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How green champion Sweden could end up exporting its carbon sins By Reuters


© Reuters. General view of the Cementa’s Slite plant in Slite, Sweden, on this undated handout image obtained by Reuters on October 13, 2021. Cementa/Handout by way of REUTERS


By Simon Johnson

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – When a Swedish courtroom ordered the nation’s largest cement maker to cease mining limestone by its large manufacturing facility on the windswept island of Gotland to stop air pollution, ecologists cheered.

Besides defending wildlife and water provides, the ruling could pressure the plant that makes 75% of Sweden’s cement and is the nation’s second largest carbon emitter to slash output whereas it finds uncooked supplies elsewhere, and even shut altogether.

That could be good for Sweden’s emissions targets, however not such excellent news for the remainder of the planet.

A government-commissioned report seen by Reuters mentioned it could pressure Sweden to import cement from international locations that pump out extra emissions within the total manufacturing course of – or threat huge job losses within the building business at dwelling.

“Imports from countries outside the EU would probably lead to larger environmental impacts as a result of lower standards related to CO2 emissions and lower standards in land use,” the report, obtained by way of a freedom of information request, mentioned.

Sweden’s dilemma encapsulates one the challenges dealing with nations assembly in Glasgow for the U.N. COP26 local weather talks: easy methods to present they aren’t chopping emissions by merely exporting the issue elsewhere – a phenomenon generally known as “carbon leakage”.

A wealthy, secure Nordic democracy, Sweden has lengthy topped worldwide environmental rankings and has managed to chop again on greenhouse gases for years whereas preserving financial progress on a path in the direction of its goal of web zero emissions by 2045.

It has the world’s highest carbon tax at $137 per tonne and is a frontrunner in using renewable vitality. In 2018, its carbon emissions per head stood at 3.5 tonnes, nicely under the European Union common of 6.4 tonnes, in line with World Bank knowledge.

But the stand-off over the Slite cement plant epitomises the rising stress between native surroundings targets and the 2015 Paris Agreement signed by almost 200 international locations to attempt to restrict world warming to 1.5 Celsius.

“We have to weigh up the global focus – doing the most for the climate – but also maintain our high ambitions when it comes to our local environmental problems,” Sweden’s Minster for Environment and Climate Per Bolund instructed Reuters. “These two things can be balanced.”


Much of Europe’s imported cement comes from Turkey, Russia, Belarus and international locations in North Africa.

They haven’t got something just like the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world’s largest carbon market and one which units the value of carbon permits for energy-intensive sectors, together with cement, inside the 27-nation bloc.

The World Bank says solely 22% of world emissions have been lined by pricing mechanisms final 12 months and the International Monetary Fund put the common world value of carbon at $3 a tonne – a tiny fraction of Sweden’s carbon tax.

While the Swedish courtroom’s determination was not linked to Slite’s carbon footprint, however slightly the dangers its quarry poses to native groundwater, the affect from an emissions perspective is determined by the effectivity and vitality mixture of the producers prone to provide Sweden with cement to plug any shortfalls.

Slite’s proprietor, Germany’s HeidelbergCement (DE:), additionally plans to make it the world’s first carbon impartial cement manufacturing facility by 2030, however the uncertainty over its future following the courtroom ruling could delay and even scupper the venture.

“We need a decision soon on the long-term basis for these operations if that is not to be delayed,” Magnus Ohlsson, chief govt of HeidelbergCement’s Swedish subsidiary Cementa, mentioned final month.

Koen Coppenholle, head of European cement foyer group Cembureau, mentioned he was assured European vegetation have been “cleaner” total as a result of excessive EU carbon prices on producers had inspired them to put money into lowering their emissions.

“In Europe, right now, we are replacing 50% of our primary fuel needs by alternative fuels,” he mentioned

For a graphic on World Bank carbon pricing dashboard:

According to Cembureau knowledge, nevertheless, imports of cement from outdoors the EU have jumped by about 160% within the final 5 years, though complete volumes stay comparatively small.

But carbon leakage, the place emissions are shifted from international locations with tight environmental guidelines to ones with laxer and cheaper regimes, is a matter for dozens of industries and policymakers are attempting to sort out it.

In July, the EU unveiled plans for the world’s first carbon border tax to guard European industries, together with cement, from opponents overseas whose producers produce at decrease value as a result of they aren’t charged for his or her carbon output.

Europe’s cement business helps the transfer, however warns it’s fraught with difficulties, reminiscent of easy methods to measure emissions in numerous international locations given various processes and fuels.

“If you impose strict requirements on CO2 and emissions, you have to make sure you do that in a way that you don’t push companies outside the EU,” mentioned Coppenholle. “That’s the whole discussion on carbon leakage.”

For a rustic reminiscent of Sweden, which has minimize its emissions by 29% over the past three a long time, the difficulty of home motion versus world affect goes past cement.

The nation’s already low, and declining, emissions from home manufacturing dropped to simply below 60 million tonnes of carbon equal in 2018.

But in the event you measure what Swedes eat, together with items and providers produced overseas, the determine is a few third greater, in line with Statistics Sweden, which put so-called consumption-based emissions at 82 million tonnes that 12 months.


The native versus world perspective additionally raises questions on which kind of business coverage is finally greener.

Sweden’s main metal agency SSAB, state-owned miner LKAB and utility Vattenfall, for instance, have invested closely in creating a course of to supply metal with out utilizing fossil fuels

They say switching to so-called green hydrogen energy would scale back Sweden’s emissions by about 10%, a giant step in the direction of reaching the nation’s 2045 web zero emission purpose.

But for researchers Magnus Henrekson on the Research Institute for Industrial Economics, Christian Sandstrom at Jonkoping International Business School and Carl Alm on the Ratio Institute, that is an instance of the “environmental nationalism” that advantages one nation, however not the world.

They estimate that if Sweden exported the renewable vitality it will use to make hydrogen to Poland and Germany as an alternative – in order that they could reduce on coal-fired energy – total CO2 emissions would fall by 10 to 12 occasions greater than by making “green” metal.

The EU’s carbon border levy, in the meantime, is just attributable to be phased in from 2026, doubtlessly too late to have a bearing on the destiny of Cementa’s Slite limestone quarry.

Sweden’s parliament has agreed to a authorities proposal to tweak the nation’s environmental legal guidelines to provide Cementa a keep of execution, however no long-term answer is in sight.

Environmentalists reminiscent of David Kihlberg, local weather head on the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, say easing rules provides industries an excuse to place off adjustments that must occur now.

“It would be incredibly destructive for climate diplomacy if Sweden came to the top climate meeting in Glasgow and said our climate policy is to increase emissions and the local environmental impact in order to pull the rug from under Chinese cement producers,” he mentioned, referring to a hypothetical state of affairs that isn’t Swedish coverage.

“The climate question is global and has to be solved by cooperation between countries.”

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