'If the world follows Sweden's new path, we're headed for climate disaster'

Becky Waterton
Becky Waterton - [email protected]
'If the world follows Sweden's new path, we're headed for climate disaster'
Kimberly Nicholas, a climate scientist at Lund University. Photo: Simon Rehnström/SvD/TT

The Local spoke to climate researcher Professor Kimberly Nicholas to discuss what we know about the new government's climate policy, what we can expect for the next four years, and what individuals can do if they are worried about the climate.


"The bottom line is that if the world follows the path that Sweden is now headed on, we are headed for climate disaster," Nicholas told The Local.

"The parties that are in power do not have policies that are effective or that are going to reduce emissions down to near-zero, which is where we need them to be. And it's really scary and disappointing to see the results of the election. Because it's a really critical time for climate."

'Clear evidence this government is not prioritising climate'

The new government has scrapped the standalone Ministry for the Environment, instead putting it - and Sweden's new climate minister Romina Pourmokhtari - under Business and Energy Minister Ebba Busch, in the new Ministry for the Climate and Business.

"In the context of the Tidö Agreement and other public statements, this is extremely concerning," Nicholas told The Local. "We have very clear evidence that this government is not prioritising climate and does not have effective climate policies on the agenda."

"The formal structure of government agencies can be significant, and it can indicate priorities."


"Given the context, it reads to me as the climate is being put underneath the economy. And in the hierarchy, it's less important than and less of a priority than the economy."

The exterior of Sweden's Environment Ministry building by Tegelbacken. Photo: Bertil Ericson/Scanpix/TT

"And of course, that's completely backwards, because we cannot have a thriving economy without a stable climate. The latest reports leading up now to this climate conference are showing huge potential economic losses with even two degrees of warming. And with current climate policies globally, we're headed for closer to three degrees of warming."


"It's a huge mistake to say, 'we'll just prioritise economic growth in the way that we've done it' - this sort of fossil based and resource exploiting way that has in recent history been successful - that is not going to continue to work. So I think it's a very dangerous approach."

Nuclear 'unlikely to play a significant role'

The Tidö Agreement, the new government's policy document, focuses overwhelmingly on nuclear power as the answer to fossil fuel reliance, promising to invest 400 billion kronor in nuclear power, scrap rules on where reactors can be placed and how many there can be in Sweden at one time, and build new reactors at the Ringhals site.

But Nicholas was sceptical of how much this would contribute to reducing emissions in the future.

"We know from research that nuclear is very unlikely to play a significant role in reducing emissions between now and 2030," she told The Local.

The Ringhals 1 nuclear reactor which closed on December 31st, 2020. Photo: Jonas Lindstedt/TT

"It takes a long time to build, it's slow to get off the ground, there's often delays and permitting issues. So we need to be reducing emissions now. And nuclear, unfortunately, is not in a position to help us do that in these critical next 80-or-so months, which is what we have left of our carbon budget to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit warming to 1.5."

"It's a big mistake to focus so much time, political capital and policy effort on nuclear as a primary solution, because it just isn't possible that it can contribute the emissions reductions we need in the near-term. Whereas we do have the technologies that can do that. And that's not the focus of the current policies."

'No policies which can replace biofuels mandate'

Under the agreement, the government has pledged to reduce the mandatory percentage of biofuels that needs to be mixed into Swedish petrol and diesel -- the so called reduktionsplikt -- to the lowest level allowed by the EU, a move that will at a stroke remove one of Sweden's main strategies for reducing emissions. 

"The energy ministry says that that policy is necessary for Sweden to meet its climate goals, and I haven't seen any suggestions of anything that will be as effective to replace that loss," Nicholas said.


"So it's really running in the wrong direction to take away an effective climate policy and not replace it with anything equally or more effective. It really doesn't add up to say, as the minister [Romina Pourmokhtari] has said, that we'll have many small, effective policies. I mean, there just aren't any small, effective policies that can add up to the big changes that are needed now." 

Climate is not a 'young person', future generations issue 

Some have celebrated the appointment of a 26-year-old as climate minister as a positive sign that future generations are being given a voice over the issue which will affect them the most, but Nicholas rejected the idea that the climate issue is only an issue for our children and grandchildren. 

