EU President Sweden to lead by example on climate change
A lush green residential area in the south of Stockholm embodies Sweden’s determination to lead from the front in its efforts to combat climate change during its presidency of the European Union.
A decade ago, Hammarby Sjostad was a run-down industrial area with pollution problems. Today it is an environmentally friendly suburb which exemplifies the battle against climate change – one of Sweden’s priorities in its six-month presidency which began on Wednesday.
By 2018, Hammarby Sjostad will have almost 11,000 residential homes. Many are already built and 15,000 people already live in the tree-lined area next to a lake.
Most of the building materials are environmentally friendly, many have solar panels to heat water, and 50 percent of electricity and heat consumption comes from recycled organic and combustible waste. Waste water is also used in the heating system.
“Everything is recycled. All waste is regarded as useful material in one way or another,” architect Bjorn Cederquist said during a visit to Hammarby Sjostad.
An innovative waste disposal system uses vacuum suction to send rubbish at high speed through underground pipes to a disposal unit on the edge of the town. This drastically reduces pollution because the garbage trucks that eventually take the rubbish away spend little time in the town itself and cover far less ground.
Biogas, an environmentally friendly fuel, is extracted from the digestion of sewage sludge from a waste treatment plant and used in buses, cars and cookers.
Hammary Sjostad is at the forefront of efforts to clean up the environment and Stockholm, where people can be seen fishing in the city centre, plans to be free of fossil fuel by 2030.
“This is the achievement of a struggle for decades. When I was a kid, you could not swim in the centre of Stockholm,” said Gunnar Soderholm, director of Stockholm’s environment and health administration.
Sweden will need such determination in its efforts to find a common EU position for global climate change talks in Copenhagen in December which are intended to secure an agreement on a new global deal to limit harmful emissions.
“The main challenge of our generation is climate change and we will do everything in our power to achieve a climate change agreement in December,” Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt told a news conference on taking over the EU presidency from the Czech Republic on Wednesday.
He said Sweden had cut emissions by 10 percent since 1990 but still managed to increase economic growth by about 50 percent in that time, helped by a carbon tax for industry which puts about 20 euro cents on the price of a litre of petrol.
The problem will be getting others to follow suit. The EU has led the way but developing countries want financial assistance from wealthy countries to help them combat climate change and cut emissions. Some of the poorer EU member states are wary of an agreement to share the burden of helping poor countries.
The EU has no power to impose CO2 taxes on member states and Sweden acknowledges it faces a hard task winning others over.
Reinfeldt said he was encouraged by recent signs that the United States is more ready to tackle climate change under President Barack Obama and hopes to win China’s backing for a deal to limit rises in global temperatures to 2 degrees Celsius. But Japan, he said, needed to do more to battle climate change.
Reinfeldt said he would address climate changes issues in the summits he will take part in over the six months with countries including the United States, Russia, China, Ukraine, China, Brazil, India and South Africa.
“We need global answers to a global problem,” he said.