Cinnamon and cardamom buns in bakery window, Stockholm, Sweden

Food waste in Sweden is on average 106 kg per person per year, equivalent to one individual wastes about the weight of 1,180 cinnamon buns annually. Photo: Jessica Guzik / Unsplash .

Climate change and geopolitical conflicts have revealed the fragility of our interdependent food systems at a global scale. Millions are currently exposed to food insecurity. Unprecedented floods in Pakistan have exacerbated already alarming food shortages triggered by Russia’s invasion in Ukraine since nearly half of Pakistan’s wheat imports come from Ukraine1.

In Sweden, climate change is starting to become more apparent in the form of water shortages and affects domestic agriculture, as seen in the drought in 2018. Moreover, climate change also affects Sweden’s food systems through its supply chains, for Sweden imports much of its food from countries that face greater extreme climate impacts, from Spain to Brazil.

Sweden has committed to reaching climate neutrality by 2045. What does this mean for its food systems? Part of the transition requires shifting towards locally produced food, more plant-based diets and reducing food waste. These measures result in tangible health benefits and require policies to support these actions.


Sweden’s food consumption emissions currently account for nearly 20% of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While detailed data for sectoral emissions are missing and require further research, many studies have proposed the following measures to most effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions to ensure they reach climate targets. To facilitate societal systematic change, Sweden’s policies should address the following:

  • More local produce

    The majority of Sweden’s food consumption emissions take place outside of the country since Sweden heavily relies on imports and more than two-thirds of the emissions are generated abroad2. Among food consumed in Sweden, over half of its fruits and berries, fish, vegetables and cheese are imported, while potato, sugar and milk are largely produced domestically3.

The percentage of food consumed in Swedish imported from other countries by category. Source: Federation of Swedish Farmers / Swedish Agency for Agriculture .

  • More plant-based food

In order to limit global warming to within 1.5°C, the per-capita emissions budget on food in Sweden would equate to 11 kg of CO2e per week. One kg of red meat or the same amount of shrimp would already exceed the budget since they emit 28 kg and 14 kg respectively. On the other hand, one kg of legumes or root vegetables is less than one kg of CO2e4.

The climate impact of one meal can be calculated based on the footprint of different foods per kg in Sweden. Source: WWF Sweden / CarbonCloud .

  • Less food waste

Residents in Sweden waste an average of 106 kg of food per year, equivalent to the weight of about 1,180 cinnamon buns or 280 plates of IKEA plant-based balls. Looking into the food supply chain, 70% of food waste occurs in households5.


Contrary to countries in the Global South, where hunger affected 9.8% of the world’s total population in 20216, residents in Sweden face diet-related diseases7. Making dietary changes to ones that contain a high ratio of plants and minimal animal products, in line with planetary health, could provide health benefits. Such diets reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and cancers, as well as preventing one-fifth of diet-related deaths among adults8.

The results of a Lund University study on 22,421 participants in Malmö over 20 years support the benefits of the EAT-Lancet diet. It observed that premature death fell by 25% and that risks of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer decreased by 32% and 24% respectively among individuals whose diets were closer to EAT-Lancet’s planetary health diet9.

A planetary health plate of various food categories by volume. It contains approximately half a plate of vegetables and fruits, while whole grains, plant protein sources, unsaturated plant oils comprise the other half based on their calories contribution. Graphic: EAT Foundation .

Fairness and policy gaps

The consequences of climate change would only accelerate without any consideration for any geopolitical agendas, as seen in the food and energy crises that have jeopardized the livelihoods of many. It is critical to undertake an inclusive and just transition policy to enable the adoption of sustainable diets. This is also true in the Swedish context, where the groups most at risk of losing out comprise of 40% of the population, and contribute to a quarter of the total food consumption emissions.

To effectively foster low-emission food consumption, policies need to take into account how citizens consume. In our study on Sweden’s food consumption emissions, we find urban dwellers are more likely to be vegetarians and tend to purchase more local products than people in rural areas. On the other hand, rural residents tend to waste less food, especially for those who are less affluent. Noting these differences and taking fairness into consideration when designing a low-carbon Swedish food policy will contribute to effectively support reaching the climate goal. Meanwhile, low variations across social groups identified in one of our recent studies suggests the need for an overarching food policy to take place at the national level.

Delving into current food policies in Sweden, clear targets are missing in food consumption10. There is also a lack of policy visions to facilitate the required changes in our food choices since current policies place the bulk of responsibility on individual consumers to initiate change11. To bridge the gap, existing Swedish food policies need to first acknowledge the role of the national government to bring about low-carbon transitions in food systems. Policymakers also need to set clear goals on reducing climate impacts from the food sector and design policy tools that enable consumers to consciously and actively pursue low-carbon dietary options.

As a welfare society and the first country to set consumption-based targets, inclusive and just policies need to be in place in order to deliver Sweden’s carbon-neutral targets. This will not only contribute positively to the environment, but also be beneficial for public health and reduce healthcare expenses. The country’s success in providing its citizens with just and fair food systems will also serve as an inspiring role model for other nations in these interwoven food systems that accounts for 34% of global greenhouse gas emissions12.