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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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CLIMATE CRISIS

Swedish youths launch landmark climate lawsuit against government

Over 600 Swedish children and young people - including climate activist Greta Thunberg and three seven-year-olds - are suing the Swedish state for doing too little to combat climate change.

Swedish youths launch landmark climate lawsuit against government

The so-called Aurora law suit has been in preparation for two years, and the group is accusing the government of, among other things, failing to carry out investigations into how large a percentage of the global work to combat the climate crisis Sweden should be responsible for.

“If the state’s climate measures are lacking, they are threatening our human rights in the future,” law student Ida Edling told Dagens Nyheter (DN), the newspaper which first reported the story.

“It’s a legal responsibility which the state can be legally called to account for. That’s why we’re suing them,” she said.

Edling is one of the people behind the initiative, which climate activist Greta Thunberg is also involved with.

Aurora would have launched their lawsuit no matter which political bloc had won September’s election, Edling said.

“We’ve worked on this for two years and would have sued any government which is not working towards a climate policy in line with Sweden’s fair share of the global climate transition,” she said. “That includes the previous government.”

On Friday, she marched to the Stockholm courthouse to file the lawsuit alongside young people from Aurora and other members of the climate and environment movement.

“In a state with the rule of law, everyone has to follow the law. Even the government,” Edling said. “When the state’s climate policy threatens our human rights, it breaks the law.”

Climate minister Romina Pourmokhtari told DN via her press secretary that she had no comments on the case.

Similar suits have been brought forward in other European countries. In Germany and the Netherlands, climate activists won against the respective governments in court, forcing both countries to sharpen their climate targets.

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