A sunset of Riddarholmen, a church town in Stockholm
A sunset of Riddarholmen, a church town in Stockholm
Letter from Dais
My name is Jason Hu, and I am very excited to be chairing the Swedish Cabinet at Yale Model Government Europe (YMGE). I am a senior at Yale, majoring in psychology on the neuroscience track; I am also an Education Studies Scholar. In addition to being a part of the Yale International Relations Association (the parent organization of YMGE), I am an active member of Yale’s student government, design graphics for student groups and campus publications, teach various subjects, and conduct psychology research.
Through the Yale International Relations Association (YIRA), I have been a part of conferences such as the Security Council Simulation at Yale (SCSY), the World Scholar’s Cup (WSC), Yale Model United Nations (YMUN), Yale Model United Nations China (YMUNC), and Yale Model United Nations Taiwan (YMUNT). With the experience that I gained from these conferences, the prior experience that I gained from competing in model United Nations conferences in high school, and a multidisciplinary approach to game theory and international relations, I look forward to creating a unique and educational conference experience.
Sweden is an incredibly interesting player on the international field, given its somewhat isolationist foreign policy and incredible rankings on several world indices. As such, Sweden occupies a unique position to influence the world on a truly global issues: climate change. Because of this, I am excited to see how you, the Swedish cabinet members, approach this complicated and hotly-contested issue. Moreover, I look forward to the nuance you will bring, as each cabinet member thinks about how climate change will affect various sectors. By taking a closer look at climate change, I hope you will be able to think more broadly and deeply about an issue that affects us all, and think about creative solutions as well as multidisciplinary ones. I cannot wait to see how you tackle a multifaceted problem to create innovative and unique solutions that address each of your respective departments. A further challenge to you is to ensure that your solutions are pragmatic, effective, and enforceable. While that may not be easy, I am confident the members of the Swedish Cabinet will be able to rise to the occasion. I look forward to working with you all.
History of the Swedish Government
Sweden has a rich history that has always been tied closely to the environment. Modern day Sweden was once covered by a thick ice cap, but as the ice melted, people were able to move in. The people who first populated Sweden lived with simple stone tools and survived by hunting, gathering, and fishing. It is estimated that they have lived in Sweden since 8,000 BC.
This first period, the Stone Age, was followed by the Bronze Age, which made very evident changes throughout Scandinavia. The Bronze Age in the Swedish peninsula was marked by elegant artifacts that reflected a “high level of culture.” These artifacts begin to disappear form the historical record as the Iron Age was ushered in after 500 BC. At this point, the people of Sweden began to leave their nomadic ways as agriculture, which allowed the people to settle, became “the basis of the economy and society.”
The next major time period for Sweden was the Viking Age. In this era, which started around 800 AD, Sweden expanded eastward, with Vikings exploring along the Baltic coast and trading along rivers that stretched into Russia. The Vikings reached the Black and Caspian Seas, allowing them to establish relations with the Byzantine Empire and the Arab world. In the 9th century, the outside world also reached Sweden in the form of a Christian mission led by Ansgar. The Christians did not have significant influence until later.
During the Viking Age, Sweden was a collection of provinces, united around 1000 AD. Despite this nominal unity, the monarchy did not gain influence until 1280 AD, when King Magnus Ladulås imposed a feudal model of societal organization along with the creation of nobility. Still, the it was the towns that traded the most that had the most influence. The Hanseatic League was a grouping of several towns with strong commercial inclinations. Despite increasing trade, Swedish economic and population growth was heavily hindered by the Black Death. Shortly after the Black Death arrived in Sweden, the Queen of Denmark (Queen Magareta) united the countries of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden in 1389. Internal conflicts, however, proved the union to be fragile—in 1520, the Stockholm Bloodbath led to the execution of 80 Swedish nobles by the decree of Danish king Kristian II. Gustav Vasa then led a rebellion and founded the modern Swedish state. Vasa confiscated land for the crown and nationalized the church, which came along with the introduction of the Protestant Reformation. Sweden increased its international prominence in the following years, winning several words against Denmark and Finland. However, since Sweden had few colonies, its status as a great power could not be sustained by its agrarian economy. It lost its colonies in the Great Northern War and lost the territory that is now Finland to Russia during the Napoleonic Wars. It did, however, successfully obtain Norway in 1814 (the union of Sweden and Norway would peacefully be dissolved in 1905).
The Great Northern War led to changes beyond territory changes. King Karl XII lost his life, and the Swedish parliament, the Riksdag, seized power with a new constitution. While the country thrived culturally through its contact with France, the Napoleonic Wars led to serious economic stagnation, increasing emigration to America, as much of the country still earned their livings from agriculture.
