Lövin: “Now we have to do the Opposite”

Stockholm (NordSIP) – The following is a translation of an interview Sweden’s Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Isabella Lövin gave to journalist Johannes Karlsson. The interview appeared in the Tuesday, March 20th edition of the Swedish business daily Dagens Industri.

According to Isabella Lövin, sustainability issues are rarely considered to be affairs of national importance, but they do require cross-border cooperation, thus placing heavy responsibility on the shoulders of the Swedish business community.

“Having the short-term profit in the next quarterly statement as a the single guiding star is not modern for companies today,” Lövin said, underlining that business leaders in Sweden have by and large embraced the shifting norm by actively trying to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and switch to greener energy sources.

“Here, politics has played a major part. We have the highest carbon dioxide tax in the world, which has helped companies to invest a lot in new smart technologies and energy efficiency. The rest of the world is very interested in following how we can have such high environmental taxes but simultaneously experience very positive economic development.”

“I think business has realised since quite a while that there is money to earn in environmental and social sustainability. Consumers are more aware today and expect their products to be ethically and sustainably produced.”

The Swedish Climate Act that came into effect on January 1st, 2018 stipulates that Sweden will achieve zero carbon dioxide emissions by 2045. All parties except for the Swedish Democrats backed the law.

“Even the heaviest and most polluting industries, such as steel, cement and petrochemicals, have been pleased with the message. Now they know what to apply and can start investing and planning to reduce emissions.”

For business representatives, the burning issue is what happens politically over the longer term. The government has a four-year mandate to work with, while industry leaders often plan for a span of 30 years, causing some friction.

“It’s devastating to building the future if we do not dare to draw long-term lines in politics. So far, we have built prosperity and development by destroying the planet, but now we have to do the opposite,” Lövin said.

There is also the risk that companies move their production abroad due to the tightening requirements. “We think companies can handle the change and still stay in Sweden. Just moving emissions elsewhere is not good either for global development or the Swedish economy.”

The government has launched several programmes to soften the blow to business during the transition period.

SEK 300 million annually will be allocated annually to research, innovation, investments and pilot facilities. Companies that take clear measures on climate change at the local and regional level will receive financial support. Lövin sees Fossilfritt Sverige, where over 170 business and public sector stakeholders exchange experience and knowhow, as a success.

“We have everything we need to win by being the forefront of development and everything to lose to be the last ones standing with dirty, old solutions,” Lövin says about state aid.

In the end, however, companies themselves have to bear the lion’s share of the funding, because extensive technological makeovers are generally associated with investments in the billions. Business representatives have been angry over the years when regulations on emissions and the choice of materials are tightened, because products risk becoming more expensive to produce.

“I’ve seen many examples where it actually became cheaper than before, after the company has shaped its supply chain more carefully and made its systems energy efficient,” Lövin says.

She underlines that tougher environmental requirements should be spread across the EU, however, so as not to compromise the competitiveness of a single country.

“The single market is one of the EU’s huge strengths. Although there are clearly opposed forces, especially on the climate issue, they are forced to accept stricter environmental legislation when all counties join forces.”

Although the United States opted to withdraw from the Paris agreement, Lövin claims developments are moving in the same direction throughout the world as not least China, historically rated as a low-cost country, makes major investments in sustainability.

“The development of renewable energy and smart technology is exploding in countries like China right now. If Europe is not involved and is not investing, we will be overtaken,” Lövin says.

The fact that renewable energy prices are falling rapidly and that the costs of climate change and extreme weather are apparent are two other factors that should trigger major investments, according to Isabella Lövin.

(slightly edited for clarity in the English)

Image: (c) svt1