Flags of British Columbia and Sweden (credit Wikipedia) and file photo of Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg by Josie Desmarais
“My name is Greta Thunberg. I am sixteen years old. I come from Sweden. And I speak on behalf of future generations.” – speech to U.K. House of Parliament, London, April 23, 2019
Swedish climate striker Greta Thunberg has travelled a long, slow, low-carbon way to bring her message of climate urgency to British Columbia.
In the spirit of cultural exchange, I decided to learn what I could about Sweden’s own climate emissions and efforts. So if you, too, are interested in how our two northern jurisdictions compare on climate pollution, you’re in luck. I waded through a fat pile of reports and spreadsheets to put together five comparison charts and the stories behind them.
Pollution Down. Pollution Up.
Let’s start with annual emissions. My first chart shows the big picture.
Back in 1990, Sweden dumped a lot more climate pollution than B.C. did. Fifteen million tonnes (15 MtCO2) more.
But, since then, the Swedes have slashed their emissions by a quarter.
B.C. has pumped it up.
As a result, we’ve traded places. B.C. now emits a lot more climate pollution than Sweden.
I’ve also included B.C.’s 2020 climate target on the chart as a dotted circle. (It sits at 23 per cent below our 1990 emissions level.)
Sweden has already cut even deeper than that, reducing emissions 26 per cent below their 1990 level.
It is clearly possible for wealthy northerners to achieve the pollution we promised. Heck, the U.K. has managed to pull off a 41 per cent reduction since 1990.
Greta: “A lot of people say that Sweden is a small country, that it doesn’t matter what we do. But I think that if a few girls can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school for a few weeks, imagine what we could do together if we wanted to. Every single person counts. Just like every single emission counts. Every single kilo. Everything counts. So please, treat the climate crisis like the acute crisis it is and give us a future. Our lives are in your hands.” – speech to Stockholm Climate March, Sept. 8, 2018
Person by person
Greta: “The bigger your carbon footprint, the bigger your moral duty.” – speech to the World Economic Forum, Davos, Jan. 25, 2019
Next, let’s look at the amount of climate pollution emitted per person.
Sweden is home to more than twice as many people as British Columbia. And as my second chart shows, the average Swede emits a little over five tonnes of climate pollution (tCO2) each year.
That’s one tonne less than the global average.
British Columbians, in contrast, emit more than double the global average.
Why are Swedes polluting so much less? To look for clues I dug deeper to find the emissions that each sector of the economy causes.
Two things jump out for me.
First, you can see that transportation is by far British Columbia’s biggest source of climate pollution. So big, in fact, that our per capita transportation emissions exceed the Swedes footprint for everything. We’ll take a look two of the biggest transportation problems — driving and flying — below.
The second thing that jumps out at me is the pollution from B.C.’s oil and gas industry, shown at the top of the bar. The industry alone emits 2.6 tCO2 per British Columbian. That’s half Sweden’s total.
And now the oil and gas industry is poised to double its climate pollution in B.C. if they build just two of their currently planned LNG projects: LNG Canada and Kitimat LNG.
Those two examples just scratch the surface of what we could learn from studying the emissions of Sweden and most other European nations. If you want to explore more, the official greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory for Sweden, and for most other major nations, are here. And like Greta’s speeches, Sweden’s report is, very helpfully, in English. MORE