Report 2023

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Summary

Rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have upset the balance of the Earth’s climate system, resulting in a rapidly rising global average temperature. Global warming is now just over 1.1 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels. In addition to higher temperatures, this has led to more extreme weather events, increasing ice melts and rising sea levels. The environmental, economic and social effects of climate change are becoming increasingly apparent.

Sweden’s emissions need to be reduced more quickly than before

Global emissions must trend down, quickly. Time is of the essence to limit global warming in accordance with the Paris Agreement and avoid the most dramatic negative consequences of a changing climate.

For nearly two decades, emissions in Sweden have decreased every single year except when the economy was recovering from the financial crisis, and later, from the COVID-19 pandemic. But in order to achieve Sweden’s climate targets and halt global climate change, emissions must be reduced faster than before.

The EU is staying on course and picking up the pace…

Despite 2022 being marked by the war in Ukraine and the resulting high energy prices, the EU stuck to its roadmap for the climate transition that was agreed on by member states. New decisions were taken to end Europe’s dependence on fossil-fuel energy more quickly.

During the Swedish Presidency of the EU, negotiations are underway on a major reform package called Fit for 55, which involves both more ambitious targets and more rigorous policy instruments. The EU’s targets have been tightened so that Sweden’s commitments as a member state have clearly approached the level of ambition in the country’s nationally determined targets. The EU has also decided on a separate target for net removals of greenhouse gases from land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF), which places increased demands on Sweden.

… while Sweden has lost steam

The policy presented so far by the new government is not sufficient for achieving the 2030 climate targets. On the contrary: instead of rapidly reducing emissions, the changes decided and announced to date will, according to the Government’s own assessment, actually increase emissions in the near future. This is especially true for domestic transport and non-road mobile machinery. The measures that have been decided on, such as increasing carbon dioxide uptake in forests and land or stimulating climate investments in other countries, will not compensate for the omission of major emission reductions in Sweden by 2030.

For several years, the Swedish Climate Policy Council has stated that the transition towards climate neutrality (climate transition) needs to accelerate, and emissions decrease faster than before. It would be remarkable – and serious – if the reduction were now not only to be too slow, but to be reversed in the opposite direction. It would be the first time in at least two decades that Sweden’s overall national policy has driven increased emissions of greenhouse gases.

The EU’s Green Deal contains a broad reform agenda that links the climate transition with other efforts including biodiversity, increased resource efficiency and the circular economy. By contrast, the Swedish government’s new policy so far signals a perspective narrowly directed towards the energy sector, specifically in terms of new electricity generation. This focus is too limited to enable the policy to achieve the climate targets in a sustainable way.

High demands on the upcoming climate policy action plan

According to the requirements of the Climate Change Act, the Government must present a climate policy action plan for the current term of office in 2023. The Climate Policy Council’s evaluation of current policies, as well as our follow-up of the previous action plan, the input of government agencies and the EU’s ongoing reforms, have led to a number of recommendations for this and future action plans.

Design policies that lower emissions and achieve the 2030 climate targets

The Government’s climate policy action plan needs to include sufficient efforts to achieve the 2030 targets as well as strategic initiatives that provide the foundation for achieving future milestone targets and net-zero emissions by 2045. One cannot replace the other. Every kilogram of carbon dioxide emitted will continue to negatively impact the climate for centuries to come. There are climatological, environmental, economic and social risks in postponing emission reduction measures.

In last year’s report, the Climate Policy Council presented five overarching recommendations for a climate policy action plan that can accelerate the climate transition. The following recommendations are still valid:

  • Improve governance of government agencies and coordination among different policy areas and policymaking levels.
  • Strengthen goals and policy instruments in key areas.
  • Create better conditions for investments that help to achieve the climate goals.
  • Carry out a broad knowledge and upskilling initiative for the climate transition.
  • Take proactive, coordinated and decisive action in the EU.

The action plan needs to clearly demonstrate how the Green Deal and Fit for 55 package will be implemented in Sweden.

The Government must also ensure that the upcoming action plan – unlike the previous one – lives up to the requirements of the Climate Change Act. In particular, a clear timetable should be created for the implementation of different actions and an assessment of their impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

Prioritise and coordinate implementation

The Climate Policy Council’s follow-up of the first climate policy action plan for 2019–2022 indicates that the Government has implemented most of the specific measures in the plan. The exceptions concern some major reforms that, in several cases, have been investigated but not pursued further by the Government. In our assessment, implementation of the actions in the plan lost momentum at the end of the term of office at the same time as the ministerial Climate working group, led by the Prime Minister, ceased to be active. The Climate Policy Council’s evaluations, as well as other reports, show the importance of coordination among different policy areas within the Government and the Government Offices.

Provide a clear, transparent follow-up report

The Climate Policy Council has repeatedly criticised the Government for the fact that the annual climate report to Parliament almost completely lacked a follow-up of the implementation of the climate policy action plan. Even in 2022, it was not reported to what extent or in what way the outgoing government implemented its action plan. This needs to change in the current administration. Systematic follow-up is important for the Government’s own work and to create clarity and transparency for citizens in line with the purpose of the Climate Change Act.

Improve decision guidance and processes

On behalf of the previous government, several government agencies have presented decision guidance documents for the upcoming climate policy action plan. The Climate Policy Council’s review shows that the proposals in the three documents are insufficient for achieving the 2030 targets. The proposals from the agencies can primarily make an impact in the longer term.

The main explanation for this is that when the proposals were drawn up, existing scenarios indicated that the current policies were adequate for achieving the 2030 targets. This has changed. To avoid a similar situation in the future, the decision guidance for the next action plan should include proposals for measures that together provide greater emission reductions than are required to achieve the targets. This would give the Government the opportunity to prioritise efforts in the action plan based on political direction and unexpected external events.

