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Bending the Curve – the Role and Interplay of Municipal Energy Planning and Municipal Spatial Planning for Climate Change Mitigation in Sweden

Time: Tue 2022-03-29 09.00

Location: Kollegiesalen, Brinellvägen 8, Stockholm

Video link:

Language: English

Subject area: Land and Water Resources Engineering

Doctoral student: Vincent Wretling , Hållbarhet, utvärdering och styrning

Opponent: Associate Professor Catalina Turcu, University College London

Supervisor: Professor Berit Balfors, Hållbarhet, utvärdering och styrning; Docent Ulrika Gunnarsson-Östling, Hållbarhet, utvärdering och styrning; Doktor Christina Hörnberg, Environmental Law and Development AB

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The global climate is changing rapidly, which pronounces the need for imminently bending the curve of greenhouse gases emissions. The local authorities have been recognised as key actors in this decarbonisation, due to their wide-ranging responsibilities, including different mandates for local planning. The Swedish municipalities are no exception in this regard. In contrast, they stand out as being especially critical for Sweden’s efforts to reach climate neutrality in 2045 and multiple other sustainability objectives, since they are instructed to conduct municipal energy planning regarding supply and distribution of energy, have a monopoly on spatial planning and have been given a veto right for larger wind power establishments. There is, however, limited knowledge regarding the municipalities’ planning processes and institutional capacity building for handling climate change mitigation in their municipal planning. The overall aim of this compilation thesis, comprising five scientific papers, is to contribute with new knowledge regarding the role, process and interplay of municipal energy and climate planning, municipal spatial planning and municipal wind power planning for responding to the need for rapid decarbonisation, in order to identify pathways forward for building the municipalities’ institutional capacity. The thesis has a mixed methods approach comprising of semi-structured interviews, focus group interviews, participant observation, a survey, statistical analyses, and multiple document analyses of either cross-sectional or longitudinal character that involves elements of both quantitative content analyses and thematic analyses. 

When synthesising the findings from Paper I-V, it is evident that the municipalities are responding to the climate crisis in multiple different ways. This includes that a proactive strategic energy and climate planning practice with the aim of reducing climate impact has emerged from the sectoral energy planning tradition. However, the impact assessment practice is deficient within municipal energy and climate planning, especially if the planning is conducted in a non-statutory form, in spite of it being indicated that impact assessment can facilitate the consideration of synergies and conflicts between different sustainability objectives as well as enabling to illuminate local benefits of climate action. Moreover, the municipalities have been integrating numerous different strategies for reduced climate impact into their Comprehensive Plans, relating to energy production, distribution and use, transport, and land use, and the findings suggest that such consideration of energy and climate aspects in the Comprehensive Plans have increased in the recent decades. This integration of climate change considerations into Comprehensive Plans has largely been spurred by the existence of a municipal energy and climate strategy or similar, which has enabled a two-way policy integration between these two policy spheres. The presence of energy and climate strategic competence within the municipal concern is an associated vital feature, since this facilitates the influx of knowledge through the participation in different regional-local and inter-municipal networks, which can then be disseminated internally and utilised in the comprehensive planning process. There is also a need for municipal officials to be given time and resources to interact with politicians in order to mobilise support and create a mandate for action.

Simultaneously, the results illuminate that many municipalities are struggling with building sufficient institutional capacity for addressing climate change mitigation in their energy and climate strategic planning and their strategic spatial planning. This was manifested for example in the form that the adoption of both energy and climate-focused policy documents and wind power plans followed the temporal patterns of the presence of state-funded financial incentives and that more than one-fourth of the municipalities not having adopted an energy and climate-focused policy document during the studied twelve-year time span. This has also rendered in a more reactive municipal decision-making in relation to the municipal veto for wind power deployment, with implications for its legitimacy and public participation. Given the centrality of the municipalities, it is deemed vital to further promote the process of building institutional capacity for responding to the climate crisis in their municipal planning and decision-making. Increased continuity in the energy and climate strategic planning process, comprehensive planning process and wind power planning process could facilitate building support for integrating different strategies related to climate change mitigation in their planning and contribute to organisational learning. Moreover, the three modes of planning could be further interlinked, for example, by establishing objectives regarding greenhouse gases emissions and renewable electricity production in the energy and climate domain, which brings implications for the strategic spatial planning, and by initiating processes simultaneously and in an integrated fashion. If municipalities come to recognise the potential of a more proactive strategic-thinking SEA process, this could be another vehicle for increased sustainability consideration early in the process, when there is a window of opportunity for influencing the plan’s content to the greatest extent. Overall, this can lead to a more sustainability-led municipal planning, which can contribute to bending the curve of greenhouse gases emissions, while simultaneously providing synergies across other sustainability objectives.