Swedish government's new climate policies 'will lead to rising emissions'

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Swedish government's new climate policies 'will lead to rising emissions'
Cecilia Hermansson, the chair of Sweden's Climate Policy Council, presents the 2023 assessment of Sweden's progress towards its climate goals. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The body set up to judge Sweden's climate policies has condemned the "striking and serious" changes to climate policy brought in by Sweden's new right-wing government, warning that they will lead to emissions of greenhouse gases rising for the first time in 20 years.


The Swedish Climate Policy Council said in a press release that Sweden's efforts to reduce emissions had already "lost tempo" under the former Social Democrat government in 2022, but that the changes announced by the three-party alliance which replaced them in November would actually lead to increased emissions.

"We have lost momentum and are going to be steering in the wrong direction if policies are not changed," Cecilia Hermansson, the council's chair, said announcing the report.  "The policies which have been presented so far are not enough to reach the 2030 goal. The changes to policies which have been announced are projected to even increase greenhouse gas emissions in the short term." 

If the policies are enacted and emissions increase as a result, it will mark the first time in at least two decades that emissions of greenhouse gases have increased in Sweden, the council said, excluding short periods when the economy was rebounding from the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2008 financial crisis.

The Council, set up under the 2017 Climate Law, is tasked with producing a report every year which assesses whether the policies of the government then in power are enough to put the country on track to reach its overarching goal of net zero climate emissions by 2045. It also assesses progress towards Sweden's goal of reducing emissions to 63 percent lower than 1990 levels by 2030. Currently, Sweden's emissions are around 33 percent lower than 1990 levels. 


Sweden's climate minister, Romina Pourmokhtari, shrugged off the criticism, welcoming the report and saying that she "looked forward to getting her teeth stuck into it". 

"The government entirely shares the overall picture that time is short and that things are going too slowly," she said. "but also that the transition brings a lot of opportunities for us, both here in Sweden and in other countries that are affected by the exports from our companies." 

"We must export fossil-free goods, technologies, and possibly also policies in the best possible way to succeed in the climate transition." 

Märta Stenevi, co-leader of Sweden's Green Party, said the council's scathing judgement was expected.

"I'm not surprised, but I have to say that it's a bit shocking to see in black and white precisely how destructive this government's climate policies are," she said. "The government needs to escape the claws of the climate sceptics who are driving climate policy right now." 

In this year's report, the council sharply criticises that the government's decision to scale back on the biofuels obligation, which requires an ever larger share of the petrol and diesel sold at Swedish petrol stations to be biofuel. 

The policy, if enacted as promised at the start of 2024, threatens to open up an enormous gap in Sweden's emissions reduction plan which none of the new policies announced by the government will come close to compensating for. 

"A significant reduction in the biofuels obligation, coming in from the start of 2024, can, all things being equal, be expected to increase annual emissions by several million tons," the report warns.

Other government policies, such as reducing fuel taxes, scrapping the new green travel tax rebate, and removing the subsidies for electric vehicles, would add another half a million tons of additional emissions in 2024, and up to a million tons a year by 2030, it adds.  

The handful of new measures the government has announced which will reduce emissions, it calculates, so far fall far short of what would be required to fill this gap. 

"The measures that have been decided on, such as increasing carbon dioxide uptake in forests and land or stimulating climate investments in other countries will not compensate for the omission of major emission reductions in Sweden by 2030," the report reads. 

"On the contrary: instead of rapidly reducing emissions, the changes decided and announced to date will, according to the Government’s own assessment, actually increase emissions in the near future."

The lesson for the future, the council argues, is that governments should avoid bringing in measures in response to short-term price shocks and other crises which do not consider the long-term impact on emissions goals. 

"It is inappropriate to change... the greenhouse gas reduction mandate for gasoline and diesel as a rapid crisis measure without analysing the long-term consequences," the report reads. "The function of such climate policy instruments is highly dependent on long-term confidence and stability."

To prevent a repeat of this year's situation, the report calls for Sweden's government and its agencies to prepare in advance for future "resource price shocks", so that temporary support measures can be brought in which are "faster, more accurate, and do not counteract long-term societal goals like the climate transition". 


The report does not only criticise the current government. 

Climate policy, the report argues, had already "lost momentum" at the end of the Social Democrats' last term in office.

The change happened, it suggests, "at the same time as the ministerial climate working group, led by the Prime Minister, ceased to be active".

This happened in November 2021 when Magdalena Andersson took over as Prime Minister and the Green Party left the ruling coalition. 

Up until this point, the council argues, the Social Democrats, whilst in government alongside the Green Party, had been quite successful in driving through reforms laid out in the 2019-2022 climate policy action plan, with "most of the specific measures" implemented. 

It is critical of several of the policies the Social Democrats went on to announce in 2022, such as its pledge to pause the annual increase in the biofuels obligation in 2023, the decision to cut taxes on petrol and diesel in 2022, and the decision to extend a tax cut on diesel used in agriculture and forestry until the first half of 2023. 


The European Union receives praise from the council for continuing to tighten climate policies, despite the war in Ukraine and the resulting increases in energy prices. 

"Sweden has lost momentum at the same time as the EU strengthened its climate policies during 2022, the year of the energy crisis," Hermansson said. 

"If we don't meet the Swedish goal, it will also be difficult to meet the EU's goal. The government must develop the climate policy action plan in the climate law and that should happen this year." 


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