Country profile (Sweden)
What distinguishes the country?
Sweden is a sparsely populated country. Sweden has relatively small ministries and large government agencies charged with carrying out policies.
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a) What are the factors that distinguish your country from many others?
A hereditary monarchy, Sweden is a country with a non-federal structure and mixed economy. In 2009 Sweden celebrated 200 years of peace.
With its more than 440 000 square kilometers, Sweden is the third-largest country of the 27 EU Member States in terms of area. Sweden is a sparsely populated country; on average there are only 23 people per square kilometre (compared with about 125 in Denmark and 48 worldwide). About half of Sweden 's land area is covered with forest. There is also an abundance of lakes and watercourses. There are about 96 000 lakes more than one hectare in size and about 300 000 kilometres of brooks, streams and rivers. There have been extensive changes in land use since the 1920s, particularly in the agriculture sector.
See map showing population density on page 7 in this pdf:
Most people, almost 85 % of the population, live in towns and cities, which often are located along the coast. After World War II, large-scale immigration has taken place from other parts of Europe and in recent decades from other parts of the world as well. In 2008 there were 200 different nationalities represented in the population. Of the population, 14 % were originally born in a country other than Sweden. The largest group of those born abroad come from Finland.
Economic growth higher than average
Sweden's economic growth was significantly higher than the average for EU during the 1999–2009 period. Growth in Sweden was also somewhat higher than in USA during this period. Traditionally, the economy has been dependent on natural resources such as forests and ore, which continue to be of major importance, but information technology (IT) has become increasingly important.
Since the country extends almost 1 600 kilometres from north to south, the arrival of spring unfolds for several months. Mean temperatures in January are about 0 centigrade in the southern-most part of Sweden and -16 centrigrade in the cold valleys in the far north. Sometimes winter temperatures there can drop below -40 degrees C. Mean temperatures in the entire country have increased by nearly 1 degree during the 1991–2005 period compared with 1961–1990. Studies are under way on how climate change is affecting nature and how the treeline in the mountains is moving higher up.
Within the government, the Ministry of the Environment is responsible for environmental policy. Unlike many countries, Sweden has relatively small ministries and large government agencies charged with carrying out policies.
The Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1967, is the national agency for environmental protection and nature conservation. Its key tasks are to c oordinate and promote the implementation of environmental policy as well as to provide expert knowledge to central government. This includes responsibility for monitoring, analysis and reporting on the state of the environment.
Other central environmental agencies are the Swedish Chemicals Agency and Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, but all agencies are responsible for environmental impacts in their fields. For example, Trafikverket (the Swedish Transport Administration) is responsible for road traffic noise.
The 290 municipalities have broad responsibility for the enforcement of environmental regulations at local level, especially waste management. The 21 county administrative boards have major roles to play in concrete work on trial, supervision and environmental monitoring. In addition to this there are special environmental courts, whose responsibilities include examination of permit applications for operations with impact on the environment.
Sweden's environmental efforts are based on 16 national environmental quality objectives. Environmental legislation is assembled in the Environmental Code and employs the precautionary approach as the basis for all provisions.
What have been the major societal developments?
Traditional basic industries (paper, paper pulp, wood products, iron ore, steel and chemical products) continue to account for significant export volumes.
b) What have been the major societal developments since 1980 compared with the period 1950–1980?
War and international dependence
Sweden has not been at war since 1814. Blockades during the two world wars forced the country to temporarily rely on domestic and, to a large extent, renewable fuels, but when the borders were reopened in 1945, Sweden soon became the most oil-dependent country in Europe. After the oil crises in the 1970s, interest in domestic biofuels quickly revived, which contributed to expansion of the renewable share of energy consumption to 40 % in 2005, significantly more than in any other EU country.
In the transportation sector trends towards deregulation have been manifest ever since the beginning of the 1960s. The government's support of the railways then came to an end, which brought about the shutting down of more than 20 % of the railway network and contributed to the expansion of road traffic that still continues today.
