How green champion Sweden could end up exporting its carbon sins

sweden cement

Workers stroll at 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

STOCKHOLM — When a Swedish courtroom ordered the nation’s greatest cement maker to cease mining limestone by its enormous manufacturing unit on the windswept island of Gotland to stop air pollution, ecologists cheered.

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

That may 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 stated it could drive Sweden to import cement from international locations that pump out extra emissions within the total manufacturing course of – or threat large job losses within the development business at house.

“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, stated.

Sweden’s dilemma encapsulates one the challenges dealing with nations assembly in Glasgow for the U.N. COP26 climate talks: learn how to present they don’t seem to be slicing emissions by merely exporting the issue elsewhere – a phenomenon often called “carbon leakage”.

A wealthy, steady 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 the usage of renewable vitality. In 2018, its carbon emissions per head stood at 3.5 tonnes, effectively beneath the European Union common of 6.4 tonnes, based on World Bank knowledge.

But the stand-off over the Slite cement plant epitomizes the rising stress between native setting targets and the 2015 Paris Agreement signed by practically 200 international locations to attempt to restrict international 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 advised Reuters. “These two things can be balanced.”

Alternative fuels

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

They don’t have 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, throughout the 27-nation bloc.

The World Bank says solely 22% of worldwide emissions had been lined by pricing mechanisms final yr and the International Monetary Fund put the typical international worth of carbon at $3 a tonne – a tiny fraction of Sweden’s carbon tax.

While the Swedish courtroom’s choice was not linked to Slite’s carbon footprint, however moderately the dangers its quarry poses to native groundwater, the impression from an emissions standpoint is determined by the effectivity and vitality mixture of the producers more likely to provide Sweden with cement to plug any shortfalls.

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

“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, stated final month.

Koen Coppenholle, head of European cement foyer group Cembureau, stated he was assured European crops had been “cleaner” total as a result of excessive EU carbon fees on producers had inspired them to spend money on decreasing their emissions.

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

According to Cembureau knowledge, nonetheless, imports of cement from exterior the EU have jumped by about 160% within the final 5 years, although 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 try 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 don’t seem to be charged for his or her carbon output.

Europe’s cement business helps the transfer, however warns it’s fraught with difficulties, comparable to learn how 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,” stated Coppenholle. “That’s the whole discussion on carbon leakage.”

For a rustic comparable to Sweden, which has reduce its emissions by 29% during the last three a long time, the problem of home motion versus international impression goes past cement.

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

But for those who measure what Swedes eat, together with items and companies produced overseas, the determine is a few third greater, based on Statistics Sweden, which put so-called consumption-based emissions at 82 million tonnes that yr.

Climate is international

The native versus international perspective additionally raises questions on which sort 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 provide metal with out utilizing fossil fuels.

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

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 a substitute – 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 barely as a result of be phased in from 2026, probably 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 offer Cementa a keep of execution, however no long-term resolution is in sight.

Environmentalists comparable to David Kihlberg, local weather head on the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation, say easing laws provides industries an excuse to place off adjustments that have to 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 stated, referring to a hypothetical situation that isn’t Swedish coverage.

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

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