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Sweden's policies: a menu for Canada's low-carbon diet?
As an example, Robèrt says Swedish company OK Petroleum publicly supported the carbon tax. “The jaws were dropping among politicians—why accept a tax on something you’re selling? And OK said, ‘It is the future, and we’re already selling fuels other than petroleum.’ That certainly helped. It is easier to be a proactive politician if there are proactive people around you.”
A strong taxation tradition, gradual implementation, and political commitment have allowed environmental legislation like the carbon tax to be implemented with relative ease.
“Every time you increase it there’s resistance,” says Leif Holmberg, Political Advisor in the Ministry of Environment. “But Swedish politicians don’t make environmental policy just lip service. They have been willing to introduce instruments that actually steer behaviour.”
And steer behaviour they have. Eva Samakovlis, head of the Environmental and Resource Economics division at Sweden’s National Institute of Economic Research, gives an emphatic “no” when asked if companies would reduce GHG emissions without these kinds of financial penalties, which the government was careful to offset with other incentives elsewhere.
“When we introduced the carbon tax, we lowered the energy tax,” notes Samakovlis, which helped shift the tax burden.
Former Liberal leader Stéphane Dion campaigned for such a revenue-neutral ‘green shift’ in the 2008 federal election. Many political commentators attributed his dismal results at the polls to his proactive stance on environmental legislation.
Sweden’s successful implementation of a carbon tax is exactly what Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve, favours. “[Carbon taxes won’t] have that much of an impact on the economy overall,” he told the International Herald Tribune in 2007.
Since 2003, Sweden has also employed the Renewable Energy Certificate scheme, a market-based system to expand the production of renewable electricity by 17 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2016. The scheme is a renewable energy cap-and-trade system that uses megawatt hours (MWh) instead of tonnes of CO2. This is an example of Sweden’s enthusiastic deployment of the ‘polluter pays’ principle laid out in the Rio Declaration of 1992—which Canada also signed.
By changing the incentives, the polluter-pays tactic has had a profound impact on Sweden’s approach to waste. “We make use of the waste streams of society,” such as forestry and organic wastes, explains Anders Nyberg, Political Advisor in the Ministry of Energy and Enterprise. Many extractive industries strive to use their waste to power their operations.
The energy-from-waste philosophy means that Sweden only sends 5 per cent of its waste to landfill (compared to 74 per cent in Canada), recycles 44 per cent, and incinerates 50 per cent. The incineration process is usually connected to systems of cogeneration, district heating and cooling, and combined heat and power throughout the country—as in Hammarby Sjöstad—in order to maximize efficiency.
“When you have a district energy network with one power plant and thousands of consumers, instead of changing a furnace in every house, you only have to refit the one plant to change the fuel source to renewable,” illustrates Schönning. District heating has a penetration rate of 50 per cent and growing, while in Canada, it’s five per cent. Although Sweden’s overall population density is six times that of Canada, our urban centres are denser than most of Sweden’s. So we’re ideal targets; currently, Enwave provides downtown Toronto with district heating and cooling.
But hydro and renewables still account for only 30 per cent of Sweden’s energy. There is another, controversial source for the nation: nuclear. This is a debate Canadians can relate to.