"I get really upset when I hear people talking about, 'oh, this is such an important issue for future generations'. I mean, this is an issue for now, for everyone," she said.

Climate and Environment Minister Romina Pourmokhtari during a pre-COP27 press conference. Photo: Maja Suslin/TT

"I'm going to be alive when we either stabilise the climate within the limits of the Paris Agreement, or blow past 1.5 and two degrees, that's going to happen in the next few decades of my life."

"It's not just these future generations, or people who don't exist yet. It's people who are alive now. That's why it's so important that adults actually take responsibility. Don't say, 'oh, yeah, you know, pat on the head for young people', this is a problem for someone else. It's really a problem for all of us."

Sweden may not push bold climate policies internationally 

While the impact of the new government on Sweden's own climate efforts is concerning, Nicholas said she found it "very worrying" that one of the traditionally most ambitious countries in the global climate effort may now start to act as a drag on progress, both at the COP27 summit this month and when Sweden takes over the EU presidency next year. 

"It's definitely true that people around the world do look to Sweden as a role model and Sweden, historically, has been leading, for example in per capita contributions to the Green Climate Fund. "


"I think it is really important that we have leaders who go first: we know from social science research that you need to build trust in international contexts. And one thing that does that is leading by example. So it's very concerning that Sweden presumably will not be pushing for bold climate policies, and will not be pushing for climate justice as strongly as they have been. And that can have real knock-on effects at the EU level, including with their presidency."

What can people living in Sweden do for climate action? 

In the run-up to the election, Nicholas and eight colleagues from the independent expert network Researchers' Desk presented an analysis on how Sweden's political parties' climate policies compare to the policy science states is needed to avoid a climate disaster (summary available here in English).

They found that only the Green Party and Left Party were in the best 'transformative' category, with the Sweden Democrats and Christian Democrats actually "regressive", and the Liberals, Centre Party and Social Democrats in the "slow and insufficient" category. 

The Moderates did not participate in the survey which the analysis was based on.

According to Nicholas, she and her colleagues wanted to inform voters because changing and pressuring governments is crucial to promoting bold climate action, but were now switching tactics. 

"We know from research is that the most effective action that we can take as citizens is to vote," she said. "And now, Swedish citizens have had our chance to vote. And we won't get that chance again for another four years. So we have to turn our energies elsewhere." 


"These next four years cannot be lost years for the climate. We don't have four more years to lose," she explained. "So we really need people to engage wherever they are. And as you mentioned, cities, municipal governments, regional governments have an enormous role to play and they will hopefully step forward." 

Cities around the world, she said, have been leading climate action, with more than 300 cities successfully working to decrease emissions, compared to only 20 countries. 

"The most effective action that we can take as citizens is to vote," Nicholas said. Photo: Ali Lorestani/TT

"It would be much better if the climate transition we need was democratically anchored and led by government, but that's just not the way it looks like it's going to happen right now," she said. "So, given that reality, what is it that we can do in the spheres where we have power? Now, a lot of that is at the city level, and cities have been leading climate policy."

Pressure also needs to be put on businesses, and businesses themselves need to step up more and take initiative at the same time as individual citizens change their own behaviour, she said.

"We individuals, as citizens, can be role models in our choices, especially around flying and driving, where we emit the most as high emitters. So we do have a lot of potential. It's really tough to realise that governments are not upholding their end of the bargain here, so we have to keep pushing for that. But we can't wait another four years before taking big action ourselves." 

This government is not 'listening to the science'

When The Local asked Nicholas if there was anything else she wanted to say about the new government and the Tidö Agreement, she said that one thing she had found "so infuriating" was that politicians in the new government often repeated the mantra that "politicians should listen to the science", and that "policy should be science-based". 

She had, she complained, spent a year of her life putting together a highly detailed report on what the science does in fact say, "losing a lot of sleep, entirely in my free time, outside my normal job". 

"And you clearly haven't read the report," she said, addressing the new government, "because you're not listening to the science, and your policies don't reflect what the science is saying." 


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also