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ENVIRONMENT

Sweden’s green transition head warns of ‘increasing risk’ from sceptics

Svante Axelsson, the man tasked with coordinating Sweden's green industrial transformation, in an interview with The Local warned of a "new, increasing risk", from politicians and others driving an agenda opposed to flagship green projects and sceptical of the urgent need to reduce emissions.

Sweden's green transition head warns of 'increasing risk' from sceptics
Svante Axelsson, as coordinator for Fossil Free Sweden has played a key role in the country's plans to green its heavy industry. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

Axelsson, national coordinator for Fossil Free Sweden, said he’d found it “surprising” that politicians, particularly from the Sweden Democrats, and others had begun criticising some of Sweden’s largest and most high-profile green transition projects, given the wide support for them among leading business leaders and unions. 

“You hear the same argumentation all over the world, so it’s not a new message. But it was surprising to see this type of message being sold into this country just now. Because we have so many company leaders that think it’s the wrong analysis,” he said.

As national coordinator, Axelsson has worked with highly polluting industries such as mining, steel, cement, and oil refining to help them draw up ambitious strategies to radically reduce their emissions, helping generate world-renowned initiatives such as the Hybrit green steel project, the Slite CCS project, and Northvolt’s giant battery factories in Skellefteå and Gothenburg. 

The Hybrit demonstration plant will produce approximately 1.2m tonnes of crude steel annually at a new electric arc furnace to be built in Oxelösund, allowing the steel company to close two blast furnaces, preventing the release of about 14.3m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over ten years. 

The plant will be supplied with fossil free sponge iron made at state mining company LKAB’s mine in Gällivare, using hydrogen produced by a 500MW electrolyser powered by fossil-free electricity. 

But earlier this month, Sweden Democrat party leader Jimmie Åkesson wrote an opinion piece in the Dagens Industri newspaper questioning whether the Swedish Energy Agency should grant the Hybrit project 4.9 billion kronor (€440m) towards building a demonstration plant in Gällivare. 

Magnus Henrekson, an economics professor based at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, also last week told SVT he believed Hybrit was a hubristic project comparable to the Titanic, the giant ocean liner which sank in 1912. 

“I was really surprised that there has been so much discussion against Hybrit,” Axelsson told The Local. “I’m not afraid for the long-term, because I know that we have a very, very strong commitment from industry leaders, the unions, and even in the parliament. But I’m frustrated, because they don’t need that problem just now.” 

He said that he believed that the Sweden Democrats were seeking a new campaigning issue.

“My analysis is that the Sweden Democrats want to have a new conflict, and need to have a new conflict, and they are using the climate transformation. But I do not think they will succeed, because we have such strong support from companies and the unions.”

He said changes of the scale of Sweden’s ongoing shift to lower or zero-emission industry always generated some anxiety, opening up opportunities for populists. 

“It’s always like this if you do a big transformation in a very short period of time. People are afraid. What will happen? How might it impact my electricity price? And in that situation, you can be populist.”

But the insinuation from the Sweden Democrats and other opponents that the government would have to provide heavy subsidies to the companies investing in the most ambitious green transition projects at taxpayers’ expense was wide of the mark, he said.

“They are getting no money for the full scale-up in their production because this project was bankable from the beginning,” he said of Hybrit. “The market is there. People want to buy 25 percent more expensive steel. It’s the same situation for climate-neutral cement or biofuels. The market is there.” 

The key thing now, he said, was for business leaders to work even harder at communicating the advantages of these ambitious green transformation projects to the Swedish public. 

“We have a very strong story to tell about Sweden becoming the first fossil free welfare nation. It’s not painful to be fossil free. It’s the opposite,” he said. “And I can prove that by all the many different leaders who have said that if they don’t do this, they will have to close their companies in the future.” 

The key now was to increase the communication push at a local level, he said.

“Now we need to communicate even more strongly that the companies where people are employed will be more competitive if they are fossil free. We need to step up our communication, with even mid-sized companies, the companies that deliver products to the big companies, communicating that this is not a problem in every region in Sweden.”

Article published in February 2023.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

UK judge dismisses Greta Thunberg protest case

A London court threw out a public order case on Friday against climate activist Greta Thunberg and four other protesters, with the judge criticising "unlawful" conditions imposed by police when they were arrested.

UK judge dismisses Greta Thunberg protest case

District judge John Law dismissed the cases against the 21-year-old Swedish campaigner and the four other activists on the second day of their trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court. He ruled that police deployed in the British capital in October at an environmental protest had attempted to impose “unlawful” conditions before officers arrested dozens of demonstrators.

Thunberg, a global figure in the fight against climate change, was among dozens held for disrupting access to the Energy Intelligence Forum, a major oil and gas conference attended by companies at a luxury hotel.

She had pleaded not guilty in November to breaching a public order law, alongside two protesters from the Fossil Free London (FFL) campaign group and two Greenpeace activists.

In his ruling, Law said the conditions imposed on the demonstrators were “so unclear that it is unlawful”, which meant “anyone failing to comply were actually committing no offence”.

Thunberg and the other defendants had faced a maximum fine of £2,500 ($3,177) if convicted.

Her lawyer, Raj Chada, said the case against them had been “rightly dismissed”, arguing that the police stipulations “disproportionately interfered with our client’s rights to free speech”. He added: “The government should stop prosecuting peaceful protesters and instead find ways to tackle the climate crisis.”

‘Ridiculous’

Christofer Kebbon, one of the other defendants from FFL, told reporters that the five “shouldn’t be here in court”. He condemned “the climate criminals who are continuing their business as usual and destroying this planet”.

Thunberg, who came to worldwide attention as a 15-year-old by staging school strikes in her native Sweden, regularly takes part in climate change-related demonstrations.

She was fined in October for blocking the port of Malmo in Sweden, a few months after police forcibly removed her during a demonstration against the use of coal in Germany. She also joined a march last weekend in southern England to protest against the expansion of Farnborough airport, which is mainly used by private jets.

Demonstrators had greeted the October forum participants with cries of “shame on you!”. Some carried placards reading “Stop Rosebank”, a reference to a
controversial new North Sea oil field the British government authorised in September.

Police said officers had arrested Thunberg for failing to adhere to an order not to block the street where the rally was taking place.

Greenpeace UK campaigner Maja Darlington hailed Friday’s verdict as “a victory for the right to protest”. She added: “It is ridiculous that more and more climate activists are finding themselves in court for peacefully exercising their right to protest, while fossil fuel giants like Shell are allowed to reap billions in profits from selling climate-wrecking fossil fuels.”

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