The Swedish government’s restart package takes commendable steps forward but does not deliver climate benefits on a par with what would be possible. Henrik Ny, from SustainTrans, shows how this could be remedied.
This opinion piece was published in the Swedish environmental magazine Aktuell Hållbarhet in October 2020. It was a follow-up of Henrik’s opinion piece from Spring 2020 about Corona.
Here is a link to this published text from October 2020 and to the first text from Spring 2020 (both in Swedish)
Below is an English version:
More is needed if the Corona restart is to accelerate climate change
This spring, many expressed that the restart after Corona must also speed up climate change – not least in the transport sector. The government’s restart package takes commendable steps forward but does not deliver climate benefits on a par with what would be possible. Henrik Ny, sustainability researcher, Blekinge Institute of Technology shows how this could be remedied.
The corona pandemic is still the acute health crisis that dominates the news flow and has the attention of political leaders around the world. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear how big the climate challenge is. Johan Rockström has simply described the Paris Agreement as that the world must halve its emissions every ten years after 2020 to keep the temperature increase below the 1.5 to two degrees that are deemed manageable. This has been translated by Kevin Anderson’s group in Uppsala into climate emission budgets for Sweden as a whole and for individual regions and municipalities. Taking into account that Sweden is a rich country, these budgets end up at an even more challenging level with requirements for emission halving every four years. So now Swedish regions and municipalities are faced with the question of how they should be able to handle this change in community planning – perhaps above all in the highly fossil-dependent transport sector.
So what happened to the green Corona restart that would help here and which has been required from so many places around the world since last spring? The Swedish Government’s restart package was a little over SEK 100 billion and consists mostly of one-off investments in jobs and welfare and around ten billions reserved for climate investments. This is commendable, but very little in relation to the rapid changes that are now needed on a broad front in order to avoid the worst negative health, socio-economic and labor market consequences of the climate challenge in the future. According to a recent report from Climate analytics, the world’s combined efforts to deal with the Corona pandemic have reached 15 percent of GDP. At the same time, what is judged to be required to meet the 1.5-degree target is the much more manageable sum of about 1.5 percent of GDP per year, which for Sweden with today’s GDP of 5,000 billion corresponds to about 75 billion per year. By comparison, Sweden has had an average annual economic growth of 2 percent since 1970.
Here we should probably also take the opportunity to remind ourselves of the difference between costs and income versus investments. A cost or income takes place in a certain year, while an investment means sacrificing something in the short term to build something that provides greater profit in the long term. Temporarily increased subsidies or reduced taxes to benefit individuals and companies are important and can provide benefits in the short term, but are still only revenue increases or cost reductions that hardly change the long-term structure of society. Significantly greater returns, on the other hand, are obtained from long-term investments that rebuild society in a sustainable direction. This includes the type of measures I called for this spring, such as requiring solar cells in public buildings, rebuilding more energy-efficiently, digitizing transport and energy systems, strengthening public transport, expanding electric car charging infrastructure, etc. Some of this is already being done in Sweden, but I argue that we need to significantly increase the scale and pace if we are to have a chance to keep the strict climate budgets we have now adopted. As I have mentioned before, this thinking is based on Jeremy Rifkin’s authorship, where in a series of books he has helped senior decision-makers around the world, but perhaps especially in the EU and China, to see the long global development trends and be able to take advantage of them in an ongoing climate and sustainability change. Germany’s Energiwende and Resurswende and the EU’s Green Deal are direct results of this. Now, several studies and the ongoing development in the United States, for example, also indicate that significantly more jobs are actually being created in the expansion of new climate-friendly systems than will disappear when the old ones are out-competed.
Based on our work in the Southeast Swedish transport sector, my group has also previously concluded that strong initial intervention measures are necessary to live up to the Paris Agreement and that they would also lead to a more attractive and cost-effective future society than if the investments were made at a slower pace.
In Blekinge, exciting things are also happening in the transport sector right now. The work with decision support for the rapid transition to fossil freedom and sustainability that I wrote about this spring has now been further concretized. We at BTH are now starting the Roadmapper Project, which takes a holistic approach to the transition of an entire region’s transport sector to fossil freedom and sustainability. A feasibility study of what a factory can do today and in the coming years to achieve completely fossil-free freight transport will be presented in December. After the turn of the year, all the county’s public actors as well as an increasing number of companies and networks with Swedish and international partners will then participate so that we can find the cross-border collaborations that are now required. The goal is to create a regional test bed whose experiences should be able to inspire others. We want to take in the needs of the various actors and build a decision support tool that can help them plan investments together to solve the long-term climate challenge in a way that can handle unexpected short-term challenges such as the Corona pandemic.
Our message to Sweden’s politicians, companies and individuals is thus crystal clear. We are on the right track, but even greater and annually recurring efforts will be required to tackle the climate challenge. But if we do it in a smart way, we will at the same time be able to strengthen the national economy, welfare and the labor market.
sustainability researcher, Blekinge Institute of Technology