On the other hand, the environment benefited from the fact that the government provided only limited support for industries subjected to increased foreign competition. In the 1970s the metal industry, for one, was thereby forced to undergo a comprehensive structural rationalisation, which meant that many older facilities with large emissions were replaced with fewer, but larger facilities with effective emission controls. The shipbuilding and textile industries, which were unable to carry out such a rationalisation, were almost entirely wiped out during these years.
Swedish industry has long supported itself largely through exports. Traditional basic industries (paper, paper pulp, wood products, iron ore, steel and chemical products) continue to account for significant export volumes.
During the 1980s, Sweden was a leading investor in enterprises abroad, a position that deteriorated, however, during the early 1990s.
As far back as 1950, urbanisation was well advanced in Sweden. 65 % of the country's population then lived in built-up areas. The rural population continued to decline up until the 1970s, but has since remained constant to a large extent. The population in built-up areas is constantly increasing – in 2008 it accounted for almost 85 % of the country's 9.2 million inhabitants – and growth is greatest in the metropolitan regions.
The fact that cities have become ever larger and more populous has contributed to increases in travel in Sweden , from 8 to 40 km per person and day between 1950 and 2008. Public transport is relatively well developed in metropolitan regions, but the recent establishment of superstores and similar enterprises on the outskirts of cities has contributed to continued growth in car traffic, which now accounts for three-fourths of all passenger traffic.
The oil crises and the structural crisis in the 1970s stand out as crucial dividing factors in recent Swedish economic history. During the 1945–1975 period, Sweden experienced a growth rate of about 3.5 % per year; during the 1975–2000 period it averaged 1.5 % per year. In 1970, Sweden still ranked fourth in prosperity (GNP/capita), but it subsequently began to go down in the ranking. In recent years, however, Sweden has had a higher rate of growth than the average for EU and OECD.
Until about 1970, emissions of pollutants approximately kept step with economic development, but since then emissions have generally declined, despite continued increases in production. In relation to GNP, carbon dioxide emissions also have markedly abated since 1980. One of several reasons is the balancing of one tax against another that has been implemented since 1990. Taxes that previously were levied on wage earnings have been transferred to energy consumption through special taxes imposed on emissions of sulphur and carbon dioxide and by other means.
Generation of household waste, on the other hand, retains a strong linkage with economic growth.
In 1995 Sweden became a member of the EU, whose environmental policies have since governed Swedish environmental legislation and protection to a large degree. In several respects, Sweden was previously a forerunner in environmental matters, but adapting to the EU meant that aspirations had to be lowered to some extent, especially with respect to chemical policies. At the same time, membership has provided opportunities for Sweden to spur the entire Union's environmental efforts, particularly in the areas of acidification and climate.
The tourism industry now contributes almost 3 % of Sweden's GNP and employs more people than agriculture, forestry and fishing combined. The right of public access and the vast countryside provide excellent opportunities for both traditional recreation and modern adventure tourism.
The number of leisure trips abroad by Swedes has multiplied since the 1950s. Holiday travel by air now accounts for a large share of the average Swede's contribution to the greenhouse effect.
C. Bernes and L.J. Lundgren (2009): Use and misuse of nature's resources. An environmental history of Sweden. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Monitor 21, http://www.naturvardsverket.se/sv/Start/Om-Naturvardsverket/Vara-publikationer/ISBN1/1200/978-91-620-1275-5/
What are the main drivers of environmental pressures?
Sweden is among the few industrial countries that can report a declining trend in national emissions of greenhouse gases.
c) What are the main drivers of environmental pressures and how do these contribute to multiple impacts on people and the natural environment?
More efficient energy use and transport
One of the most important driving forces behind the development of energy and transportation in Sweden is the economic trend in income, GNP, reallocations among industries, foreign trade and globalisation of production systems. Sweden is highly dependent on imports and exports, which also results in a great need for transportation.
In spite of this, Sweden is among the few industrial countries that can report a declining trend in national emissions of greenhouse gases. Since 1993 there has been a 40 % growth in GNP. Greenhouse gas emissions have diminished by 11.7 % between 1990 and 2008.
See website on Sweden's report to the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gas emissions:
Swedish carbon dioxide taxes are another important driving force. In 2006, the share of renewable sources of energy within the country amounted to 29 %, which is a relatively high share in an international perspective. The sources consist primarily of biofuels and hydroelectric power.