Industrialization did eventually begin to grow in the late 1800s, transforming Sweden into an industrial leader. As industrialization increased, so did the labor movement. This movement pushed for reforms.
Starting with the Social Democrats, who entered the government in 1917, a century of reforms took place. Universal suffrage was introduced (1909 for men and 1920 for women) and plans for a “welfare state” were drawn up and introduced after World War II. The government during this time was led by the Social Democrats, who cooperated closely with other democratic reforms, that solidified the welfare state. These reforms also came along for calls for an update to the constitution, which was written in 1809. Thus, the new Instrument of Government was created emphasizing the source of the government’s power: the people, who were now granted the ability to elect members of parliament. At this point, the monarch still remained, but was a head of state in name only. A further reform was introduced in 1979 to equalize the claims of male and female heirs, ending a history of primogeniture.
Following the union of Norway and Sweden in 1814, Sweden has not been involved in any war, maintaining neutrality given its strong national defense. It joined the League of Nations and the United Nations (UN) and has been involved in several UN peacekeeping missions. Sweden has not joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), although it has cooperated with NATO. It joined the EU in 1995; however, it is not member to the eurozone.
Topic Background and History
What is Climate Change?
A broad look at the Earth’s climate reveals that the Earth’s climate has had dramatic changes throughout time, including seven cycles of glacial advance and retreat. The last ice age was ended 7,000 years ago and marks the beginning of the modern climate era as well as human civilization. Before this time period, the changes in the Earth’s climate could be attributed to the Earth’s orbit, which changes ever so slightly, resulting in a change in the amount of solar energy that the Earth receives.
In the modern climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has discovered “unequivocal” evidence for a warming of the entire climate system. Further research supports that it is extremely likely that humans are responsible for the current warming trends, which are unprecedented. This change, in part caused by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide—a heat trapping gas, has seriously impacted the Earth. Global temperatures are rising faster than ever before, the world’s oceans have been heating and acidifying (due to the absorption of carbon dioxide) greatly altering delicate ecosystems, the ice sheets have rapidly shrunk, glaciers are retreating, sea levels are rising, and the number of extreme events such as heatwaves and droughts have been increasing.
Climate Change in Sweden
Climate change has also affected Sweden. Sweden has felt increasing temperatures and increasing precipitation. Due to its high latitude and numerous lakes, Sweden is particularly sensitive to ice cover changes, with ice break-up occurring much earlier than usual.
Before industrialization, Sweden was very sensitive to weather and short-term climate fluctuations due to its agrarian culture; these fluctuations could lead to massive crop failures and subsequent starvation. Swedish economic activities and agriculture did have slight impacts on the climate, but industrialization had much broader and more significant impacts on the climate. Beyond industry itself, the changes that it brought, such as population growth and urbanization, expounded climate effects. However, it also ended large-scale starvations. For this, and other reasons, industry was not seen as problematic, and “environmental discourse” was not a part of the national agenda.
It wasn’t until 1960 that the international discourse on the environment reached Sweden. And the impacts of these conversations would not be felt until the early 1990s.
In recent years, the temperature has increased rapidly and climate issues have increasingly spilled out into the Swedish agenda. As a result, Sweden is pursuing “ambitious” climate goals and its people are adapting their lifestyles to be more sustainable. In this “New Climate Agenda,” Sweden’s population takes an active concern towards the climate change issue; climate is now a factor in almost every political, institutional, and corporate decision.
Environmental issues that first broke the surface included the use and pollution of the Baltic Sea, the role of nuclear power, the responses to the first oil crisis, and toxic waste. These concerns led to the establishment of the world’s first environmental protection agency in 1967. Sweden also hosted the first international UN conference on the environment a few years later, in 1972. This conference led to the creation of the UNEP. As Sweden burst onto the international scene, coalitions were forming within the country as well. After the government produced a referendum on nuclear energy in 1980, the Swedish Green Party was founded. It was the first new party in 70 years. It left parliament briefly after failing to get more than 4% of votes in 1991, but returned to Swedish parliament in 1994.
In the recent climate era, Sweden has been a leader on environmental issues, being one of the first nations to sign (1998) and ratify (2002) the international climate accords known as the Kyoto Protocol. Sweden was also a large influencer behind the Stockholm Convention (2001), which focused on reducing the production and use of “persistent organic pollutants.”
In addition to these larger international agreements, Sweden has been a global leader in “[w]aste management, acid rain prevention, sustainable city planning and recycling.” A current focus of Sweden is to “intensify” negationations at international meetings including the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Engaging citizens in the fight against climate change is absolutely necessary for effective climate change policy. Sweden is an international leader on its citizen engagement and as a result, has consistently ranked highly on international indices focussing on sustainability. Still, Sweden thinks not of its accomplishments, but of what is yet to be done.
