Sweden country briefing - The European environment — state and outlook 2015

Briefing Published 18 Feb 2015 Last modified 11 May 2020
9 min read
Photo: © Fredrik Broman

Main themes and sectors addressed in the national State of Environment report

Sweden has environmental objectives of three different kinds, a generational goal, milestone targets and quality objectives. The generational goal focuses environmental efforts on the recovery of ecosystems, conserving biodiversity and the natural and cultural environment, good human health, efficient materials cycles free from dangerous substances, sustainable use of natural resources, efficient energy use and patterns of consumption. 

The 16 environmental quality objectives (box 1) should be achieved by 2020[1].

Box 1. Sweden's environmental quality objectives

The Swedish parliament has adopted 16 objectives for environmental quality in Sweden

  1. Reduced climate impact
  2. Clean air
  3. Natural acidification only
  4. A non-toxic environment
  5. A protective ozone layer
  6. A safe radiation environment
  7. Zero eutrophication
  8. Flourishing lakes and streams
  9. Good-quality groundwater
  10. A balanced marine environment, flourishing coastal areas and archipelagos
  11. Thriving wetlands
  12. Sustainable forests
  13. A varied agricultural landscape
  14. A magnificent mountain landscape
  15. A good built environment
  16. A rich diversity of plant and animal life

Every four years, an in-depth evaluation is undertaken. The latest, in 2012, was conducted in collaboration with all relevant government agencies, together with stakeholder and environmental organisations.[2] In addition, an annual follow-up of the objectives[3] takes place which provides a basis for the Government's progress report to the Parliament, and also formes part of the background material for the Budget Bill.

Various tools are used to assess progress, including indicators that reflect trends in relation to the different objectives. The Environmental Objectives Portal is an on-line gateway to information about Sweden's environmental objectives and progress towards achieving them.[4]

Key findings of the State of Environment report 

Current state of the environment

For most of the environmental quality objectives the situation is complex, with positive trends for some components of them, but more negative trends for others. Certain emissions, e.g. of phosphorus, nitrogen, sulphur dioxide and lead, have been reduced to some extent, but in some areas the beneficial effects, for instance on air quality, acidification and eutrophication, are taking time to emerge. This is due to nature's slow capacity for recovery and the complex relationships between emissions and levels in the environment. Levels of some toxic pollutants are declining, but persistent ones are a major problem. 

Global emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) are rising, and future climate change will have negative implications for many of the environmental quality objectives. However, Swedish emissions continue to fall and preliminary data for 2013[5] show the lowest level since the 1990 base year (figure 1). While emissions of GHG have decreased in Sweden, emissions in other countries as a result of Swedish consumption have increased.

Figure 1: Greenhouse gas emissions, 1990-2013

Figure 2: Swedish emissions of greenhouse gases 1990-2013 (million tonnes CO2-equivalents)

Note: Total Swedish Greenhouse gas emissions, excl LULUCF and International Bunkers. Units – million tonnes CO2-equivalent. Preliminary data for 2013.
Data source: Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 2014

Certain aspects of the environmental status of seas, lakes, watercourses and groundwaters, and of several terrestrial ecosystems, remain problematic, not least as regards eutrophication and biodiversity. 

While the overall situation regarding the environmental quality objectives is negative, trends in the state of the environment vary from one objective to another. The goals with the most negative trends are 'Reduced Climate Impact', 'Thriving Wetlands', 'A Varied Agricultural Landscape' and 'A Rich Diversity of Plant and Animal Life'. The objectives 'Clean Air', 'Natural Acidification Only', 'Good-Quality Groundwater' and 'A Magnificent Mountain Landscape', on the other hand, show positive trends, albeit weak.

