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Scenarios for a Swedish Green Economy

Sweden has set a target for zero greenhouse gas emissions in 2050. How do we get there? And what would sustainable development in Sweden look like? A new report highlights opportunities and challenges in the transition to a green economy.
Anna Löfdahl / Published on 12 February 2013

Related people

Måns Nilsson
Måns Nilsson

Executive Director

SEI Headquarters

Eric Kemp-Benedict
Eric Kemp-Benedict

SEI Affiliated Researcher


Profile picture of Magnus Benzie
Magnus Benzie

Senior Research Fellow

SEI Oxford

The answers depend on what the future holds – not just in Sweden, but for the world. In a globalized world Sweden’s freedom of action is constrained in large part by what happens abroad. Technical development, degraded ecosystems and increasing pressure on natural resources are all factors that affect the ability of Sweden to achieve its environmental and climate goals.

«Watch the video from the launch of the report (in Swedish)»

These are the broad conclusions in a new report from Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI), the Swedish Confederation for Professional Employees (TCO) and the Swedish Agency for Growth Policy Analysis (Tillväxtanalys). The report is designed to serve as a basis for discussion of the government’s roadmap for how Sweden will navigate towards sustainable development without impacting upon climate change.

What are scenarios?
The report draws on the principles of Scenario Diversity Analysis (SDA) previously tested in government and private sectors. SDA allows us to peer into the future without trying to predict it, and can help generate viable and robust policy options without specifying them in advance.

The four scenarios: “pictures” of how our future might unfold informed by over 100 drivers:

  • Glocal Citizenship: a mosaic of value-driven communities combining new measures of wellbeing and focus on local resource efficiencies.
  • Global Governance: a new state-based global system in the wake of an acute global crisis, charting a future of functioning global institutions but reduced economic growth.
  • Return of Geopolitics: a multipolar world order, marked by growing tensions and securitisation of commodities and leading to global inefficiencies, low overall growth prospects and mounting inequalities.
  • Big Business: a world in which business, particularly transnational corporations, plays a dominant role in setting a global agenda characterised by strong corporate social responsibility (CSR), sustainability-driven supply chains, and considerable productivity gains.

The concept of the ‘green economy’ is often advocated as a remedy for market failures and shortcomings in our current model of development. Although there is no common definition of ‘green economy’, this report concludes that it is an essential component in economic policy making if we are to preserve prosperity, security and competitiveness. The exclusion of natural capital in the economic model worked for as long as the world economy was relatively small. But today, the world has come to a crossroads defined by scarcity.

“More and more economists realize that we must develop our economic models to account for ecosystem services and natural resource assets,” says Karl Hallding, SEI. “A green economy is not a matter of having ‘green’ values. It is a question of developing the economic system so that our communities are resilient to change and prepared to cope with a future that will bring great pressures and challenges.”

Karl Hallding, lead author of the report and research theme leader for Rethinking Development at SEI, sees advantages for Sweden in a transition to a green economy:

“Sweden has some comparative advantages, especially in the ratio of landmass to population size”, says Karl Hallding. “The country already obtains a large proportion of its electricity from hydropower and has huge potential for bio- energy and wind power. The population is well educated and society is well organized. If Sweden can’t reach zero net emissions in 2050, which country can?”

The report describes two basic challenges facing the world today: degraded ecosystems and increasing pressure on natural resources. These have a negative impact on global prosperity and the stability of the international financial system. Coupled with a number of driving forces and uncertainties, these challenges form the basis for the four global scenarios in the report. Using these scenarios, the authors tested how different policy measures might work in relation to global trends.

If Sweden does not act, the report says, it may be more expensive in the long run and Sweden may be forced to adapt to external circumstances.

“Prosperous, democratic Sweden may be comparatively well placed to push green economic solutions, but doing so will involve tough decisions and trade-offs,” says Karl Hallding. “Acting early to position Sweden at the forefront of a resource efficient, green economy is a way for Sweden to maintain its freedom of action. Finding workable policy solutions will be crucial and this study offers innovative ways of formulating them.”

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