The Swedish public is “keenly are of” and concerned with various climate issues. Over one quarter of the Swedish population noted “environment and climate change” as a main concern—for the rest of the EU this number is only 6 percent, according to the 2015 Standard Eurobarometer survey. This focus has helped drive air pollution down. Specifically, Sweden has an average of 10.2 micrograms of air pollution (PM10) per cubic meter in urban areas, almost half of the OECD average of 20.1.
An engaged public is crucial because increasing scientific research has shown that climate change is largely the result of human activity. As such, Sweden has set its own domestic goals for “pollution, clean air, greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency.” And experts do truly belief that the people are ready “to change their consumer habits” in line with these goals.
Sweden strongly believes that “a sustainable and secure energy supply is best achieved by focusing on long-term energy efficiency and a greater supply of renewable energy.” In fact, the Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate, Isabella Lövin, who also serves as the deputy prime minister, noted that the “old model of achieving wealth through excessive use of natural resources has proved to be outdated.” While other countries fear a paradigm shift, Lövin bites that Sweden sees “a land of opportunities” both in Sweden and in the world.
Part of the drive towards energy efficiency includes reducing the use of fossil fuels. This falls under the national goal to have no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. One specific area in which fossil fuel usage can be reduced is vehicles. A current goal for the Swedish government is to have a fleet completely rid of fossil fuels by 2030. These changes are only feasible due to economic developments and political incentives.
Another part of the picture is increasing energy efficiency. By making existing fuels more efficient, Sweden can accomplish two things: use less fossil fuels and make renewable energies appear more practical. Sweden has committed to making its energy use 20% more efficient (compared with 2008) by 2020. This goal is being worked on in several ways. First, since 2005, Sweden has offered tax reliefs to industries that have created more efficient energy plans and reduced energy use. Second, the government has been actively involved in providing information to household on how to save energy. Each of Sweden’s 290 municipalities has an advisor who helps and guides people on topics such as replacing windows, lights, and heating systems with more efficient ones.
Many countries fear rising water levels caused by the changing climate. Land in the Nording region, however, is rising, and the Baltic Sea is consequently receding. The Swedish port of Luleå, for example, is getting too shallow for ships. The Nordic region is rising at approximately one centimeter a year, faster than anywhere else in the world. One benefit of these changes is a decreased risk of flooding and the ability to collect data from land that was once the sea floor. However, as a consequence, Luleå needs to deepen its port to let in larger ships, which will cost at least SEK 1.6 billion (£150 million). But even if they do not expand to that extent, they still need to spend at least a quarter of that amount to continue to let existing ships dock.
This phenomenon often counters popular narratives of climate change, where the dominant narrative is that sea levels are rising. While this seems to contract the situation in Sweden, it actually does not: the sea levels are rising—the land is just rising faster. Professor Vermeer of Aalto University cautions that although the sea levels are not a problem now, atmospheric warming will accelerate the rate of the sea level rise.
The economic consequences of these can be drastic. The port of Luleå is one of the biggest in the country with many shipping goods coming through. Another consequence is that the recreational uses of the waters, such as swimming in the freshwater lakes during the summer, are being threatened by shrinking water volumes. The shallowing of these lakes also makes them less visually attractive.
Sweden’s landscape is covered with glaciers; as such, the landscape is susceptible to climate change. Researchers have recently been most alarmed by the melting of a glacier on Kebnekaise mountain: so much of the glacier melted that the mountain is no longer Sweden’s highest point. The mountain is a popular tourist destination, but “[i]t looked different this year….meltwater [was] trickling down the sides” of the mountain. The glacier on Kebnekaise has been melting by around one meter per year for the past twenty years.
These landscape changes are in part due to extreme heat. The Swedish Weather and Climate Center has noted that extreme heat is 100 times more likely now than it was 50 or 60 years ago. Gunhild Ninis Rosqvist, a professor at Stockholm, however, fears that at current rates, “our glaciers are going to disappear.”
Research regarding the climate is strongly supported by the Swedish government. Specifically, the government supports various strategic research areas, or SRAs, at higher education institutions to promote better research through collaboration and innovation. Various SRAs focus on the climate, on topics such as climate processes, climate models, climate change, and energy.
The Swedish government has also initiated six national research programs on climate research that are policy-oriented. These research programs are aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals, one specifically aligned with the realization of the Paris Agreement. Another program focuses on building a sustainable society. Additionally funding has been given to resource-efficient processes and material flows. These types of research can also utilize the newest data that comes from government funded space research and space operations, that provide satellite data “on the state of the earth, the seas and the atmosphere.”
