CLIMATE. According to a new UN-report, we are heading for an increase in the earth’s average temperature by 3.7 degrees. This is far from the targets set in the Paris Agreement: to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees. According to the report, global emissions need to decline rapidly in the next decade to reach the targets.
To reach the 1.5-degree target emissions need to decrease by 7.6% annually. To reach the 2-degree target emissions need to decrease by 2.7% a year. To put these figures into perspective, global emissions have increased by an average of 1.5% per year over the past decade, according to the report. Since the beginning of the 1990s, when climate change first began to be discussed in the UN context, global emissions have increased by 70%. Given the severity of the climate crisis, now and in the future, those figures are truly terrifying.
The key takeaway from the report is that current policies are highly insufficient to reach the Paris Agreement and to halt global warming. The intended contributions by different countries towards the Paris Agreement are also insufficient. According to the report, the intended contributions need to be increased by 3 to 5 times. Countries large and small talk big about climate change but talk is cheap. Making an ambitious commitment and announcing it on the world stage is one thing, but living up to that commitment is a different thing altogether.
One example of this is Sweden. Sweden is regarded as an environmental pioneer and protecting the environment is very much in the self-image of Swedes. For some years now, there has been growing public awareness and mobilisation on climate change. The issue is visible almost everywhere in public life. Policy-wise, seven of the eight political parties in parliament support a broad framework on the long-term orientation of climate policy in Sweden.
The framework included a so-called ‘Climate Law’ and a long-term target that by the year 2045, Sweden is to become ‘net zero’ when it comes to emissions of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. In concrete terms, emissions from Sweden should be at least 85% lower in 2045 than in 1990. The Swedish government is positioning the country to become one of the world’s first fossil-free welfare societies.
Government representatives as well as representatives from other political parties, policy elites, companies and others ascribe to the notion that Sweden will be better off making a transition to a ‘net zero’ economy and that this is an opportunity for Sweden to increase its competitiveness on the world stage. This raised the question of how things are going. Is Sweden on track to reach its target of becoming ‘net zero’ by 2045?
The simple answer is: far from it. Emissions from Sweden are not decreasing at the necessary rate. Emissions appear to be increasing slightly. Nonetheless, reaching the 2045 target requires Sweden to decrease emissions by a rate of 5-8% a year and the policies to achieve that are absent, according to an independent analysis.
In Sweden, the Green Party is now part of a Social Democrat-led minority government for a second consecutive term. This term the government leans on active support from the Liberal Party and Center Party and passive support from the Left Party in order to pass its budget in parliament. In return for the active support from the Liberal Party and Center Party, the government is implementing a centre-right agenda.
When it comes to climate policy, the Greens argue that they have been an instrumental force in getting the slow-moving Social Democrats to adopt any climate policy. They also argue that they were the ones that introduced the climate issue to the other parties in parliament and that those parties have since adopted their own set of climate policies due to a gradual shift in public opinion and interest in the issue.
When the Greens presented the budget they had negotiated with the Social Democrats, Center Party and Liberal Party, they framed it as a historical moment, the largest environment and climate budget in Sweden’s history. However, the budget and the policy measures are far from sufficient to achieve the transition the Greens talk about. Of course, there is a limit to how much the Greens can be blamed for the Social Democrats and the other active support parties not living up their rhetoric on this issue, but criticism is legitimate for various reasons, not least Sweden’s posturing on climate internationally.
To mention a few deficiencies, the government is, on the one hand, preparing a tax on plastic bags but the other hand was turning a blind eye to a state authority providing insurance for export deals involving coal extraction worth 347 million SEK. Between 2014 and 2018, during the first term in government for the Greens, the same state authority provided insurance for projects linked to fossil fuels to a value of 5.8 billion SEK. Meanwhile, our state pension funds continue to invest billions in the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, despite new rules to end this practice.
Again Sweden’s green positioning does not hold up to scrutiny. To be completely clear, the political right in Sweden is no better, but the political left also has to step up its game and adopt a more coherent green agenda. Leaving Sweden aside, I find very little encouragement in the global community.
There is a tremendous amount of insight but policymakers, especially from key economies, are not motivated to make the changes necessary to address the issue substantively. There can be no other conclusion in my opinion, and social movements like the school strikers and Extinction Rebellion echo this fact. However, there is some encouragement to be found in the EU.
A week ago, partly as a signal to the current Climate Summit in Madrid, the European Parliament voted to declare a climate emergency. It remains to be seen if climate policies to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees will follow, but the newly appointed head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen has, at least in rhetoric, put climate action at the top of her agenda. There are sceptics, but the jury is still out. Also, the long-term budget of the EU puts the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in focus.
The commission has proposed a target of 25% of EU expenditure contributing to climate objectives. Nonetheless, what can be counted as ‘contributing to climate objectives’ is debatable. Still, there is a push from the EU for supporting emerging clean energy technologies, which is necessary. States and local governments in the US are defying the Trump administration and committing to ambitious climate targets. The state of California is fighting tooth and nail with the federal government to be able to set its own more ambitious vehicle emissions standards.
Hope can also be found in the Democratic Party presidential primaries. By now, it is essential for candidates wishing to take on Trump to have a comprehensive climate policy agenda. The Green New Deal, popularised by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and later adopted by independent candidate Bernie Sanders, is now part of the everyday political conversation in the US.
Finally, we have the British Labour election manifesto, which is widely described as the most radical manifesto presented in a Western country in decades. The manifesto is filled with radical policy proposals to curb climate change and transform the British economy, a sort of British Green New Deal. We are at a point of no return. Due to the severity of the crisis, the days of caution are over. Radical policies are necessary. Let us move ahead. Labour can show the way.