Conditions for meeting the objectives

An evaluation and assessment of external factors shaping progress, such as the world economy, political developments and EU decisions, as well as of the effects of policy instruments and measures, conflicts between policy areas and the influence of different agencies and stakeholders, requires a far-reaching analysis of complex relationships. At a more general level the most important background factors affecting progress towards the objectives include a need for international policy instruments, common EU policies, a need for initiatives in other policy areas besides environmental policy, implementation of legislation, collaboration, and public agencies' resources for environmental action.

Another way of looking at the conditions for meeting the objectives is to study the underlying reasons why they are not being achieved. There are many such reasons; one is increased pressure on resources, having a negative impact via forestry, agriculture and energy production. High living standards and high levels of consumption affect both the situation in Sweden and the state of the environment abroad. 

Main policy responses to key environmental challenges and concerns 

Parliamentary support and broad consensus are central to environmental work. The Cross-Party Committee on Environmental Objectives advises the Government on how the objectives can be achieved and, in cooperation with agencies in the environmental objectives system, delivers proposals on strategies and milestone targets, policy instruments and measures in priority areas. 

In 2015 the Government established an Environmental Objectives Council to strengthen the implementation of environmental policies. The Council is a platform for Heads of agencies that are strategically important for achieving environmental objectives.

Recent strategies from the government and strategies that are underway

In 2014 the Government adopted a strategy for biodiversity and ecosystem services[6]. The strategy has significance not only for many of the objectives and the generational goal but also for the international Aichi targets adopted under the Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as the objectives of the EU biodiversity strategy.

In 2013 the Government presented the strategy for chemicals policy[7]. It is a strategy for how to achieve the environmental quality objective 'Non-Toxic Environment' as well as relevant parts of the generational goal.  

In 2014 the Government instructed the National Housing Board to develop a proposal for a strategy with milestones and measures to achieve the objective 'A Good Built Environment' and the relevant parts of the generational goal. The task was reported in December 2014[17].

In 2013 the Government instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to develop a proposal for a strategy with milestone targets, measures and instruments that will contribute to reaching the objective 'A Magnificent Mountain Landscape'. The task was reported in June 2014[8].

In 2012 the Committee on Environmental Objectives was tasked by the Government of drawing up a strategy for long-term sustainable land use and a strategy for a cohesive and sustainable water policy. A final report was presented in June 2014[9].

The Milestone targets are intended to identify a desired social change and specify steps towards achieving the generational goal and one or more of the environmental quality objectives. They are to function as guidance to county administrative boards, government agencies, municipalities and the business sector on important priorities for continuing environmental action. Milestone targets can also be added to the environmental objectives system on the basis of goals adopted within the EU or by incorporating international agreements. As of March 2014 there are 24 adopted milestone targets, divided into five areas: climate, air pollution, dangerous substances, waste and biodiversity[10]

Country specific issues

The Government gives priority to efforts to reduce climate emissions, a toxic-free everyday environment, lakes and oceans, ecosystems and biodiversity. Below are a few examples:

In 2015 the Government tasked the Committee on Environmental Objectives to propose a climate policy framework for Sweden[11]. This includes proposing a new long-term climate goal for Sweden's reduction of emissions of GHG by 2050 and a strategy with revised or new cost-effective and long-acting instruments and measures for different sectors of society. The task will be reported in February 2016.

The Government has instructed the Chemicals Agency to produce an action plan for a toxic-free everyday environment[12]. This includes reporting on measures needed in the period 2011 - 2014 to reduce the risk faced by people in their everyday lives of being exposed to hazardous chemicals. Reducing the chemical risks in everyday life is a step towards attaining the objective 'A Non-Toxic Environment'. The Government has decided to extend the work until 2020.

The Government proposed in 2014 new regulations on the management of marine areas[13]. The purpose is to achieve a comprehensive ocean management in order to contribute to sustainable development of the oceans. One of the government decided milestones on biodiversity and ecosystem services[10] includes protection of the marine environment and the goal is to increase the protected areas by at least 570 000 hectares until 2020.  

