Prioritise environment goals now

In the 1990s, the Swedish Parliament resolved with a broad consensus that the overall aim of Swedish environment policy was for the major environment problems to be resolved within one generation. A number of national environment quality goals were also resolved on, with specific and interim goals. The concept “within one generation” was specified as by the year 2020.

Last week, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency released a report to near total silence. This report was an in-depth evaluation of Sweden’s 2019 environment goals ahead of when the generation goal is due to be met. The brief summary is that things are not going particularly well. Just one of the 16 national environment quality goals will be achieved. A protective ozone layer.

In the case of certain of these environment goals, we are moving in the right direction, such as with regard to acidification and air quality. However, with several others, we are moving in the wrong direction. Emissions of greenhouse gases need to be reduced at a faster rate, ecological connectivity in the landscape needs to be strengthened, and the spread of hazardous substances needs to be reduced.

One important, but difficult question, is why has Sweden not been more successful in the things we have decided upon? Naturally, there is no simple answer to this question. Even so, I think the preface to the report suggests that the reasons why not are understood to an extent. Firstly, we probably underestimated the complexity of these issues that have also increased with globalisation. Secondly, decision-makers at different levels have not given a big enough priority to environment and climate issues. Society sets goals, but when we need to weigh these against other goals, environment and climate issues have hitherto been given far too little weight.

The government report states that the environment goals system is to be further developed and new interim goals set. I think it is good that Sweden is sticking firmly to its environment goals. They define the ecological dimension of sustainable development and provide an important complement when specifying global environment goals. There are also strong connections between ecological and social sustainability. The goals continue to be extremely relevant. They must now be prioritised.