Environment & Sustainability

Sweden: leading the way to carbon neutral societies

Environmental sustainability has been on top of the Swedish policy agenda since decades ago. Today the country has a worldwide solid reputation as a leader in many fields of environmental policy and innovation, with very demanding long-term commitments.

In November 2015, just few days ahead of the climate change conference in Paris, the Swedish Government launched “Fossil Free Sweden”, an umbrella initiative aiming to bring together companies, municipalities and organisations in their climate change efforts. More recently, in June 2017, the Riksdag passed an “historic climate policy framework”, raising the national commitments to become Carbon Neutral by 2045. But Sweden climate change commitment is already tangible in the country investment decisions.

Fossil-free Sweden

The “Fossil Free Sweden” is a broad governmental initiative to tackle climate change and environmental sustainability issues which encompasses all actors in society willing to reduce their carbon footprint. The initiative is built on the ideas that rich countries have a duty to take the lead in combating climate change, that being proactive early-adopters of innovative solutions makes economic sense, and that setting a good example can have an impact on a global scale.

The initiative offers the opportunity to enterprises, municipalities, associations and other types of actors able and willing to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions to showcase and conjoint their efforts and expertise, and is opened to all actors that present concrete measures to reduce emissions.

ABB, IKEA, H&M, Ericsson have been supporting the initiative from the beginning, and several Swedish towns and cities have decided to go completely fossil-free, with some of them aiming to achieve this goal as early as 2030.

Preem, the largest fuel company in Sweden, has set its own objective in line with Sweden’s goal of achieving a vehicle fleet free of fossil fuels by 2030, by producing and selling at least 3 million cubic meters of renewable fuel on the Swedish market by 2030.

The Fourth Swedish National Pension Fund (AP4), one of five buffer funds in the Swedish pension system, set the goal to increase investments in low-carbon strategies to 100% of the global equity portfolio by 2020.

In spring 2017 also Pöyry Sweden, the international consulting and engineering company, joined the initiative, aiming to include a fossil-free perspective to client proposals where relevant and possible.

The new Climate Act

The Climate Act which passed on June and will enter into force on 1 January 2018, sets a new, and higher than what pledged under the Paris Agreement, long-term binding climate goal for Sweden, with a clear framework setting down in law that the Government’s climate policy is to be based on the climate goals, and specifying how the work is to be carried out. The country has set up a stable climate policy and long-term conditions for the business sector and society. The Act entails a responsibility for this Government, and for future governments, to pursue a climate policy based on ambitious climate goals.

The Climate Act states that the Government has to present a climate report every year in its Budget Bill, and every fourth year the Government has to draw up a climate policy action plan providing information on how the climate goals are to be achieved.

The main goals set by the new law are

  • No net emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in Sweden by 2045, and thereafter negative emissions. Furthermore, by 2045, total absolute emissions from activities in Swedish territory are to be at least 85% lower than emissions in 1990
  • Emissions in Sweden outside of the EU Emission Trading System (ETS) sectors at least 63% lower than emissions in 1990 by 2030, and at least 75% lower by 2040.
  • Emissions from domestic transport in domestic aviation reduced by at least 70% by 2030 compared with 2010 (domestic aviation is not included in the EU ETS).

The final pillar of this framework is the establishment of a climate policy council tasked to provide an independent assessment of how the overall policy presented by the Government is compatible with the climate goals.

Energy in Sweden: quick facts

Sweden has a high energy per capita consumption, but low carbon emissions compared with those of other developed countries. According the International Energy Agency (IEA), the average Swede releases 4.25 tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂) per year into the atmosphere, compared with the EU average of 6.91 tonnes and the US average of 16.15 tonnes. 

The roots of this good CO2 performance lie in the low carbon energy mix of the country. Based on the Swedish Energy Agency data the total energy supply in Sweden is dominated by renewable sources (biomass and hydropower and windpower) and nuclear, while although petroleum products (including crude oil) still remain important in the energy mix, their role has been decreasing from 2000 to 2015 (Figure 1).

The national electricity generation relies mainly on hydropower and nuclear power (Figure 2), and the small share of electricity generated in Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plants is today mainly coming from biomass (Figure 3).


A good example: Örtoftaverket

Sweden is a country of many good examples of sustainable energy solutions. Örtoftaverket CHP generation plant is one of those. Meant to optimize the district heating production for the municipalities of Lund, Eslöv and Lomma in Skåne County, the southernmost County of Sweden, the construction started in 2012, after a six-year long permit process, and two years later the plant was completed and working.

The plant is totally fuelled by biomass: forest residue, recycled wood and peat, mostly from pulp and forest industries, like tree tops, branches and other forest waste left after harvesting. In total around 310,000 tonnes of biomass fire the plant annually, where the forest residue is about two thirds of the total. The wood waste mostly comes from local and regional landowners (Skåne and southern Småland), ans Kraftringen’s (the energy company owning and operating the plant) aim is to use suppliers within a 200 km radius of the plant, and actually most of the biomass comes from a distance of no more than 50-100 km. 

The total useful heat production is 500 GWh/year while the electricity production is 220 GWh/year[1], with a total heating installed capacity of 72 MW, plus 16 MW after flue gas condensation, and an electricity generation installed capacity of 38 MW. The efficiency of the power plant after flue gas condensation can reach and pass the 100%.

Tomorrow and today

Sweden is carefully planning its energy future to get rid of fossil fuels as soon as possible, and to get to the ambitious target of a carbon neutral (or negative) society. Long term binding goals are already set, and the Government is committed by law to pursue a climate policy based on clear and ambitious climate goals. At the same time the country is putting words into practice with green and technologically advanced solutions like Örtoftaverket, showing the way to a sustainable development to rest of the world.

[1] NB: the heating season in Skåne goes from September to May; for the remaining months of the year the plant is not working.