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The Sweden Files: 16 is the magic number

Sweden has set itself 16 ambitious environmental objectives, and one big goal: fix everything … in one generation. Here’s a closer look at those 16 objectives.

Sweden has set itself 16 ambitious environmental objectives, and one big goal: fix everything … in one generation.

In 1999 the Swedish Government set itself 15 environmental objectives (a 16th objective, on biodiversity, was added in 2005). The ambitious, overarching goal of the objectives is to solve the environmental problems Sweden faces—in time for the next generation. That next generation is due to arrive in 2020.

Some of the objectives have had their deadlines extended (the Swedes are giving themselves until 2050 to sort out climate change; thanks in advance, Sweden!), but the dozen-or-so agencies responsible for meeting the objectives are taking the 2020 deadline very seriously. Eight years in, and there’s still a long way to go.

The beauty of the objectives is in their ambitiousness: ask for the impossible, break it into achievable, measureable steps, and get your highly motivated, integrated, yet specialised teams cracking.

So, what are they aiming for?

  1. Reduced climate impact
  2. Clean air
  3. Natural acidification only
  4. A non-toxic environment
  5. A protective ozone layer
  6. A safe radiation environment
  7. Zero eutrophication
  8. Flourishing lakes and streams
  9. Good-quality groundwater
  10. A balanced marine environment, flourishing coastal areas and archipelagos
  11. Thriving wetlands
  12. Sustainable forests
  13. A varied agricultural landscape
  14. A magnificent mountain landscape
  15. A good built environment
  16. A rich diversity of plant and animal life

Although the goals sound rather vague, more than 80 interim goals have been set, with serious policy behind them. Sweden’s Environmental Code, introduced in 1998, is the major piece of legislation. Economic instruments (yes, there’s a carbon tax here—and a congestion tax) are also used.

And no, they weren’t a Green Party initiative. The goals were introduced by the Social Democratic Party, but are now managed by Sweden’s current centre-right coalition government. You read that correctly: a centre-right coalition government is making this happen.

Meanwhile, should New Zealand end up with its own centre-right coalition government, National has promised to agree on up to 20 national environmental goals, with a deadline of 2030. Surprised? Me too. That’s one election promise I’d like to see kept, no matter who ends up in power.

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