Sweden's policies: a menu for Canada's low-carbon diet?
Evening is falling as I exit the Tvärbanan light rail system into the heart of the Stockholm suburb Hammarby Sjöstad. The glass on the surrounding storefronts and condos reflects the blue February sunlight, and as the cobalt Bombardier tram slides down the tree-lined boulevard, I pause in the Nordic dimness, unsure of where to go.
I telephone Jonas Törnblom of the Swedish waste management company Envac to direct me. “Cross the street, walk past the real estate office and the café, and I’ll be outside,” he says. ‘Sold’ stickers on most listings in the office window indicate the popularity of the development, which will have 11,000 flats by 2015.
It’s hard to believe that this area was an industrial wasteland eleven years ago. Constructed using some of the most environmentally friendly materials available, Hammarby boasts half the ecological footprint of a traditional development. It’s just one in a series of initiatives that has enabled Sweden to achieve what some economists have claimed isn’t possible: strong economic growth and reduced emissions of greenhouse gases.
Envac manages the area’s waste—but also facilitates its energy production. Residents drop their pre-sorted garbage into outdoor chutes, and a system of underground pipes sucks the garbage to a central plant. There, waste turns into heat power, electricity, or fertilizer, and the rest is recycled or incinerated. The goal is for residents to produce half the energy they need.
Since light rail runs through the entire development, only a smattering of parking spots were planned. New residents complained, says Malena Karlsson, Hammarby Sjöstad Information Officer. So the developers built more garages—but priced spots at 1,500 SEK ($225 CAD) per month, revealing Sweden’s secret to low-carbon success.
“Don’t tell people what to do,” Karlsson smiles. “Make the undesirable behaviour expensive.”
How Swede it is
Pragmatism and the use of environmental economics have allowed Sweden, a country of 9 million, to become a prosperous environmental role model.
David Boyd, environmental lawyer and Trudeau Scholar at the University of British Columbia, has been comparing Sweden’s environmental policies with Canada’s since 2002. In 2007, the Riksdag (Sweden’s parliament) invited him to provide an international perspective on Sweden’s progress toward sustainability.
“Sweden is continuing to lead the world in terms of tangible progress towards a sustainable future,” says Boyd. “Despite my best efforts, there’s no evidence to show that Canada has even begun to close the gap.”
Aside from the differences in size, Canada and Sweden share similar geography, climate, economic composition, and standard of living. Both countries enjoy vast natural resources.
But comparing environmental performance is another story. On Germanwatch’s 2008 Climate Change Performance Index, Sweden ranks first out of 56 while Canada places an embarrassing 53. Newsweek’s 2007 Index of Environmental Performance also puts Sweden first out of 134, and Canada 23. While our energy supply consists of 76.5 per cent fossil fuels, Sweden relies on a mix of hydro (10.5 per cent), waste and renewables (19.3), and nuclear (34.4).
“The pride of it all,” says Lars Westermark, Head of the Climate Policy Unit at the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, is Sweden’s decoupling of its GDP and emissions growth.
While Sweden’s economy has grown by 48 per cent since 1990, its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have fallen by nine per cent. Yet between 1990 and 2005, Canada’s economy grew by 51 per cent, while emissions grew by 22 per cent. Incidentally, while the Canadian mining industry’s GHG emissions (including the oil sands) increased by 79 per cent, its GDP increased by only 48 per cent.