Finally, five innovation programs have been launched to create “new ways to meet societal challenges, address travel and transport, smart cities, a circular bio-based economy, life sciences, and the industrial internet of things, and new materials.”
With and beyond these research areas, Sweden recognizes that the effects of climate change affect many aspects of society, and thus calls for research to be “interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary.”
Also refer to “The Global Context” to see how Sweden collaborated with other countries.
As acknowledged previously (refer to “Public Awareness”), public awareness is crucial to addressing climate change. Sharing knowledge about climate change is therefore crucial to reduce emissions and adapt activities. Make this information accessible to the public and easily understandable is a goal of the Swedish government. As such, education regarding sustainable development can be found as early as preschool and up into adult education.
Mass media is a great way to teach the populace about climate change. Effective communication about the climate helped build the momentum leading up to the Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009. After which, interest slowly declined. However, the Paris Agreement in 2015, a “turning point in climate policy,” restored this media interest.
The Swedish media has been noted by the Swedish Environmental Agency to describe climate change “as an ongoing reality, not a distant threat” and has focused the debate on the pros and cons of various solutions. However, much of the media focuses on what the big players (e.g. the UN, EU, etc.) can do and less of what individuals can do, though initiatives that encourage bottom-up change are growing.
There are also great educational initiatives coming out of various arms of the government including the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, the Swedish Energy Agency, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute, The Swedish Consumer Agency, The Swedish Museum of Natural History, and more. Sweden has also created several teaching manuals that help support sustainable actions. One example is the “climate smart meal” aimed to teach kids ages 13 through 16 about sustainable development and environmental goals. The content is both engaging and interdisciplinary.
The Global Context
Sweden only contributes to 0.2% of total global emissions. As such, Sweden could have easily gone “unnoticed in the climate debate,” yet, it has chosen not to do so; instead, it serves as a leader on issues regarding energy and the energy.
Sweden was actively involved in the Paris Agreement, but even then some Swedes, like Rosqvist, believe that the premise of the agreement to cap the global temperature rise at 2°C will not have enough of an impact. Still, Sweden is strongly in support of the Paris Agreement, and urges other governments to enact policies and exhibit leadership to help achieve the goals of the agreement.
Sweden hopes to be an international leader, having cut its own emissions by 25% between 1990 and 2015 while still maintaining economic growth.
The country has also had a more direct role in international collaboration through research. For example, the intergovernmental body, The Nordic Council of Ministers, which includes Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Iceland, sponsors Nordfosk which has allowed Nordic researchers to collaborate on issues “like changes in the Arctic, tundra and adaptation.” Sweden is also a part of Nordic Energy Research, a group that helps conduct energy research.
There is also additional collaboration with the rest of Europe: EC-Earth (a collaboration between 30 institutes and universities in Europe), the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructure, European Polar Board, European Incoherent Scatter Scientific Association—Tromsö, and others. Sweden is also a member of Horizon 2020, an EU program for research and innovation with a budget of 80 billion euros. Even further than Europe, Sweden is an active participant in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other international research groups, including the Arctic Monitoring Assessment Program and the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.
Questions to Consider
- What ways can Sweden actively engage, educate, and encourage its population to make sustainable climate decisions? What additional cultural changes are necessary within the country?
- How can each department play a role in addressing climate change? In what ways is this issue interdisciplinary?
- Who are the key international players that Sweden must deal with? How are they dealing with them? What is next?
- What has Sweden done so far? How do members of the Swedish government feel about these actions? The Swedish people? International players?
- What issues regarding climate does Sweden face in particular? What steps need to be done to address them?
- What funding exists both domestically and internationally for climate change policy?
- Who are partners Sweden can look to for help, support, and resources?
- How close is Sweden to its climate goals? What more needs to be done to get there?
Suggestions for Further Research
- A history of Sweden’s responses to climate change: https://sweden.se/nature/sweden-tackles-climate-change/
- Swedish Environmental Protection Agency (Natur Vards Verket): http://www.swedishepa.se/
- Sweden’s Seventh National Communication on Climate Change: https://unfccc.int/files/national_reports/annex_i_natcom_/application/pdf/6950713_sweden-nc7-1-swe_nc7_20171222.pdf (also check out earlier communications)
- Sustainability and Sweden: https://www.environmentalleader.com/2013/08/sweden-most-sustainable-country-in-the-world/
- OECD Environmental Performance Review: http://www.oecd.org/environment/country-reviews/33843590.pdf
- European Environment Agency country briefing: https://www.eea.europa.eu/soer-2015/countries/sweden