Sweden committed to climate change reforms


The next EU presidency is preparing for a post-Kyoto deal, writes Frank McDonald, Environment Editor

CLIMATE CHANGE “will be an absolute focus” of Sweden’s presidency of the European Union from July 1st when it takes over from the crisis-stricken Czech Republic, according to Swedish environment minister Andreas Carlgren.

At a briefing for visiting journalists in Stockholm last week, he said the EU aimed to reach agreement at next December’s UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. “I expect this should be possible, but it will depend on other parties such as the US.”

Joakim Sonnegard, secretary general of Sweden’s Commission for Sustainable Development, told us: “There will be some kind of agreement, that’s for sure – probably the starting point for a new round of negotiations with a short time-frame.”

The high-level commission, chaired by prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, anticipates that it will take two years to work out the details of a deal – a somewhat shorter period than it took to negotiate the fine print of the Kyoto Protocol after it was adopted in 1997.

As a member of the EU troika, Mr Carlgren has already been involved in talks with senior officials in Tokyo and Washington about the prospects of a deal at the Copenhagen summit, and he had also “done some outreach activities” with the Chinese.

“In Washington, we underlined the need for ambitious American targets [to cut greenhouse gas emissions]. We also need a substantial deviation from ‘business-as-usual’ – in the region of 15 to 30 per cent – by major developing nations like China.” The EU is committed to a 20 per cent cut by 2020, or as much as 30 per cent if the US and other countries follow suit. Earlier this month, Sweden said it was prepared to go even further, by achieving a 40 per cent reduction in its own emissions by 2020.

Mr Carlgren described his government’s Climate and Energy Bill, now before the Riksdag (parliament), as “the most ambitious in Europe”. Sweden was also the first country to set itself the goal of becoming “carbon neutral” by 2050.

The Swedish government has now decided to retain the country’s nuclear power plants and even to renew them, providing this can be funded by the private sector, as well as boosting the use of renewable energy such as wind power by a factor of 15 or more.

It also aims to transform the transport sector by ensuring that Sweden’s entire vehicle fleet is entirely independent of fossil fuels by 2030.

Instead of diesel and petrol, all cars, trucks and buses will be run on ethanol, biodiesel or electricity.

Although President Barack Obama has pledged an 80 per cent reduction in US emissions by 2050 relative to 1990 levels, Mr Carlgren noted that the new US administration had not yet followed the EU’s example of setting ambitious interim targets for 2020.

“There is a European and worldwide expectation that these should be comparable to the EU targets”, he said, adding that much would depend on whether Mr Obama receives congressional support for a “cap and trade” regime to cut emissions.

If this was forthcoming, he envisaged that EU-style carbon trading would be extended to the US and all other members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), including Australia, Canada and Japan.

Mr Carlgren agreed that the economic recession would cut emissions everywhere.

But he said new “green investments” in renewable technologies would be “essential tools to create a way out of this crisis” and set the world on a low-carbon growth path.

The Swedish minister noted that his country had one of the lowest per capita carbon emissions in Europe.

“We’ve had huge economic growth of 50 per cent since 1990, but we’ve reduced emissions in absolute terms by almost 10 per cent, and have shown it’s possible.”

Another priority will be to clean up the Baltic Sea, which he described as “one of the most polluted in the world”. Sweden wants the EU to show that it can “make a difference” by addressing this as a model for cleaning up the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.