The race to be the world’s first zero carbon country kicked off a few years ago now. For a while the Maldives looked like a good bet, then there was a political coup. Costa Rica was in the lead before changes in government watered down targets, while New Zealand turned out to be all talk. Some say the smart money is on Ethiopia – their net zero by 2025 is the most ambitious national carbon plan in the world, and is entirely serious.
One local derby has emerged recently. Norway had planned to be carbon neutral by 2050, and then last year they upped their game and moved the target to 2030 instead. Meanwhile, their neighbours in Sweden have also pledged to go zero carbon, signing their 2045 target into law last week.
2045 is 15 years after Norway, so on paper it looks like Sweden come second in that particular race, but Norway are cheating in my opinion. Most of their strategy is to purchase carbon offsets in other countries so that they can continue to exploit their oil and gas reserves. Not good enough in a world where the only safe place for oil and gas is in the ground.
Sweden’s plans, on the other hand, appear to be much more robust. It’s not just aiming for carbon neutrality, but a complete phase-out of fossil fuels. Emissions will be reduced by 85%, with forestry projects and offsetting to soak up the remainder. The country has a good start on electricity already, with most of the country’s energy coming from hydroelectric and nuclear power. Biomass provides a lot of heat at the moment, and Sweden has plenty of forest to keep up supply. Transport and the steel industry will be the biggest problems.
Two things to say about all of this – first, it’s the ideal response to the Paris Agreement and the invitation to countries to ‘ratchet up’ their climate goals. This is what that looks like.
Second, it should be something we can learn from in Britain. Sweden has been able to raise its ambitions because it is building on existing success, and businesses have been able to see how emissions reductions can be delivered. They’re on board, and there’s broad agreement that this is possible. Britain signed targets into law in the Climate Act, but hasn’t come up with a proper plan to meet them. The goals almost serve as an excuse for inaction. Any time the government is challenged over the climate, it can claim that “we have one of the most ambitious targets in the world!” If those targets are going to mean anything at all, we need to stop dithering.
- In other news from Sweden, Hans Rosling died last week. His knack for making development statistics exciting will leave a real legacy.