Picturesque Swedish buildings behind a small lake and fountain.

Almedalen in Visby, Sweden. Photo: Ylva Rylander / SEI.

Sustainable development and Agenda 2030 were hot topics during this year’s very chilly political week in Almedalen, Sweden. In the Almedalen app I found no fewer than 600 events dealing with sustainability and some 350 on climate and environment, out of a total of 4,600!

As I meet and talk to people, most seem to be repeating the same mantra: “It is all happening now, society is clearly transforming, and so fast”. Could it be that Agenda 2030 is becoming a unifying compass that steers an array of actors – civil society, private business, politicians and academics – to come together, discuss and debate, think, and – most importantly – take action? Few seem to dispute the validity of the goals, which enables and steers towards constructive and creative discussion around what should be done, who should do it, and how.

Senior research fellow Karl Hallding explains the Agenda 2030 compass, a tool for understanding how new policy instruments, strategies or products will affect the goals in Agenda 2030. The event was co-organised with Jernkontoret (The Swedish Steel Producers’ Association) at Almedalen 2018. Photo: Anneli Sundin / SEI.

Sustainable consumption – and its siblings, the circular economy and bioeconomy – is receiving a lot of attention with seminars ranging from biodegradable plastics, the future role of the Swedish forest industry, transformational change of behaviour around consumption, and food waste. This is good news for SEI which has been very active with projects on these topics.

For instance, the PRINCE project developed a methodology enabling estimation of environmental impacts originating from Swedish consumption from products produced both within Sweden and abroad. The impacts of imported goods have been previously challenging to estimate, and are interesting for an import-reliant country like Sweden. Another finding is that there is a potential decoupling between economic growth and environmental impacts arising from consumption. And for interested consumers, SEI offers a tool called Klimatkalkylatorn enabling you to check the impact of your personal consumption.

Policy mechanisms and the recent action plan for the implementation of Agenda 2030 were discussed with the Minister for Public Affairs, Mr Ardalan Shekarabi, at a joint seminar organised by the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation and SEI. The Nordic Council of Ministers will present a new report next week at the High-Level Political Forum in New York. According to this report, SDG 12 is the goal which the Nordics struggle to meet the most. Will the strategies presented by government in the new action plan be enough?

Ardalan Shekarabi and Louise Karlberg discussing how Sweden can reach SDG 12 on sustainable consumption, during an event co-convened with the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. Photo: Anneli Sundin / SEI.

Green bonds and green finance were intensively discussed at an array of seminars, and several actors seemed to be competing for the position of being first to invent green loans. 7 out of 10 consumers want to invest sustainably, but only 4 of 10 do so, with many unwilling to spend time doing the research. More than 20 mutual funds have now received the Nordic Swan Ecolabel, launched almost a year ago – but more needs to be done. Training and education for financial advisors and bank personnel was discussed, as well as clearing the way for more sustainable financial products.

The recent inauguration of the Stockholm Sustainable Finance Centre (SSFC) hosted at SEI is clearly very timely as SSFC will be working with sustainability education for the financial sector, mapping of obstacles, and paving the way for the green finance sector.

Many voices during the week suggested that the Swedish business sector is ahead of politicians in the transition process. Highest-level representatives from large Swedish companies have been detailing their processes for how they work with Agenda 2030 and their future goals. Many of them call for the same thing: long-term political agreements that span the majority of Swedish political parties and give clear direction, so they can structure their operations.

As I set sail back towards Stockholm it is with a sense of pride, concern and hope. Pride – because I belong to a society that holds values of equality, diversity and respect close at heart, and which has a long tradition of dialogue and close collaboration between the private sector, academia, decision-makers and the civil society. Concern – because of the strong populistic winds that blow over the country, threatening knowledge-based decision-making and presenting simplistic solutions to complex problems. And hope – because of the dedication for a societal transition towards Agenda 2030 expressed by vastly different actors, bringing society together on a pathway towards a sustainable future for all.

Video: SEI / YouTube.