Published 2021-03-31

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Johan Kuylenstierna taking his seat on Mistra’s Board

Global policies in the right direction, competitive renewable energy and maturity among businesses and citizens. These are three reasons why Johan Kuylenstierna, Chair of the Swedish Climate Policy Council, is highly confident that we will achieve official climate targets. As a new member of Mistra’s Board, he is looking forward to discussions on how research impacts political decision-making processes.

A few days have passed since the Swedish Climate Policy Council presented and submitted its review report to the Government. This year’s report, focusing on how the Government’s crisis management and recovery policy are affecting scope for realising the goals of climate policy, has generally received positive reactions, notes Johan Kuylenstierna, Chair of the Swedish Climate Policy Council.

Johan Kuylenstierna, Adjunct Professor at Stockholm University. PHOTO: Niklas Björling / Stockholm University

‘Not least, it’s because the report concerns fiscal policy — an area many people consider very important. And because we clearly state that we’re reviewing overall policy. It’s not about a specific environmental and climate policy, but about going into heavy policy areas where the major emissions are, such as industry, agriculture and transport, and where fiscal policy is an important tool. Then there are some conclusions in the subsequent discussion that are attributed to us, but that we don’t actually state in the report,’ Kuylenstierna says.

He points to various interpretations of the Climate Policy Council’s recommendation to review the fiscal framework, its flexibility and scope to create conditions for greater investment.

‘For example, that’s been interpreted as a direct recommendation from us to borrow more money to invest in railways, which isn’t the case. We emphasise that the framework needs to take the climate perspective into account, and for there to be flexibility in how it’s used.’

Kuylenstierna finds it unsurprising that the Council is now, in its third annual report, showing that today’s policy is insufficient to achieve the climate-policy targets. He points out that it was the Riksdag that set the targets, and that the Council makes an assessment and recommendations.

‘We probably shouldn’t expect current policies to be enough; we’re aware that new and more stringent decisions will always be needed for us to achieve the targets. The report shouldn’t be interpreted as too pessimistic in that respect, but it’s important for us to be clear about the current status in relation to the 2045 targets. It’s vital that we point to the considerable scope that exists to speed up the pace.’

‘The transition can be faster’

Kuylenstierna is highly confident that we will achieve the set climate targets. He points to the maturity and momentum of business and citizens as important prerequisites for a transition. And he believes that the shift can be even faster, and Sweden’s target of net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions by 2045 will be achieved.

‘It’s partly due to the global policies, where we’re seeing countries adopting clear targets and action plans, the EU Green Deal, and more and more countries with climate-policy frameworks. We also have competitive fossil-free and renewable energy, with enormous development potential. Unlike just five to ten years ago, the transition is now increasingly market-driven, and businesses are moving in the same direction. The role of politics remains important, but it’s more and more one of paving the way.’

Kuylenstierna points out that the geopolitical dimension is also interesting.

‘That’s an important geopolitical issue, since fossil resources are controlled by just a few countries. In some cases, that issue is driving development more than the climate crisis. We also have limited resources, which means more volatile prices and markets, and this gets the attention of the financial sector, in particular. And then there are other environmental problems the transition can improve, like air pollution and ocean acidification.’

But the shift brings challenges — not least regarding critical raw materials and social issues when economies are changing, both in Sweden and globally. The Climate Policy Council is highlighting the importance of acceptance and legitimacy for a transition.

‘We can’t get away from the fact that a transition like this presents challenges in certain places and for some groups. We need to talk about that, study the implications and make decisions that minimise the downsides.’

Work now starting on next Climate Policy Council report

Both during the work on the report and after its release, the Council is holding discussions with all eight parliamentary parties, businesses and civil society. Now, a follow-up talk with the Government is awaited, and soon there will be a special briefing for the Riksdag’s Committee on Environment and Agriculture. There is also keen interest among municipalities and regions, according to Kuylenstierna.

Planning of next year’s report has already begun. Deciding on the in-depth study, ordering data and a massive task of external analysis, in which Council researchers play an important role, all take up a great deal of time.

‘Relatively fast, the highly skilled people at our Secretariat are also starting work on the texts. It’s a long process, and when we get the climate report in December, we’ll weave it into the work.’

Mistra’s new board member

Kuylenstierna is now taking his seat on Mistra’s Board. He already has ties with several of Mistra’s research programmes, including Mistra Geopolitics and the former Mistra-SWECIA programme (on climate, impacts and adaptation), but is looking forward to immersing himself into Mistra’s entire research portfolio. He hopes to be able to contribute knowledge and perspective based on his background and experience from other board assignments.

‘It’ll be exciting and interesting. Mistra’s programmes challenge the silo mentality, pose system-wide questions and bring together stakeholders with a variety of skills.’

He thinks his nomination for one of the Board’s academic seats, although he is not a researcher, says something about his work in what he himself calls the ‘fuzzy intersection of science and policy’ — in other words, the importance of research and expertise entering political decision-making processes. He believes that his experience at the United Nations will come in handy.

‘It’s about combining various perspectives to accelerate positive social development. That’s the core of Mistra. I hope to contribute my experience from working in various contexts and with many different stakeholders — regionally, nationally and globally.’

He emphasises the importance of free, independent research, while also highlighting the bearing of integrated processes for policy interaction and communication on a research programme that brings together a variety of stakeholders and sets out to influence decision-making.

‘It’s a matter of how quickly you can interact with society at large and establish yourself as a constructive stakeholder. It’s difficult when people say they’ll come up with answers in five years’ time to a question that’s being discussed now. There’s a window of opportunity here. With Mistra’s research, the interaction with society during the programme is a great boon. I’m eager to familiarise myself with this more, but also to find out how the programmes build the skills of future generations, notably through doctoral students, who are among the concrete results of the programmes.’

Discussing strategic cooperation among various types of research funders to maximise investments is another matter Kuylenstierna is looking forward to. And he cherishes an idea of a research area that he would love to see become a reality.

‘Public administration is sector-oriented, but there’s a great need for alternative, comprehensive ways of working in administration to address major multisectoral challenges like climate and biodiversity. There’s more and more research on earth-system changes; I’d like to see more research on the equivalent when it comes to social development, but also complex value chains such as “governance-system changes” and “governance across value chains”.’