Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Löfven recently declared at the U.N. General Assembly that his nation of 10 million people would become “one of the first fossil-free welfare states in the world.”
His announcement comes at a time when 146 nations have made promises to reduce their carbon emissions with the COP21 talks in Paris starting in November 4, 2015. Löfven and his government have made a bold statement that has prompted many commentators to ask: How on earth this could this happen, if ever?
The reality is that the Nordic countries already have a strong track record when it comes to action on climate change and clean-energy generation. Denmark, for example, hit a point over the summer when it produced 140 percent of its energy needs from wind power, some of which it ended up exporting to its neighbors. Oil-rich Norway produces about 99 percent of its electricity from hydropower and has one of the highest rates of electric vehicle ownership on the planet. And, blessed by copious amounts of geothermal sources, Iceland meets about 85 percent of its energy needs from renewables.
Currently almost 80 percent of Sweden’s electricity comes from non-fossil fuel sources. The challenge, however, is that a large portion of this power comes from nuclear. After decades of promising to decommission its nuclear power plants, the country’s government decided it would allow new plants to replace shuttered ones in 2010.
Mothballing 10 to 13 nuclear power plants will throw a wrench in Sweden’s plans, as not everyone, notably the country’s power-sharing Green Party, sees this form of power as “clean” despite the fact it discharges zero emissions into the earth’s atmosphere.
That nuclear sticking point aside, Sweden’s government claims it is on an ambitious course to wean itself from fossil fuels. In 2016, the country’s energy and environment ministries will spend about 4.5 billion crowns (US$545 million) on projects including solar-cell research and electric-vehicle technologies. Smart-grid and other energy-efficient technologies will also see a boost in research dollars.
Curiously, Sweden is not just investing money within its borders — some of those funds will be spent on sustainable development projects abroad in poorer countries. In that sense, Sweden is taking leadership and is nudging richer companies to do the same.
Sweden wants to heat its buildings with 100 percent renewables.
Sweden’s advanced public transport system already mitigates the country’s carbon footprint.