Pesticide spraying in Cauca, Colombia

Pesticide spraying in Cauca, Colombia. Photo: Neil Palmer (CIAT) / Flickr.

In 2015, SEI joined a consortium that was commissioned to explore new ways to quantify and map out the global environmental impacts of Swedish consumption. In a report published on 1 November by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Naturvårdsverket, the PRINCE team summarises the outcomes – including new consumption-based indicators, modelling methods and novel environmental extensions.

PRINCE was commissioned by Naturvårdsverket and the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management (Havs- och Vattenmyndigheten, or HaV), and funded under a Naturvårdsverket research grant (Environmental Research Appropriation 1:5). The team was led by Viveka Palm of Statistics Sweden and included experts from SEI, Chalmers University of Technology, KTH Royal Institute of Technology, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Leiden University Institute of Environmental Sciences (CML) and the Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO).

“The idea behind PRINCE was to explore what indicators could be used to follow up Sweden’s “Generational Goal” – the overarching goal of its environmental policy, which states that the major environmental problems in Sweden should be eliminated within a generation, without worsening environmental or health problems abroad. In some ways it can be seen as an explicit commitment that Sweden will take care of its total consumption footprint, not just the part that falls within Sweden,” says SEI Research Fellow Elena Dawkins, one of SEI’s PRINCE team.

“It was a multi-faceted challenge,” she continues. “We had to develop a way of regularly measuring Sweden’s consumption footprint. We had to make international data compatible with the detailed environmental and economic data that Sweden has on its own economy, emissions and resource use – in order to compare trends in the domestic and external footprints. We also had a wishlist of environmental pressures to develop indicators for, some of which had never been measured at national scale by any country before.”

Origin of greenhouse gas emissions due to Swedish consumption, based on preliminary PRINCE data. Source: PRINCE.

A new model

At the heart of the PRINCE indicators is a new model that links Swedish economic and environmental statistics with a multi-regional input-output (MRIO) database, EXIOBASE 3, in order to model the international supply chains that feed Swedish consumption. This information is then used to calculate the resulting environmental pressures (emissions and resource use) of Swedish consumption, and where in the world those pressures occur. It can also be used to understand the environmental pressures associated with different components of final demand – private and public-sector consumption and capital formation – and the different products and services that are consumed.

Dawkins contributed to developing the model with a study comparing results for Sweden from different MRIO databases and existing Swedish statistics in order to identify the best combination for the PRINCE model.

First-of-kind indicators for hazardous chemicals footprint

EXIOBASE and the Swedish national statistics already contained “environmental extensions” for calculating numerous environmental pressures – greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, use of land, fresh water and various categories of materials. However, another important aspect of PRINCE was developing new extensions for pressures that had not before been measured at national scale.

SEI Senior Research Fellow Linn Persson was on a team that developed world-first indicators for the aggregate use and emissions of hazardous chemical products embodied in Swedish consumption.

“Naturvårdsverket was keen for us to see how to measure the chemicals impacts of Swedish consumption. A key difficulty we had to overcome was the sheer number of different hazardous chemicals – and that they are used for so many different purposes in all sectors of society. So we had to create a set of indicators that together would tell a representative story of the overall use and emissions of hazardous chemical products for Swedish consumption,” says Persson.

The team produced five aggregate chemicals extensions, some based on use of hazardous chemicals and others on emissions, and focusing on different aspects such as ecotoxicity and human toxicity. They also developed extensions for agrochemicals and veterinary antimicrobials.

“These indicators have exciting potential, but they are only as good as the data available. We had to rely on national reporting of chemicals use in different countries, and it is patchy and inconsistent, particularly outside the EU. This work really underlined the need for more standardised reporting of hazardous chemical use,” says Persson.

Fisheries, forests and shipping emissions

SEI experts sat on several other sub-projects within PRINCE that developed new ways of understanding the impacts of Swedish – and potentially other countries’ – consumption. Chris West, Senior Research Associate at SEI-York, led a groundbreaking study on indicators for consumption of wild-caught sea fish. These new indicators not only measure volume but also detail species and capture methods, making it possible to better assess the potential environmental impacts.

“This kind of data gives us a much better indication of the potential effects on marine biodiversity that could be happening as a result of our consumption,” says West.

In another PRINCE case study, SEI Senior Research Fellow Javier Godar calculated the greenhouse gas and air pollutant emissions from maritime shipping associated with exports to and imports from Sweden, using a methodology developed by researchers from UCL in London. For the specific case of Brazilian exports, they also developed a new method that weaves together huge data sets on cargo per vessel and ship locations and movements, to make precise calculations of emissions for all individual products exported by Brazil to all countries in the world.

“If you compare it with countries, international shipping would be the sixth largest emitter of CO2 in the world,” says Godar. “It also creates a lot of air pollution, especially in coastal areas, which is a major health concern. We demonstrated that it’s now technically possible to link vessel cargo to data on individual vessel journeys and profiles, which can support greater accountability in the maritime sector as well as well-informed demand-side policies to reduce emissions.”

Finally, SEI Research Associate Simon Croft led a study on methods to track forest-risk commodities’ journey from local levels of production to final consumption. This was done by linking spatially explicit data on production and exports of forest-risk crops – of the type generated by the Trase initiative – to MRIO data from SEI’s IOTA database. Read a related blog by Simon Croft on SEI’s contribution to this year’s Living Planet Report, focused on data integration to link consumers back to their impacts on biodiversity in production regions.

“It’s been a fascinating project to work on, not just to better understand the impacts of Swedish consumption, but also in that much of the work in PRINCE, by SEI as well as the other partners in the consortium, help to redefine the state of the art in national environmental accounting, bringing footprinting up to speed with the data and methods that are now available,” says Linn Persson. “These methods could even help in filling the gap in credible indicators for Sustainable Development Goal 12 on Responsible Consumption and Production.”

Caspar Trimmer led communications for the PRINCE project.