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New research exposes environmental impact of Swedish consumption

Aerial view of palm oil in Sentabai Village, West Kalimantan, indonesia. Photo by Nanang Sujana, CIFOR, flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

New research exposes environmental impact of Swedish consumption

The most comprehensive and detailed research program so far on the environmental impact of Swedish consumption – PRINCE – has now published its final report on the environmental pressure from private and public consumption and investments. “What’s most important with this project is that we have developed tools for measuring the environmental impact from Swedish consumption, in Sweden as well as in the rest of the world” says Focali-member Martin Persson.

PRINCE – Policy Relevant Indicators for Consumption and Environment – is the most comprehensive and detailed calculation of the environmental impact of Swedish consumption so far. The research program has developed data models for assessing the environmental pressure from consumption, in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use change, resource and water consumption, as well as use and emission of chemicals. The program was initiated in 2014 with the aim of analyzing and quantifying potential environmental impact linked to Swedish consumption in Sweden as well as abroad. Focali-members Martin Persson and Christel Cederberg, researchers at Chalmers University of Technology, have been part of the program since the start.

Imports a key source

In the final report, the project confirms earlier findings that consumption of food, transports and residency, as well as investments in construction and plant operations are prominent sources of almost all emissions of greenhouse gases and air pollution. It also confirms that imports of goods and services are a key source of the environmental impact associated with Swedish consumption. Of all the greenhouse gas emissions in 2014, two thirds occurred outside of Sweden’s boundaries.

“Before this project we didn’t have the numbers on how Swedish consumption, or consumption in other countries, affect tropical forests. Now we have data showing that the major CO2 emissions from deforestation affected by Swedish consumption are mainly caused by palm oil from Southeast Asia and imports of beef from Latin America, mainly Brazil” says Martin Persson.

Data model linking economy and environmental pressure

The data model uses statistics from Statistics Sweden (SCB) of economic activity and environmental impact in Sweden. By modelling the environmental impact of imports using the international data model EXIOBASE, which connects environmental data with the economic activity in the production chain, it is possible to calculate environmental impacts outside of Sweden. For chemical releases, a major part, 75-95 percent, of the use of pesticides and veterinary antibiotics emerges abroad due to imports of food. “The largest part emerges in Europe, but the use of pesticides, especially insecticides, in Latin-America is very important” says Christel Cederberg. 

The findings also show that the overall Swedish consumption-based emissions decreased during 2008-2014. However, the authors state that it is important to note that the emissions are still far above what would be needed to meet the Paris Agreement to keep global warming under 2 degrees.

The findings in the report form an important base for monitoring the national environmental targets and the goal is to develop tools that Swedish authorities can use to track the environmental pressure caused by Swedish consumption.

 

The research program PRINCE (Policy-relevant indicators for national consumption and environment) was conducted by a consortium of Swedish and European research institutes. The project was led by SCB (Statistics Sweden) and financed by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. SCB, Chalmers University of Technology, Stockholm Environment Institute, KTH, NTNU in Norway and CML and TNO in Holland was part of the research team. The final report is published by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency. Access the full report "Miljöpåverkan från svensk konsumtion - nya indikatorer för uppföljning" here.

The impacts of Swedish food consumption is deeper discussed in the paper: Cederberg, C., Persson, U. M., Schmidt, S., Hedenus, F., & Wood, R. (2019). Beyond the borders–burdens of Swedish food consumption due to agrochemicals, greenhouse gases and land-use change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 214, 644-652.Open access   https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2018.12.313

 

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