Sweden’s ruling coalition decided on Sunday to lower the minimum fossil fuel emission reduction targets, a move criticised by the opposition as Sweden risks its 2030 climate goals, while the influential right-wing populist Sweden Democrats claim “victory”.
The Swedish ruling centre-right coalition agreed to lower its obligation to reduce the number of biofuels blended into petrol and diesel to reduce fossil fuel emissions to a historically low 6%.
The debate around this obligation has been at the heart of discussions between the members of the centre-right ruling coalition – composed of the Moderates, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals – and their eurosceptic partners, the Sweden Democrats, who provide the necessary support for the otherwise thin right-wing majority.
During government negotiations, the four parties agreed to reduce the reduction obligation from the EU’s highest level to the EU’s minimum level, the key issue being how low the biofuel blend should be. So far, the reduction obligation was 7.8% for gasoline and 30.5% for diesel.
The ideal level for Moderate Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson would be the agreed 6%, but for the Sweden Democrats, it should be zero. Nevertheless, the national Conservative leader praised the compromise reached with the government.
“It is undoubtedly a very big victory, not least for ordinary people who do not live in big cities,” Åkesson wrote in a Facebook post.
The new lower level will apply in January 2024, which means it will be about SEK 5.50 cheaper per litre of diesel to refuel in 2024 compared to if the reduction obligation was retained at the decided level, according to the parties’ calculation.
A political nightmare
The rationale for the government’s decision is that, according to the ruling coalition and the Sweden Democrats, emissions from car traffic must continue to decrease rapidly. Still, the reduction obligation is ineffective in promoting conversion, “but only destructive for household finances”.
Instead, they highlight the electrification of the vehicle fleet as the way forward and the use of biofuels in aviation and shipping.
The issue is a political conundrum, as climate ambitions collide with the cost of driving a car. The higher the biofuel content, the more expensive the fuel becomes.
But lowering the reduction obligation would mean a sharp increase in emissions and make it difficult for Sweden to achieve its climate targets by 2030, as the Swedish Energy Agency Energimyndigheten) warned.
According to the Swedish Energy Agency, the reduction obligation is the most important policy instrument for Sweden to achieve the 2030 target of reducing emissions from domestic transport by at least 70%. The agency also emphasised that a comprehensive reduction of the reduction obligation on diesel and gasoline would mean that the climate target will not be achieved.
The Swedish Transport Administration has also assessed that biofuels are needed for a while longer and that even if only electric trucks and electric cars were to be sold from this year onwards – which is unrealistic – it would not be enough to reach the targets.
Outcry in the opposition
As expected, the opposition was up in arms against the government’s decision, with Center Party’s climate and energy policy spokesperson Rickard Nordin, saying that the Swedish government “de facto” chooses to “scrap the climate goals”, calling it a “climate scandal”.
MEP Emma Wiesner (Renew Europe) was also very critical, saying the reduction is “completely unreasonable”.
Meanwhile, the Greens sharply opposed the government’s decision, as stated by the party’s spokesperson, Märta Stenevi.
“To claim that this is for the sake of families with children is nonsense. The reduction will primarily benefit high-income earners in large cities, and the families with children and pensioners who are having the hardest time will not be helped at all by this…”, Stenevi wrote on Twitter.
The opposition strongly criticised the government for its climate policy and for reducing the country’s climate ambitions to please the far-right Sweden Democrats and stay in power.
On 30 March, the Swedish Climate Policy Council’s annual assessment showed that Sweden has been increasing its greenhouse gas emissions while the EU has been working to decrease them.
“SD is waging a cultural war against climate action,” Social Democratic MEP Fritzon told EURACTIV at the time, adding that: “Liberal Minister of Climate and Environment Romina Pourmokhtari is administrating SD’s climate destructive policies, and it is clear the government has no coherent plan for the climate.”
So far, Pourmokhtari has said that “the Swedish climate goals are fixed, and the key to the climate transition is to increase Sweden’s fossil-free electricity production.”
(Charles Szumski | EURACTIV.com)
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