countries which “are not close to us” and tighten migration policy to the “strictest possible level according to EU law”. They also want the number of migrants who do not have the right to be in Sweden leaving to be higher than the number of migrants arriving in Sweden.

They state that new arrivals in Sweden should receive “clear society information explaining what they need to do to fit in”, as well as a requirement that they “qualify themselves for welfare through supporting themselves financially”.

On citizenship, they believe that prospective applicants must “be able to speak Swedish, have knowledge of our society and our culture, have lived here for a long time and have supported themselves financially”. They further go on to say that those who don’t fulfil these requirements should “be given help to return home”.

They also propose that all foreign criminals, as well as those who are “asocial, and others who damage our society”, should be deported.

On work permits, the Sweden Democrats want to reintroduce arbetsmarknadsprövning.

Centre Party

The Centre Party has positioned itself this election as the only right-wing or borgerlig party who refuses to work with the Sweden Democrats, making it implicitly more pro-immigrant. It describes the Sweden Democrats as “xenophobic party with authoritarian leaders as its role models”.

In leader Annie Lööf’s election speech on August 5th, she described Sweden as “a mosaic of people with different backgrounds, lives and dreams”.

She further said that Sweden must not “let a racist, populist party decide how Sweden will be run,” indirectly criticising the other right-wing parties by stating that the Sweden Democrats’ views should be “a stop light for every true liberal, not a springboard to power”.

She also stated that Centre Party members “never close their eyes to issues, show that a brighter future is possible” and “stand up for everything which has made Sweden one of the world’s best countries to live in: openness, tolerance, freedom and common sense”.

On work permits, which are not a key election issue for the Centre Party, it is a proponent of keeping the current system: no to labour market testing and no to raising the lower salary limit.

Left Party

The Left Party’s election manifesto covers a number of topics, including some which are of relevance to immigrants. It wants to lower rents and build more accessible housing, improve job security and reduce gig work, specifically stating that “workers with foreign backgrounds are overrepresented in insecure, low paid and stressful jobs”.

“None of us should have to deal with racism at work or be dependent on their employer in order to be able to stay in Sweden,” the Left Party says.

The Left Party is also critical of Sweden’s right-wing parties in its election pledge, stating that right-wing politics “is about attacking immigrants, the sick, unemployed and people with disabilities, and limiting our access to welfare.”

On work permits, they are in favour of reintroducing labour market testing and against raising the minimum salary threshold.

Christian Democrats

Leader Ebba Busch’s summer election speech didn’t cover migration, with Busch choosing to focus on healthcare, climate, and law and order instead.

The Christian Democrats are not opposed to working with the Sweden Democrats, and non-election policies which could affect immigrants include their position on work permits – they want to introduce a 35,000kr salary limit, stop kompetensutvisningar or “talent deportations”, where qualified immigrants are refused a work permit based on minor administrative errors, and they want to scrap the opportunity for people to change track from asylum to labour migration.

Liberals

Integration is a key issue for the Liberals on their website, with policy focuses including a so-called förortslyft or “suburb lift”, aimed at reducing the number of areas classed as “vulnerable” where police struggle to combat crime, so that no areas of Sweden fall into this category by 2030.

The Liberals say that many “new Swedes end up in crowded suburbs marked by crime and low school results,” and that “many have their freedom and opportunities limited as they lack jobs and lack language ability.”

Their goal for combatting the exclusion they see in Sweden is to make it “easier to get a job quickly and support yourself financially – even for those who don’t speak good Swedish or lack an education”.

To do this, they propose introducing “entry-jobs for the young and new arrivals with a slightly lower salary for the first job and simpler rules”.

They also aim to prevent and work to dismantle “parallel societies”, by combatting honour-related violence “through more knowledge, but also stricter penalties”, and introducing “a stop for new religious free schools as they prevent integration”.

In addition to this, the Liberals have proposed mandatory preschool for children who don’t speak good enough Swedish, in order to aid integration. They state that “studies show that early preschool benefits children whose mothers are low-educated and whose parents are born abroad”, going on to describe these children as “the most vulnerable children”.

In order to measure levels of Swedish, they propose that they (currently optional) two-and-a-half year speech assessment for toddlers is made obligatory for parents whose children do not attend preschool, so those who “have issues with language can be identified earlier”.

Green Party

The Green Party’s key election issues are (unsurprisingly) climate and the environment, equality and democracy and human rights.

Some of its equality policies could affect immigrants, including its proposal to encourage state-owned companies to introduce a right to full-time work, as well as its goal to increase election participation in areas where rates are low – areas with high immigrant populations often fall into this category.

Finally, it wants to protect human rights and democracy and protect the rights of minorities. It states that “everyone should be able to enjoy equal rights and opportunities no matter their gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression or age”.

On work permits, the Greens have said in the past that they are open to somewhat increasing the lower salary limit,  but that it must still be possible for those here on a work permit to, for example, work part-time alongside their studies.

They are not in favour of reintroducing arbetsmarknadsprövning, as they believe that employers should decide which skills they need rather than the state.

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