Professor Will Steffen, Director of Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies at the ANU
The announcement by the Swedish Government
that the country intends to have an oil-free economy in just 15 years could
become a circuit-breaker on the climate change and oil scarcity issues. Why is
this so important?
First, the planned switch from fossil fuels
to biofuels means that the country’s energy system would operate within the
natural dynamics of the Earth’s carbon cycle. Carbon emitted by burning
biofuels is returned to the terrestrial biosphere through the growth of fuel
crops or forests. There is no net
increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Second, the planning for this shift
required that a wide range of sectors in Swedish society work together –
industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants, NGOs and no
doubt a wide range of other groups. How
refreshing to see a consensus approach across disparate groups to achieve a
national policy shift on a major issue. This may well be the largest example of
participatory decision-making ever, building on a long tradition of consensus
approaches to decision-making in Scandinavia.
Most important of all, the Swedish
announcement is a psychological breakthrough. If a modern, Western, hi-tech
economy can develop an oil-free, renewable-based energy system in just 15
years, then the doom-and-gloomers who claim that solving the climate change
problem is too difficult and costly will be dramatically proved wrong.
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Having lived in Sweden and worked occasionally with the Swedish Government on
climate change issues, I was often asked the question, “…but what can a small
country like Sweden do?” The Swedes have answered their own question very
What they have done is to take global
leadership on the most difficult question faced by contemporary civilisation.
History may well judge this as the turning point away from eventual economic
and environmental collapse towards a more sustainable future.