Sweden: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology


With a population of more than 9.5 million and a high national GDP, Sweden is widely considered the most affluent country in Scandinavia. High taxes fund expansive social welfare programs and some people point to these as the basis for Sweden's low unemployment rate and long average life expectancy.

Human settlements occupy just 3 percent of the land in Sweden, which is a country about the same size as California, and forests cover 69 percent of the land. About 7 percent of the land is used for agriculture as subarctic conditions make viable farming difficult in the northern reaches of the country.

Environmental Issues of Sweden

According to conservation groups, one of the biggest environmental issues in Sweden is the consequences of the logging industry. The World Wildlife Fund has reported 2000 forest-dwelling species are threatened in Sweden, from birds such as the white-backed woodpecker to species of lichen, moss and fungi. While Sweden has made progress in enhancing sustainable timber harvesting, bad practices remain, according to the WWF.

Wildlife has come under threat as a result of heavy logging in Sweden.

Wildlife has come under threat as a result of heavy logging in Sweden. Image Credit: Mikael Damkier/Shutterstock.com

Another major environmental issue facing Sweden is the pollution of the Baltic Sea caused by pollutants from agriculture sources and waste treatment facilities. According to the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission's Helsinki Commission (HELCOM), Sweden was responsible for 12 percent of the 1 million tons of nitrogen and 9 percent of the 43,000 tons of phosphorus dumped into the Baltic Sea in 2010.

Sweden is also facing its legacy of past industrial emissions in the form of the acidification of its lakes. The country's prolonged industrialization and urbanization in the south has established an acidic water quality issue that threatens native flora and fauna. Fish cannot breed in more than 16,000 Swedish lakes.

Environmental Policies of Sweden

Despite having several significant environmental issues, Sweden has positioned itself as a one of the more progressive countries on environmental issues.

Sweden hosted the first UN conference on environment, resulting in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) which is the leading global environmental authority.

According to the Swedish government, its policies have led to just 1 percent of solid waste going into landfills, with 99 percent of solid waste recycled or used to produce biogas. Since 2005, Sweden has prohibited the selling of plastic drink bottles that do not comply with an approved recycling program.

Sweden was a leader among the Baltic nations during its 2009 presidency of the EU, creating a pilot project among its Baltic neighbors. In 2011, Sweden also created a new government agency, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management, to handle water pollution issues.

Sweden has also set the goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and emissions are currently one of the lowest in Europe, having decreased by nearly 20 percent since 1990. Many of Sweden's corporations participate in socially responsible business practices and Swedish companies like Ikea are viewed as environmental leaders. Sweden also operates closely with the United States on ecological sustainability and clean technologies.

Clean Technology in Sweden

Unlike other countries in Europe, Sweden's clean technology sector is comprised mostly of smaller start-up companies, rather than a handful of large corporate entities. According to Bloomberg Business, Sweden features around 3,500 cleantech companies that collectively book about $14 billion in revenues.

Exports, which can make up approximately a quarter of overall sales, rose 75 percent from 2005 to 2009. To help expand the industry, the Swedish government recently set aside $180 million for cleantech projects.

Even Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustav has embraced clean tech; heating his Drottningholm Palace with wood pellets and driving a Volvo that runs on biofuel. He has also installed energy-saving light bulbs in the royal residences.

Renewable energy sources account for 48 percent of Swedish energy production and Swedish companies have been known to export their knowledge in the bio-energy, wind power and solar power sectors. A Swedish Biogas International plant currently operates in Flint, Michigan and the company has been discussing plans for an expansion.

Image Credit: Oleksiy Mark/Shutterstock.com

A Clean Future?

In 2016, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity of the economy for Sweden was the lowest among European countries. It hopes to achieve a vehicle fleet free of fossil fuels by 2030 and no net GHG emissions by 2050. Despite environmental issues tied to Sweden's industrial past and urban present, the country is aggressively taking steps towards a clean future. Among the world leaders in cleantech, Sweden is also exporting their clean mentality across the world with a combination of active citizen engagement and international solidarity.

Sources and Further Reading

This article was updated on 10th April, 2019.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author expressed in their private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

Sweden: Environmental Issues, Policies and Clean Technology

Almost 50% of the energy produced in Sweden is from renewable sources. The wind turbines pictured here are in Oresund near Malmo and have a capacity of 330 GWh. Image credit: kimson / Shutterstock.com
King Carl XVI Gustav's Drottningholm Palace is heated with wood pellets, and he drives a car which runs on bio-fuel. Image credit: Mikael Damkier / Shutterstock.com
Brett Smith

Written by

Brett Smith

Brett Smith is an American freelance writer with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Buffalo State College and has 8 years of experience working in a professional laboratory.


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  1. Alan Smith Alan Smith Canada says:

    I find it troubling that European countries consider wood burning to be be greenhouse neutral and  part of the Green agenda.   As a spokesperson for the U.S. White House notes, "We do not consider burning wood to be greenhouse neutral".

    It gets worse; the forests that served as carbon sinks are being clear cut in the U.S., to provide pellets for Europe but particularly for Britain.
    Burning wood to heat homes has created health concerns around the Globe as well as adding powerful greenhouse entities to the atmosphere------methane and soot in addition to the more familiar---carbon dioxide.

    To date Canada has only one major wood-fired power plant but the destruction of the surrounding forests is a depressing sight.
    I receive some e-mails from Sweden related to urban wood smoke pollution but no indication of measures to curb wood burning.   Like most countries Canada has a poor record in this regard with Montreal and Vancouver the only major cites planning to curb wood burning by 2020.

    The new advanced technology designs only reduce emissions by a token amount and are largely a failure.
    I would be pleased to hear of any effective measures to reduce wood smoke pollution.   The pellet stoves are better but still very dirty compared to natural gas.

    Alan         [email protected]               A Director of the Canadian Clean Air Alliance

  2. Alan Smith Alan Smith Canada says:

    The new Outdoor Wood Boilers pose a new threat to neighbours and the latest study notes that the emissions are so high that they pose a threat to anyone less than three hundred metres away.  This compares with 40 metres for a regular wood stove.   The supposedly low emission U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved wood stoves continue to expose neighbours to troubling levels of pollutants and are not the answer.  
      The data regarding the wood pellet electricity generating station indicates that wood produces twice as much carbon dioxide, per unit of heat, as a natural gas power plant and 50% more than coal.   Then there is the fuel needed to bring the pellets from Norway and the trees in Norway that were absorbing carbon dioxide are gone.   Power stations using local wood operate at only 21% efficiency and burn large amounts of wood to produce minimal amounts of electricity and large amounts of CO2 plus dangerous pollutants.
       I note the on-going e-mails from Sweden regarding the urban wood smoke problem.
        Canadian Clean Air Alliance

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