Sweden Faces Backlash Over Drastic Cuts to Climate Budget and Rising Emissions

Sweden’s center-right government is under intense scrutiny and facing threats of a vote of no confidence against its climate minister, Romina Pourmokhtari, after announcing significant cuts to the country’s climate budget for the second year in a row. The move has sparked domestic and international outrage, as Sweden has long been hailed as a climate leader that consistently receives a high ranking in the Climate Change Performance Index.

The budget proposal, often referred to as a “gasoline-soaked budget” by critics, was presented by the Swedish cabinet, led by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson of the liberal-conservative Moderate Union Party, which is supported by the radical-right Sweden Democrats. The government intends to reduce funding for climate and environmental measures by SEK 259 million (approximately $23.5 million). Simultaneously, they plan to implement tax cuts on gasoline and diesel.

This decision has raised concerns about Sweden’s ability to meet its climate targets, including the ambitious goal of achieving a 70% reduction in emissions compared to 2010 levels by 2030. The proposed budget makes the European Union’s climate commitments for the same timeframe also appear increasingly elusive.

According to the government’s climate report on tax cuts, reducing taxes on fuel contributes to higher fuel consumption and delays the transition to electric vehicles. Their own estimates suggest that emissions may rise by up to 10 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030 due to current policies.

Critics from various quarters have voiced their disapproval, with the Center Party issuing an ultimatum to the government. If a climate action plan is not presented before the Christmas recess, they will move forward with a vote of no confidence against Minister Romina Pourmokhtari, who is responsible for climate and energy.

“What is happening is that the Swedish government is deliberately increasing emissions,” said Rickard Nordin, climate and energy spokesman for the Center Party. “No Swedish government in modern times has decided on such a thing. There are few countries in the world that do something similar, and it is extremely serious.”

Sweden, once known for its growing economy and falling emissions, is now witnessing the reverse trend. The government’s decision has also sparked dissent within its own ranks, with voices calling for higher carbon taxes and a stronger commitment to climate action.

Anna König Jerlmyr, the former mayor of Stockholm, expressed her disappointment, stating, “We need to work on reducing emissions in Sweden, not increasing them. An increase is completely contrary to the goals of the Paris Agreement.”

Sweden’s shift away from climate leadership has drawn comparisons to recent developments in the United Kingdom, where Prime Minister Rishi Sunak postponed the deadline for the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars and the phase-out of gas boilers, sparking similar criticism.

The Swedish government’s decision has prompted concerns about the country’s reputation as a climate leader, both internationally and domestically. Maria Xylia, a senior research fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute, noted that environmental leadership is integral to Sweden’s national identity. The decision to scrap urban environment agreements, which provide sustainability support to municipalities and regional authorities, has also raised concerns about resource shortages and uncertainty in the run-up to the crucial 2030 milestone.

Fridays for Future, the youth climate movement inspired by Greta Thunberg, has characterized the budget as a “catastrophe” and a “betrayal.” They have called for a national climate strike to protest the government’s decision, emphasizing the urgent need for climate action.

As Sweden grapples with the consequences of its shifting climate policies, the international community watches closely, with growing concerns about whether the country will continue to lead the way in the fight against climate change.

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