Published 2019-10-07

This post is also available in Swedish

Wide-ranging ways of making Sweden fossil-free

At its annual conference in Stockholm on 12–13 September, Mistra Carbon Exit presented new research results. The programme is now in its third year and the next step is to further integrate the various work packages.

‘We’re generating more and more interesting results. From now on, we need to link the various work packages. We must also do more in-depth research on what policy measures and behavioural changes are needed,’ says Lars Zetterberg, Programme Director of Mistra Carbon Exit.

Mistra Carbon Exit was started as a result of the Paris Agreement and Sweden’s climate goal of carbon-neutrality by 2045. What will climate adaptation involve? Mistra Carbon Exit seeks to answer that question by taking a holistic approach. The programme consists of five work packages and four case studies, and the goal is to generate transformation in society.

‘It’s about how we produce raw materials, how we move, how society procures and more.’

During the conference, current studies were presented that separately and jointly touched on these work packages and case studies. Subjects included the difficulty of using climate requirements in public procurement of large infrastructure projects; middle-aged motorists’ ambivalence about leaving their cars parked at home and joining carpools instead; and what it takes to get politicians to change their behaviour when they make decisions involving climate change commitments.

Sophisticated discussions were also held about value chains, from raw materials to end consumers, which were a keynote of Mistra Carbon Exit. Other topics discussed were how far carbon storage must be used to achieve net zero carbon emissions, Sweden’s role as a European example in climate work, and to what extent it really is one.

Difficult to get climate criteria into procurement routines

Infrastructure projects give rise to massive carbon emissions. These projects involve heavy transport requirements and extensive use of concrete, steel and other materials that cause significant emissions during manufacture. The projects are often complex and difficult to standardise because of their large organisations and long duration, and because of the nature of projects.

How easy or difficult is it to implement climate requirements in actual project procurement? ‘Difficult’ was the answer from Anna Kadefors, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and Stefan Uppenberg of the global environmental consultant WSP.

They presented results from the Impress research project, which was part-funded by Mistra. In it, they conducted interviews and advanced analyses of major infrastructure projects in five countries: the UK, US, Sweden, Netherlands and Australia. These countries have been working differently, and subject to varying conditions for climate procurement requirements.

What they have in common is the difficulty in specifying requirements and getting them implemented in practice.

‘There was no Holy Grail, but there were some good examples,’ Uppenberg said.

Those who succeeded engaged in continuous collaborations throughout the supply chain, often assisted by enthusiasts and representatives from the client organisation, who were present on site and were able to act as sounding boards and influencers.

EU steps up climate ambitions

Half of Sweden’s emissions are subject to EU legislation. One question asked was how well Mistra Carbon Exit’s work package fits in with the EU vision of ‘A Clean Planet for All’. A considerable overlap was found in most key areas, but conflicts between Sweden’s perspective and the EU’s might arise. It was emphasised, for example, that highly developed Swedish value chains are not immediately applicable in Europe.

Now, a new European Commission is to be appointed. Milan Elkerbout, who is associated with the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS, a Brussels-based think tank) on an everyday basis, is on a Mistra Fellows year at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute.

He gave an up-to-the-minute report on what to expect in terms of climate from the next EU Commission.

Dutchman Frans Timmermans, the incoming Executive Vice President under Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, will be directly responsible for climate work in the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA).

‘It’s a powerful position. The new thing in that role is that he’s getting executive powers and not just a coordinating role, as the previous vice-president has had,’ Elkerbout says.

However, Timmermans must work with various other commissioners for agriculture, transport, energy and more to address their issues.

Ursula von der Leyen has had a flying start with her high ambitions in the climate area. However, some of her ideas may be slow to push through, Elkerbout thinks. This applies, for example, to the idea of ​​a border tax on carbon emissions.

The same applies to the proposal to convert the European Investment Bank into a climate investment bank. The issue is owned by the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President of the European Commission.

‘He’s for the idea and might act as a gatekeeper, but it’s a new issue that he hasn’t worked on before,’ Elkerbout says.

Behavioural changes crucial for climate adaptation

Linköping University and IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute are conducting a series of behavioural studies, with experimental design as well as through focus groups.

The purpose is to capture the considerations, obstacles, resistance and also opportunities for change that exist in various groups in society — and that are necessary for climate change adaptation to become serious.

Victoria Wibeck and Kajsa-Stina Benulic of Linköping University showed preliminary results from an attitude survey. These showed that obstacles to people replacing their cars with electric ones, for example, could be the absence of charging points and a fear of adopting a technology that might, a few years later, prove to be overtaken by another,. They have also examined views on climate leadership among a group of Swedish senior managers.

Magnus Hennlock of IVL has studied car-sharing and similar practices among inveterate car owners. All these studies are included in work package 3 (WP3) in Mistra Carbon Exit and will be linked to the other work packages, notably WP4, which focuses on policy and governance.

‘What are the policy changes that will get people’s behaviour on the right track?’ Hennlock asked during the conference.

As the final presentation point, Johan Rootzén and Ida Karlsson showed their case study from a number of ongoing construction and civil engineering projects. In these, they surveyed how materials, energy and transport are used in construction processes and how, in the future, these flows and value chains could be transformed without compromising efficiency.

The conference, Mistra Carbon Exit’s third, was mainly addressed to scientists and employees associated with the programme. There were about 40 attendees.