Sweden First Country To Target Emissions From Imported Goods

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It’s all well and good to propose net zero targets for a nation’s economy, but if they don’t account for the emissions associated with imported goods, those emissions calculations will be skewed. In other words, if you only consider emissions associated with production within a country’s borders, it’s impossible to get a true picture of the total emissions created by all the products consumed within that country.

Making an accurate calculation of all emissions is a very complex and difficult task. Different countries measure emissions in different ways. Not all companies report their total emissions accurately and not all actors in the supply chain can be relied on to report their emissions honestly. Then there is the problem of calculating the emissions created when products are shipped by rail, air, truck, or sea. What about last mile emissions that result when cargo is delivered from local warehouses to retailers?

Sweden Agrees To Count Emissions From Imports

Climate Change News reports that Sweden’s political parties have agreed to include consumption-based emissions — pollution generated overseas to make products that are imported into Sweden — within its climate targets, making it the first country in the world to make the leap into the complex realm of overseas emissions reporting.

“The inclusion of consumption emissions in Sweden’s emission targets is historical and something that many organisations have worked towards for a long time,” said Karin Lexén, secretary general at the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who started a global youth climate movement from Stockholm, has long argued that rich countries need to take responsibility for and reduce emissions from imported goods.

The committee’s recommendations still need to be adopted by the Swedish government and there are many details yet to be worked out, such as how to take into account Sweden’s exports, as well as emissions from aviation and shipping.

The European Geosciences Union estimates that about 22% of global carbon dioxide emissions are derived from goods that are produced in one country and consumed in another. The Global Carbon Project calculates that about 60% of Sweden’s total emissions originate abroad and are embedded in imports. For a country making huge strides in clean energy at home, it is a notable weak point in its carbon reduction policies.

“Sweden adopting this target would hopefully set a new standard on how to address consumption emissions and spur other European countries to follow suit,” climate scientist Zeke Hausfather told Climate Home News. Elisabetta Cornago, a climate expert at the Center for European Reform, agreed: “Because it increases ambition in climate action, it may nudge other countries that want to cast themselves as climate leaders to follow through.” She added that although “the discussion will have to go there eventually, I am not sure many other countries in the EU are ready to change their approach to national target setting right now.”

A Chalmers University of Technology report on consumption patterns was a major factor in the committee’s wok. Project manager Jörgen Larsson said that honoring the Paris Agreement would depend on changing human behavior. “If we are to achieve really low emission levels, we need to both invest heavily in new climate smart technologies, as well as make significant changes to our behavior when it comes to the goods and services,” he said in a press release.

That could mean repairing appliances rather than buying new, swapping meatballs for falafel, and walking, cycling, or taking the bus instead of filling up a car with imported petrol, Climate Change News says.

According to a 2021 European Investment Bank survey, 76% of Swedes are in favor of stricter government measures aimed at changing behavior patterns, which suggests the country is well placed to try out the consumption emissions approach. Annika Hedberg, a senior analyst at the European Policy Center, said that “targets like this will encourage measuring the problem and progress on achieving it,” and added that it should help “to increase transparency and educate people of the impact of consumption”.

Swedish industries like Northvolt are making the most of clean energy resources to set up battery factories, while steelmakers like Hybrit are pushing to find ways to make low or zero carbon steel using green hydrogen. But good behavior at home will not be enough if big emitters in other countries do not hold up their end of the Paris Agreement bargain. That is where the EU’s plan to place a carbon levy on certain imports comes into play.

Sweden backs the EU’s carbon border adjustment mechanism, which is set to come fully into force in 2026 and cover cement, iron and steel, fertilizer, aluminum, and electricity imports. This should be paired with support for poorer trading partners to clean up their export industries, said Tim Gore, head of climate at the Institute for European Environmental Policy. “Scaling up international climate finance and technological support to trading partners to reduce emissions will be key.”

The Takeaway

Sweden is about as far away from Australia as you can get, both physically and culturally. Where the Nordic country is taking serious action to curb its appetite for fossil fuels and lower its carbon footprint, the Antipodes — lead by the disgusting Scott Morrison and his climate killing cohorts — is doing exactly the opposite. When calculating its contribution to carbon overload, it blithely ignores the emissions that occur when the fossil fuels it exports are consumed.

In ScoMo’s tiny little mind, those emissions aren’t Australia’s problem, since they enter the atmosphere somewhere else. This madness tracks closely with the attitude of Big Oil, which crows about how it is reducing emissions from its extraction and refining operations while completely ignoring what are known as Scope 3 emissions — those created when its products are consumed. It just so happens, those Scope 3 emissions account for 90% of all carbon dioxide attributable to fossil fuels.

Only an idiot would buy Morrison’s and Big Oil’s ridiculous account of reality, but Australia’s political process is rigged in such a way that such a hateful and hate-filled person can remain in power. This latest video from Juice Media illustrates the hypocrisy of the Australian government perfectly. (Warning: Juice Media videos often contain strong language that may be offensive to some viewers.)

Sweden is the adult in the room, and congratulations to it for attempting to address the thorny and convoluted process of quantifying emissions from imported goods. In theory, if China wants to export electric vehicles to to Europe, that’s good. But if they are manufactured using electricity from coal-powered thermal generating plants, their price should include a market adjustment equivalent to the carbon emissions embedded in those cars (and all the other goods exported by China to the rest of the world).

A global embedded carbon calculus could replace tariffs and carbon offset schemes. If your products are low or zero carbon, they would be welcome everywhere. If not, they would not be banned per se, but they would become uncompetitive in the marketplace and suffer from poor sales. It’s Adam Smith’s “unseen hand” writ large and it makes so much sense, it’s a wonder no one has tried this before.

The fact that it is hard to do should be no reason not to try. The more the notion is implemented, the easier it will become until one day, it will be the norm and not the exception. Bra för dig, Sverige.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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