The climate transition needs to inform all relevant policy areas. The Climate Policy Council therefore has a positive view of the Government’s allowing more agencies to take responsibility for guidance concerning the climate action plan. A standing mandate to relevant agencies would further bolster participation and accountability for the climate transition within their respective areas of responsibility. In addition, it would better enable skill-building around climate change for the long term.

Synergies, conflicts and other societal goals

Phasing out all fossil fuels and reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero entails a fundamental transformation of society. At the same time, the climate transition is necessary for being able to achieve other broader goals for the economy, public health, welfare, safety and other areas, as well as other environmental objectives. This major fundamental and long-term synergy between the climate targets and other societal goals does not prevent the transition in the short term from creating conflicts – as well as synergies – in relation to other goals and interests.

In order to make wise choices and trade-offs among different goals, it is important to take the climate into account in all policy areas. The direction of climate policy, in turn, needs to consider other societal goals. Policies need to be perceived as fair based on how costs and benefits are distributed, how different actors can express their views, and how existing rights or practices are recognised and taken into account.

A long-term approach in turbulent times

Conflicting goals, and sometimes even synergies, become clearer during a crisis when more is at stake and firm decisions need to be made. One example is how politicians handled the rapid increases in energy prices that occurred in 2022. At short notice, it was decided to take action to mitigate the economic effects on households and businesses. Some of these decisions have clearly hampered the chances of achieving the climate policy targets.

The sequence of events illustrates two points. Firstly, the policies for the climate transition should be made as robust as possible in the face of similar external events. This can be done, for example, through measures for a more efficient use of energy and resources as well as a more diversified supply of energy and other resources.

Secondly, short-term crisis measures should not be designed in a way that impairs our ability to achieve long-term goals. It is inappropriate to change, for example, the greenhouse gas reduction mandate for gasoline and diesel as a rapid crisis measure without analysing the long-term consequences. The function of such climate policy instruments is highly dependent on long-term confidence and stability. Of course, targeted support measures may be necessary during a crisis, but such support should be designed in a way that provides incentives for the climate transition, such as energy efficiency.

In the event that resource price shocks in the future justify more similar policy efforts as in 2022, the Government and its agencies must be better prepared. This would set the course for designing and implementing temporary support measures that are faster, more accurate, and do not counteract long-term societal goals like the climate transition.

Planning and decision-making processes for an accelerated climate transition

As the transition accelerates, it is natural that both conflicts and synergies with other goals or interests become more visible and specific. To exemplify this, the Climate Policy Council has taken a closer look at the large-scale industrial establishments, with links to the climate transition, that have been launched in upper Norrland. The expansion requires a society wide transformation, and the high pace itself leads to several challenges. Among other challenges, the established planning processes and forms of cooperation are insufficient for managing the speed of industry’s transition. This is true both between different political levels and between different stakeholders and actors at national, regional and local levels.

Challenges in terms of working methods and processes include, but are not limited to, permitting processes of various kinds. These processes need to be renewed so that they can withstand an accelerated transition while being predictable and inclusive, able to take into account different interests and making trade-offs between different societal goals. Political will is needed to see the challenges and solve the problems, courage to make priorities and decisions, and skills and resources. Leadership is key.

Impact assessments, government governance and review of societal goals

The climate issue affects all areas of society and needs to inform overall policy. The Climate Policy Council has previously pointed out the need for impact assessments that include impact on the chances of achieving the climate targets in connection with all government inquiries and policy proposals. Furthermore, the Climate Policy Council has emphasised the importance of the Government’s highlighting the climate targets in agency instructions and appropriation directions.

The Government’s guidance, in turn, depends on how the overarching societal goals are designed. When the previous climate policy action plan was adopted, Parliament supported the Government’s potential reformulation of the targets during the review of each societal goal, to make them consistent with the climate targets. Based on a review of all of the more than one hundred goals presented in the Government’s budget bill, the Climate Policy Council has identified a number of policy areas where such a review should be prioritised.

A coherent narrative about climate transition

A vital aspect of leadership for social change involves anchoring policies in a broader narrative about why change is needed, about the possibility of a better future and about how to get there. Such a narrative needs to highlight the major overarching synergy between halting climate change and the chances of achieving virtually all other societal goals. This would better enable policies to navigate turbulent times, to gain broad acceptance – even for difficult decisions – and could contribute to a common route and faith in the future.

Recommendations to the government

  • Design a climate policy action plan that results in an accelerated climate transition, so that emissions are reduced in the near future and the 2030 climate targets are achieved.

 

  • Ensure that the action plan covers all sectors and leverages the entire overall policy to reach the long-term target of net-zero emissions by 2045 followed by negative emissions.

 

  • Ensure that the implementation of the action plan is prioritised and coordinated within the Government under the leadership of the Prime Minister.

 

  • Follow up the implementation of the action plan in the annual climate report to Parliament.

 

  • Give relevant agencies a standing mandate to provide decision guidance for the climate policy action plan with proposals that provide emission reductions that exceed the climate targets.

 

  • Make society less sensitive to future resource price shocks, for example through measures for a more efficient use of energy, materials and products and a diversified supply.

 

  • Build up skills and preparedness to be able to design and effectively implement short-term crisis interventions in the future, without these counteracting the possibilities of achieving long-term climate goals.

 

  • Continue to develop good examples of planning processes and forms of collaboration that can help to accelerate the transition while better leveraging synergies and making trade-offs among competing interests.

 

  • During the term of office, carry out a review of relevant societal goals to ensure that goals and governance are consistent with the climate targets and aligned with previous parliamentary decisions.

 

  • Develop a clearer, comprehensive narrative about Sweden’s climate transition.