In the aftermath of the 2022 Environment and Sustainability Summit, where she delivered an insightful keynote address on the first day of the event, Business Review caught up with HE Mrs. Therese Hydén, Ambassador of Sweden to Bucharest for a follow-up interview on sustainability and environmental protection.
How do you encourage the adoption of Swedish sustainability models in Romania?
Sustainability is one of our priorities at the Swedish Embassy in Bucharest and we support Romania’s transition to a circular economy by sharing best practices and know-how, connecting stakeholders and building a connection with the local context and needs, at the municipal and national levels. We are present in many events and projects, and we are also advancing sustainable best practices in our digital diplomacy. But I believe that the best ambassadors of Swedish sustainable models are Swedish companies themselves. Many of the world famous companies present in Romania are Swedish: Ikea, H&M, ABB, Ericsson, Electrolux, Oriflame, to name a few that Romanians know well. These bring Romania not only sustainable products and services, but also models of commerce and prosperity while remaining competitive in an environment where demand from environmentally conscious customers is increasing.
What do you think are the most successful sustainability programs in Sweden that could be successfully implemented in Romania?
There are many examples of projects from national and international partnerships that are innovating and driving climate transition. Solutions for safer, easier and more climate-friendly living are emerging wherever there is political will, a strong innovation climate and a business environment focused on creating new green jobs. There are many designs that can be used to support increased durability. The most important factor for real change and progress is that the metrics are linked together, that there is accountability for the metrics, and that the metrics are easy to use. It is also important that all stakeholders work together: governments, private sector, research centers and universities. As individuals in societies, we also have an important role to play in demanding sustainable choices for our daily lives such as clean public transport, waste recycling and green spaces.
I believe this has been key to Sweden’s ambitious goal of becoming the first fossil-free welfare nation by 2045. To achieve this, we have passed and implemented tougher legislation setting out clear and predictable. In addition, investments in education and reskilling have been made to enable a transition to net zero that goes hand in hand with growth and job creation.
In Sweden, the push for sustainable policies has received a lot of political will and support, alongside stronger partnerships across sectors, so we are now seeing big transformations with support from the business environment and academia : fossil-free steel production, circular business models, an electrified transport sector, an energy system based mainly on renewable sources.
How can we find a balance between sustainability and environmental protection and the need to use fossil fuels?
The green transition may seem more difficult in the current circumstances, with fewer energy sources and rising energy prices, a consequence of Putin’s unwarranted war on Ukraine. However, we must separate the immediate and acute situation after the war, on the one hand, from the need to stop CO2 emissions to stop the consequences of global warming such as natural disasters, on the other hand. In fact, now is the time to push even harder for more renewable energy sources, to replace Russian oil and gas. At the same time, we also need to be more efficient in using – and recycling – the energy we have. Furthermore, the EU is in the process of adopting solutions on how to compensate households and businesses for the high prices.
We see that global climate action has been too slow and that we are heading towards irreversible global warming with serious consequences for people and communities around the world, including Sweden and Romania. The war in Ukraine followed the Covid-19 pandemic. This protracted crisis has weighed on nations’ efforts to push for more ambitious sustainable development initiatives. Countries must, for their survival, continue on the path of implementing global sustainability goals and reducing their emissions. The foundations have already been laid and the components are there: scientists working on breakthrough technologies we need to develop effective and sustainable solutions and investments, business leaders redesigning business concepts and engaging at full speed in transition, talent in academia or other sectors of our societies willing to take on new challenges and use their expertise to bring about change, and policies agreeing on national climate goals, clear rules and easy to use and giving companies the economic incentives to change.
What can we replace natural gas and oil with and how? How soon could we get rid of their use?
We know from substantial research by the United Nations Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that there is a major risk that global warming will already exceed 1.5 degrees of increase in the 2030:s, if we are not drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions today. This rise in temperature can destabilize our planet and trigger even more natural disasters, such as those we have experienced in terms of unbearable heat waves, forest fires and floods. The time to act is now. Our actions to limit CO2 emissions must take place in all areas and activities, from transport to construction, but also in our use of fossil fuels. We must intensify the use of existing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Here, there may be economic incentives to install these systems. But it is also necessary that the authorities have the capacity to grant the incentives and to give the necessary authorizations in an efficient way so as not to waste time. As we develop our renewable energy systems, we must also make smart use of the energy we have. This means energy efficiency measures such as insulating buildings and reusing, for example, heat extracted from factories and buildings to be used for heating or as an energy source in other parts of the building . The technologies for much of this already exist and Swedish companies in Romania can provide solutions. But other innovations must also come. Governments should invest in this area, in collaboration with the private sector.
In 2015, the Swedish government launched Fossil Free Sweden, an initiative that brings together more than 500 companies, municipalities, regions and organizations to support Sweden’s ambition to become the first fossil-free nation. Achieving this goal was seen as a business opportunity giving Swedish industry the chance to improve its global competitiveness and drive this transition. Since then we have seen Swedish best practices shared and products exported to help other countries achieve their goals as well. These include the sustainable production of batteries to support the rapid electrification of our society, the use of hydrogen in developing infrastructure and in steelmaking, the creation of the world’s first fossil-free steel through the HYBRIT collaboration, the use of biomass to replace fossil fuels for transport and in building materials, in textiles and chemicals and plastics. Bioenergy is currently one of the most important sources of energy in Sweden.