Long-range transport of air pollutants is, and has long been, a cause for problems such as acidification, eutrophication and elevated concentrations of tropospheric ozone and particles. The problem has affected southern Sweden in particular. Accordingly, international efforts to limit air pollution have great significance within the country's borders as well. These efforts have been successfully carried out since the 1980s and have contributed to reducing the impact from acidification as well as to diminishing the number of episodes involving high concentrations of tropospheric ozone.
Non-toxic, resource-saving environmental life cycles
New problem substances are constantly being identified at the same time as concentrations of already known environmentally hazardous substances continue to present problems. One of the driving forces within this area is increased demand for chemical products in all countries as well as the globalisation of production and trade, which leads to added dissemination of chemicals and goods that contain hazardous substances.
The volume of Swedish household waste increased by 24 % during the 1994–2005 period. Waste from manufacturing industries increased by 21 % during the same period. The different rates of increase depend in part on variations in the economic situation, changes in population size, composition and geographic distribution and the outsourcing of production to other countries.
For information on waste statistics, see Swedish EPA website http://www.swedishepa.se/en/In-English/Menu/Products-and-waste/Waste/Waste-statistics/.
Management of land, water and the built environment
As matters now stand, consumption of products and services is the most important driving force affecting our use of ecosystem services. The environmental impact of consumption – both private and public – is a fundamental problem for the management of natural resources, land, water and buildings. As consumers, we have an everyday impact on the development of the environment – for example, through our purchases of various products, such as food.
There is great need to protect natural and cultural environments, both through governmental and private measures. It is a matter of providing protection both in the form of, for example, national parks and nature reserves, and through the introduction of cultivation methods that protect biological diversity, watercourses, etc. There is also a need to restore and recreate environments in order to regain lost functions or values in the landscape.
For information on national parks, see Swedish EPA website, http://www.naturvardsverket.se/en/In-English/Menu/Enjoying-nature/National-parks-and-other-places-worth-visiting/National-Parks-in-Sweden/.
Total tourist consumption in Sweden increased in 2008 by 6.3 %. Between 2000 and 2008, total tourism consumption in Sweden increased more than 50 % in current prices.
For more information, see the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth website,
What are the foreseen developments?
The projected increase in energy use will affect forestry. Forestry is expected to intensify. Depopulation of rural areas will have negative consequences for the cultural environment, biodiversity and the open agricultural landscape.
d) What are the foreseen main developments in coming decades that could be expected to contribute most to future environment pressures?
Developments in Sweden are governed not only by environmental policy but also by what is happening within other policy areas. Many different sectors of society are operating in more environmentally compliant and sustainable ways, which has a positive effect on the state of the environment.
More efficient energy use and transport
- Volume is increasing among all means of transportation.
- International and national shipping is increasing.
- The supply and use of most types of energy are increasing.
- Greenhouse gas emissions from generation of electrical power and heat and from industry and transportation are increasing.
It is anticipated that the projected increase in energy use will affect forestry, among other things. Forestry is expected to intensify as a result of sharp increases in demand for biofuels and raw materials for the forest and manufacturing industries.
Non-toxic, resource-saving environmental life cycles
- The use of hazardous substances is continuing.
- Continued amendment of REACH, the EU's chemical legislation.
In Sweden , there are requests that the review of REACH results in more stringent surveillance of companies' compliance with the legislation. Furthermore, more substances should be classified as especially hazardous with requirements to provide information for those using the substances.
Management of land, water and the built environment
- Population and number of people employed will be increasing until the year 2020.
- The regions are becoming larger and the population's size, composition and geographical distribution are changing.
- Consideration for the environment is increasing within agriculture and forestry as well as in connection with planning of buildings and infrastructure.
In many cases, depopulation of rural areas has negative consequences for the cultural environment, biodiversity and the open agricultural landscape. Therefore, it is important to continue efforts to ensure that natural resources, land, water and cultural assets are used in a long-term sustainable manner.
This document is part of the SOER 2015 product.