In the aftermath of the Environmental & Sustainability Summit 2022, where she gave an insightful keynote speech during Day 1 of the event, Business Review sat down with H.E. Mrs. Therese Hydén, Ambassador of Sweden in Bucharest for a follow-up interview on sustainability and environmental protection.
Watch H.E. Mrs. Therese Hydén’s keynote speech here:
How are you encouraging the adoption of Swedish sustainability models in Romania?
Sustainability is one of our priorities at the Embassy of Sweden in Bucharest and we support Romania’s transition to a circular economy by sharing best practices and know-how, connecting stakeholders, and linking to the local context and needs, at municipal and national level. We are present in many events and projects, and we advance sustainable best practices in our digital diplomacy as well. But I believe that the best ambassadors for Swedish sustainable models remain the Swedish companies themselves. Quite a few world-renowned companies present in Romania are Swedish: Ikea, H&M, ABB, Ericsson, Electrolux, Oriflame, to name just a few of those that Romanians are familiar with. These bring to Romania not only sustainable products and services but also models of doing business and thriving while remaining competitive in an environment where the demand from environmentally conscious customers is growing.
What are the most successful sustainability programs in Sweden that you think could be successfully implemented in Romania?
There are many great examples of projects derived from national and international partnerships breaking new ground and pushing for climate transition. Solutions for a safer, easier and more climate friendly life emerge wherever there is a political will, a strong innovation climate and a business environment driven to secure new green jobs. There are many models that can be used for supporting increased sustainability. The most important factor for actual change and progress is that measures are linked together, that there is accountability for the measures and that measures are easy to use. It is also important that all stakeholders are working together: governments, private sector and research centres and academia. We as individuals in societies also have an important role to play, in demanding sustainable choices for our daily lives such as clean public transport, recycling of waste and green areas.
I believe this has been key to Sweden’s ambitious goal of becoming the first fossil-free welfare nation by 2045. To achieve that, we’ve adopted and implemented stricter legislation setting out clear and predictable rules. Also, investments in education and reskilling have been made to allow for a transition to net zero that goes hand in hand with growth and job creation.
In Sweden, the drive for sustainable policies received plenty political will and support paralleled with enhanced partnerships across sectors so that now we’re seeing big transformations with the support of the business environment and academia: fossil-free steel production, circular business models, an electrified transport sector, an energy system based primarily on renewable sources.
How can we have a balance between sustainability and environmental protection and the need to use fossil fuels?
The green transition may seem more challenging under the current circumstances, with less energy sources and energy prices rising, as a consequence of Putin’s unjustified war on Ukraine. We must however separate the immediate and acute situation following the war, on the one hand, from the need to stop CO2 emissions in order to stop the consequences of global warming such as natural disasters, on the other hand. In fact, this is the time to press even harder for more renewable energy sources, to replace Russian oil and gas. In parallel, we also need to be more efficient in using – and recycling – the energy we have. Also, the EU is in the process of adopting solutions on how to compensate households and companies for the high prices.
We see that climate action around the world has been too slow and that we’re heading for irreversible global warming with serious consequences for people and communities everywhere, Sweden and Romania included. The war in Ukraine followed the Covid-19 pandemic. This prolonged crisis has taken its toll on nations’ efforts to push for more ambitious sustainable development initiatives. Countries must, for their survival, continue the path of ensuring the implementation of the global sustainability goals and reduce their emissions. The foundation has already been laid and the components are there: scientists working breakthrough technologies that we need in order to develop effective, sustainable solutions and investments, business leaders redrawing business concepts and engaging full speed in the transition, talents in academia or other parts of our societies eager to take on new challenges and using their expertise to bring change, and politicians agreeing on national climate goals, rules that are clear and easy to use and giving businesses 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 through the substantial research made by the UN panel on climate change (IPCC) that there is a major risk that the global warming will surpass 1,5 degrees increase already in the 2030: s, if we do not drastically lower our greenhouse gas emissions today. This rise in temperature can destabilize our planet and set off even more natural disasters, such as the ones we have been experiencing in terms of insufferable heatwaves, wildfires and flooding. The time for action is now. Our actions towards limiting CO2 emissions must take place in all fields and activities, from transportation, to construction but also in our use of fossil fuels. We must step up the use of existing renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. Here, there can be economic incentives to install these systems. But there must also be the capacity within the authorities to grant the incentives and to give necessary permissions in an efficient way so as not to lose time. While we are scaling up our renewable energy systems, we must also be smart about using the energy that we have. This means energy efficiency measures such as isolating buildings and re-using for example heat that is extracted from factories and buildings to be used for heating or as energy source in other parts of the building. The technologies for a lot of this is already existing and Swedish companies in Romania can provide solutions. But more innovations need to come as well. Governments should invest in this, together 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 of becoming the first fossil free nation. Achieving this goal has been viewed as a business opportunity giving Swedish industry the possibility to enhance its global competitiveness and take the driver seat of this transition. Since then, we’ve seen Swedish best practices shared and products exported to support also other countries in reaching their goals. These include the sustainable production of batteries to support the rapid electrification of our society, the use of hydrogen by expanding the infrastructure and in steel making, creating the world’s first fossil free steel though the HYBRIT collaboration, the use of biomass to replace fossil fuels for transport and in materials for buildings, in textiles and chemicals and plastic. Bioenergy is currently one of the largest source of energy in Sweden.