Sweden set to be world’s first country to target consumption-based emission cuts

A deal between Sweden’s political parties positions the country to take responsibility for the carbon footprint of imported goods

Ferries in Stockholm port (Pic: Flickr/Hans Permana)


Sweden’s political parties agreed on Thursday to include consumption-based emissions within its climate targets, making it the first country in the world to make the leap into the complex realm of overseas emissions reporting.

National climate targets rely on reporting the emissions that are created on a country’s territory. In Sweden’s case, it has used that data to write a 2045 net-zero target into law, making it one of Europe’s most ambitious green-leaning nations.

Those credentials were burnished further on Thursday when a cross-parliamentary environmental committee agreed to include consumption-based emissions – pollution generated overseas to make products for import – in Sweden’s climate targets.

“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, who started a global youth climate movement from Stockholm, has long argued rich countries need to take responsibility for – and reduce – consumption-based emissions.

The committee’s recommendation still needs to be adopted and other details, such as how to take into account Sweden’s exports, as well as international aviation and shipping, need to be worked out.

Consumption-based statistics are tricky, as a lack of international standards mean different calculation methods are used. A lack of reliable reporting on emissions-intensive manufacturing processes can also skew results. 

However, the European Geosciences Union estimates that around 22% of global CO2 emissions are derived from goods that are produced in one country and consumed in another. 

The Global Carbon Project calculates that around 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 chink in its climate armour.

“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 Centre 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.”

However, 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.”

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A Chalmers University of Technology report on consumption patterns heavily informed the committee’s work and project manager Jörgen Larsson said that honouring the Paris Agreement would depend on changing human behaviour.

“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 behaviour when it comes to the goods and services,” the associate professor 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.

According to a 2021 European Investment Bank survey, 76% of Swedes are in favour of stricter government measures aimed at changing behaviour patterns. That suggests that the Scandinavian country is well placed to at least trial the consumption target.

Annika Hedberg, a senior analyst at the European Policy Centre, said that “targets like this will encourage measuring the problem and progress on achieving it”, adding that it should help “to increase transparency and educate people of the impact of consumption”.

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On the technology side of things, Swedish industries are making the most of enviable clean energy resources to set up battery factories and trial the manufacturing of sustainable steel, made using green hydrogen.

But behaviour and tech upgrades at home will not be enough if big emitters elsewhere do not hold up their end of the Paris Agreement bargain. That is where the EU’s plan to slap a carbon levy on certain imports comes into play.

Sweden backs the so-called carbon border adjustment mechanism (CBAM), which is set to come fully into force in 2026 and cover cement, iron and steel, fertiliser, aluminium and electricity imports.

Annika Hedberg said the CBAM, along with proposed anti-deforestation rules and due diligence discussions were all indications the EU is taking its overseas emissions more seriously than ever.

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.”

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