Sweden is hoping to export its vision of a greener, cleaner world over the coming six months, as it holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.
This vast land of verdant forests and glistening coastlines says it wants to lead by example in a make-or-break summit on climate change later this year, when it hopes to get the EU to sign up to a new UN global warming treaty.
“Right now, as I stand here talking to you, the ice sheets in Greenland and the Western Antarctic continue to melt and sea levels continue to rise,” Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told Swedish parliamentarians last week. “Together we must deal with the economic crisis and unemployment, but also unite the world in tackling climate change.”
From the Prime Minister down to students, Swedes appear to be united when it comes to saving the environment. At a Swedish street party in Berlin last weekend, many were handing out information on green technologies and sustainable tourism to passers-by who had come for the live music, vodka and a Pippi Longstocking show.
“Swedes love nature and have always been ahead of the game when it comes to green technologies,” said one man dressed blue trousers and a yellow T-shirt. One female musician in traditional dress agreed: “It’s our job to show the rest of Europe how to clean up its act.”
Not so clean?
Sweden already uses a high proportion of renewable energy like hydro and wind power and is now working towards a target of reducing its CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020 compared to 1990, says Andreas Carlgren, Sweden’s environment minister. “I doubt there is another European country with such an ambitious target,” he said in Brussels last week.
Yet the country’s green image is not entirely justified, says Frauke Thies, an energy expert with Greenpeace in Brussels. Although Sweden invested decades ago in hydropower, she said, “it’s fallen behind in terms of investing in new technologies, compared with countries like Germany, Spain, Denmark. Sweden has been sleeping almost, very little has happened with renewables like wind and solar power.”
Sweden’s leading energy giant, Vattenfall, which is aggressively marketing itself as an eco-warrior in Europe, is also not squeaky-clean. “Vattenfall is one of the dirtiest companies in Europe with large coal operations in Germany and Poland and nuclear operations. It’s investing almost twice as much money in fossil fuels than in renewables,” Ms Thies says.
“No Plan B”
Yet despite these shortcomings, there are high hopes in Brussels that the Swedes will push hard for a deal in the coming months to halt temperature rise, as well getting rich nations to help developing countries pay for greener technologies.
“We must commit ourselves to an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen. There is no alternative, no Plan B to a successful outcome,” said Mr Carlgren.
On a more practical level, Sweden also wants home across Europe to become more eco-friendly by setting standards for things like insulation. “Sweden really can make a difference there,” says Greenpeace’s Frauke Thies. “Swedish homes are among the most energy friendly and it should make zero-net-energy buildings a standard in Europe.”
At the Berlin street party, held to celebrate the EU Presidency, people seemed upbeat about their country’s chances of success. Sipping on some loganberry juice, one young Swede smiled: “We can definitely live up to expectations. We need to make decisions for mankind, not based on money, and I think Sweden can do that and set the tone.”