Speaking at the “Peak Oil and the Environment” conference, Sweden’s Minister for Sustainable Development, Mona Sahlin, outlined some of the approaches the country is taking in pursuit of its recently articulated policy target: the creation of the conditions necessary to break Sweden’s dependence on oil by 2020.
The government appointed a broad-based expert council, The Commission on Oil Independence, in December 2005. This spring, the Commission, led by Prime Minister Göran Persson, is reviewing actions necessary to achieve the new policy target.
...there is, indeed, an increased sense of urgency. If we prepare now, the transition to a sustainable energy system can be smooth and cost-efficient. If we wait until we are forced by circumstances, the transition may be costly and disruptive.
Sweden, which already has a high percentage of hydropower, has set up an ambitious target to increase the use of electricity from renewable energy sources. Wind power, the Minister noted, is probably the renewable energy source with the greatest potential in the short- and medium-term in the Sweden. To that end, a high-level wind-power council has been established and tasked with the responsibility for the overall coordination of the continued expansion of wind power.
Transportation, however, given its almost total dependence on oil, presents a much more difficult problem, and one Sweden is looking to tackle with biofuels.
Breaking dependence on oil in the transport sector will probably be the greatest challenge and the Government therefore has an ambitious policy to increase the percentage of renewable fuels.
Today, around 15 percent of new cars sold are environmentally friendly cars that run on ethanol or biogas. But this is not enough to break the dependence on oil. For the individual, it has to pay to choose an environmentally friendly car.
Carbon dioxide neutral fuels must be cheap—they are exempt from both carbon dioxide tax and energy tax for a five-year period. Environmental cars will be exempt from congestion charges and will have access to free parking in some municipalities. Cars that are classified as a taxable benefit and run on environmentally friendly fuel will continue to enjoy tax relief. The Swedish Government will give priority to purchasing environmentally friendly cars.
Sweden is also working actively in the EU for us to permit a higher blend of ethanol in petrol, a measure that would quickly have a great positive effect. The readjustment of the transport sector requires both international and national efforts with broad contributions by researchers, industry, users and the state.
Environmental technology has become Sweden’s 8th largest export trade, and the environmental sector in Sweden is the industrial sector with the largest economic growth. By leading in development, Sweden intends to be in a position to succeed in the export market as well.
Breaking the dependence on oil is, in my view, a matter of political will. A consistent policy will turn obstacles into opportunities. To hide behind excuses of ignorance or economic considerations is not leading us to a sustainable future.