Is Sweden slowly waking up to its new fossil free future?

Is Sweden slowly waking up to its new fossil free future?

Subscribers to our Monthly Policy Review received our May report into the recent major announcements from industries working together on Fossil Free Sweden – FFS. Cutting a long story short, at the FFS press conference on April 25, a powerful group of Swedish industrialists presented their roadmaps for how Sweden could lead in developing technologies of the future, presenting the government with proposals on how to get the finances to work. They see Sweden as “a permanent world exhibition for climate-smart technology”.

Maybe it sounds simple expressed that way, but there’s nothing simple about the economic transformation required. It requires a near complete move to electric cars within a decade, reinventing the century-old steel making process, commercialising carbon capture (CCS) technologies that no other nation has been able to get to make economic, electric roads, plastics made from pine forests and electric planes. Any one of these reforms would be amazing. Pulling all off within two decades, as is required if Sweden is to become the first fossil free welfare state, would be surely go down in history as one of the world’s most remarkable economic transformations. We are sceptical. Especially so, given that this root and branch industrial and economic reform attracts zero interest amongst Swedes. In the Monthly Policy Review we wrote, “we are amazed at how such a fundamental change to the economy and society continues to attract so little airtime both in the media and social discourse. And now with the next election looming we look in near disbelief at Sweden’s political and industrial elite willing themselves to perform death-defying economic feats, while the rest of the country struggles to cover a yawn.”
To flesh this out a little, we can say that we have tested this within our social circles, and can confirm that even amongst top professionals working in business there is little understanding of what is being proposed. Generally Swedes just shrug, implying that its consistent with the current direction and their fundamental beliefs, and that if it happens, well, it’s a good thing. Mundus probed a little deeper. Would, for instance, a Swede be willing to pay 50% more for their petrol? Could they contemplate not being able to drive a diesel car in town. Does it matter if everything becomes 10 to 20% more expensive to pay for it all? That got a little uncomfortable, but no-one said no. One friend ventured that he could imagine that Swedes would go for it, if it was presented to them in the right way. Still, sentiment seemed a bit thin for the sort of changes being contemplated, and we remain sceptical.
But, perhaps there are signs that political support is about to strengthen. In May, we reported in Mundus News that Sweden’s 2017 emissions were down 1.4%, despite continued growth in GDP and also covered an article from Dagens Industri  which cited Martin Lindqvist, CEO of Sweden’s largest steel group SSAB, who is responsible for 10% of Sweden’s carbon emissions, “If we are first out with the technology then it will naturally lead to an enormous competitive edge, but also benefit the climate when we remove 10% of Sweden’s carbon emissions”. Dagens Industri story re-interpreted the Green Party in a far more positive light than the paper traditionally paints them, The Greens, and more broadly the Löfven Government are credited with engaging industry successfully, neutralising complaints, and in some cases, even winning praise. Daggers Industri says that overall the sentiment from industry is positive, and concludes with a quote from Svensk Näringsliv, that “our member organisations have developed roadmaps and they might not have done it unless it was for this policy.”
If business remains supportive, and more opinion leaders are prepared to come out and advocate for change, Mundus would be forced to adjust our position from sceptical to neutral. That would really be something to write about.

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Sean is responsible for Mundus’ strategy and commercial activities. He began his career in the oil industry Australia. After working internationally in commercial roles with BP in South Africa, the UK and Singapore he moved to Sweden with his family in 2009. He worked in business development and then as the Strategy and Growth Director for NASDAQ Commodities from 2009 to 2015. Sean holds an engineering degree from Adelaide University and an MBA from the Darden Business School at the University of Virginia.