Another milestone on biodiversity and ecosystem services[10] concerns the importance of biodiversity and the value of ecosystem services. It means that by 2018, the importance of biodiversity and the value of ecosystem services shall be widely known and integrated into economic standpoints, political considerations and other decisions in society where this is relevant and reasonably.

The aim of the recent waste prevention programme[14] is to guide and inspire stakeholders so that environmental goals are achieved, so that less waste is generated and so that products are designed which contain no dangerous substances. There are four focus areas in the programme: food, textiles, electronics and construction & demolition. It contains eight objectives and 167 measures and complements the National Waste Plan[15].

In an increasingly urbanized population experience from nature can lead to a greater understanding of nature's value for humans and for nature's own sake. In 2012 the Government presented objectives for outdoor recreation[16]. These are complementary to the environment quality objectives. 

References and footnotes

[1] Ministry of the Environment, 2013, The Swedish environmental objectives system, Information sheet M2013.01, Ministry of the Environment, accessed 12 August 2014.

[3] Environmental Objectives Portal, 2014, Miljömålen - Årlig uppföljning av Sveriges miljökvalitetsmål och etappmål 2014, Report No 6608, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Latest annual report from 2014, in Swedish with Executive summary in English, pages 14-23. Accessed 12 August 2014.

[4] Environmental Objectives Portal, 2014, 'Environmental Objectives Portal' accessed 12 August 2014.

[5] Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 2014, ‘Nationella utsläpp av växthusgaser’ (National emissions of greenhouse gases) Webpage in Swedish only, accessed 19 December 2014.

[6] Ministry of the Environment, 2014, 'Government Bill: A Swedish strategy for biodiversity and ecosystem services' Short information about the strategy in English, accessed 12 August 2014.

[7] Ministry of the Environment, 2013, Towards a toxic-free everyday environment - a platform for chemicals policy, Government bill 2013/14:39 (in Swedish) accessed 12 August 2014.

[8] Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 2014, Förslag till en strategi för miljökvalitetsmålet Storslagen fjällmiljö (Proposed strategy for the objective A magnificent mountain landscape, In Swedish only) Communication NV-04173-13, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, accessed 12 August 2014.

[9] Ministry of the Environment, 2014, Med miljömålen i fokus - hållbar användning av mark och vatten, Government Official Report SOU 2014:50 (Strategy proposal for long-term sustainable land use and a cohesive and sustainable water policy, Summary in English, pages 21-26) accessed 12 August 2014.

[10] Ministry of the Environment, 2014, 'Milestone targets' accessed 12 August 2014.

[11] Ministry of the Environment, 2014, Tilläggsdirektiv till Miljömålsberedningen (M 2010:04) – förslag till klimatpolitiskt ramverk, Committee terms of reference Dir. 2014:165 (in Swedish), accessed 15 January 2015.

[12] Swedish Chemicals Agency, 2014, 'Action plan for a toxic-free everyday environment,' accessed 12 August 2014.

[13] Ministry of the Environment, 2014, Hushållning med havsområden (Management of marine areas), Government bill 2013/14:186 (in Swedish) accessed 12 August 2014.

[14] Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 2013, Tillsammans vinner vi på ett giftfritt och resurseffektivt samhälle - Sveriges program för att förebygga avfall 2014-2017. Sweden’s waste prevention programme for 2014-2017, in Swedish with English summary only, accessed 12 August 2014.

[15] Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, 2012, From waste management to resource efficiency - Sweden's Waste Plan 2012–2017, Report 6560, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, accessed 12 August 2014.

[16] Ministry of the Environment, 2012, Mål för friluftslivspolitiken, Government communication Skr. 2012/13:51 (in Swedish) accessed 12 August 2014.

[17] National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, 2014, Förslag till strategi för miljökvalitetsmålet God bebyggd miljö (Proposed strategy for the objective A good built environment, In Swedish only), Report 2014:32, National Board of Housing, Building and Planning, accessed 19 December 2014.



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