- Court ruling threatens Sweden’s biggest cement factory
- Any closure could lead to imports with higher carbon costs
- ‘Carbon leakage’ an issue for leaders at COP26 in Glasgow
- Local green goals may be at odds with global targets
STOCKHOLM, Oct 18 (Reuters) – When a Swedish court ordered the country’s biggest cement maker to stop mining limestone by its huge factory on the windswept island of Gotland to prevent pollution, ecologists cheered.
Besides protecting wildlife and water supplies, the ruling could force the plant that makes 75% of Sweden’s cement and is the country’s second biggest carbon emitter to slash output while it finds raw materials elsewhere, or even shut altogether.
That might be good for Sweden’s emissions targets, but not such good news for the rest of the planet.
A government-commissioned report seen by Reuters said it could force Sweden to import cement from countries that pump out more emissions in the overall manufacturing process – or risk massive job losses in the construction industry at home.
“Imports from countries outside the EU would probably lead to larger environmental impacts as a result of lower standards related to CO2 emissions and lower standards in land use,” the report, obtained via a freedom of information request, said.
Sweden’s dilemma encapsulates one the challenges facing nations meeting in Glasgow for the U.N. COP26 climate talks: how to show they are not cutting emissions by simply exporting the problem elsewhere – a phenomenon known as “carbon leakage”.
A rich, stable Nordic democracy, Sweden has long topped international environmental rankings and has managed to cut back on greenhouse gases for years while preserving economic growth on a path towards its target of net zero emissions by 2045.
It has the world’s highest carbon tax at $137 per tonne and is a leader in the use of renewable energy. In 2018, its carbon emissions per head stood at 3.5 tonnes, well below the European Union average of 6.4 tonnes, according to World Bank data.
But the stand-off over the Slite cement plant epitomises the growing tension between local environment goals and the 2015 Paris Agreement signed by nearly 200 countries to try to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius.
“We have to weigh up the global focus – doing the most for the climate – but also maintain our high ambitions when it comes to our local environmental problems,” Sweden’s Minster for Environment and Climate Per Bolund told Reuters. “These two things can be balanced.”
Much of Europe’s imported cement comes from Turkey, Russia, Belarus and countries in North Africa.
They don’t have anything like the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), the world’s largest carbon market and one that sets the price of carbon permits for energy-intensive sectors, including cement, within the 27-nation bloc.
The World Bank says only 22% of global emissions were covered by pricing mechanisms last year and the International Monetary Fund put the average global price of carbon at $3 a tonne – a tiny fraction of Sweden’s carbon tax. read more
While the Swedish court’s decision was not linked to Slite’s carbon footprint, but rather the risks its quarry poses to local groundwater,…
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