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Sweden's green transition head warns of 'increasing risk' from sceptics

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Sweden's green transition head warns of 'increasing risk' from sceptics
Svante Axelsson, as coordinator for Fossil Free Sweden has played a key role in the country's plans to green its heavy industry. Photo: Stina Stjernkvist/TT

Svante Axelsson, the man tasked with coordinating Sweden's green industrial transformation, in an interview with The Local warned of a "new, increasing risk", from politicians and others driving an agenda opposed to flagship green projects and sceptical of the urgent need to reduce emissions.


Axelsson, national coordinator for Fossil Free Sweden, said he'd found it "surprising" that politicians, particularly from the Sweden Democrats, and others had begun criticising some of Sweden's largest and most high-profile green transition projects, given the wide support for them among leading business leaders and unions. 

"You hear the same argumentation all over the world, so it's not a new message. But it was surprising to see this type of message being sold into this country just now. Because we have so many company leaders that think it's the wrong analysis," he said.

As national coordinator, Axelsson has worked with highly polluting industries such as mining, steel, cement, and oil refining to help them draw up ambitious strategies to radically reduce their emissions, helping generate world-renowned initiatives such as the Hybrit green steel project, the Slite CCS project, and Northvolt's giant battery factories in Skellefteå and Gothenburg. 


The Hybrit demonstration plant will produce approximately 1.2m tonnes of crude steel annually at a new electric arc furnace to be built in Oxelösund, allowing the steel company to close two blast furnaces, preventing the release of about 14.3m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over ten years. 

The plant will be supplied with fossil free sponge iron made at state mining company LKAB's mine in Gällivare, using hydrogen produced by a 500MW electrolyser powered by fossil-free electricity. 

But earlier this month, Sweden Democrat party leader Jimmie Åkesson wrote an opinion piece in the Dagens Industri newspaper questioning whether the Swedish Energy Agency should grant the Hybrit project 4.9 billion kronor (€440m) towards building a demonstration plant in Gällivare. 

Magnus Henrekson, an economics professor based at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics, also last week told SVT he believed Hybrit was a hubristic project comparable to the Titanic, the giant ocean liner which sank in 1912. 

"I was really surprised that there has been so much discussion against Hybrit," Axelsson told The Local. "I'm not afraid for the long-term, because I know that we have a very, very strong commitment from industry leaders, the unions, and even in the parliament. But I'm frustrated, because they don't need that problem just now." 

He said that he believed that the Sweden Democrats were seeking a new campaigning issue.

"My analysis is that the Sweden Democrats want to have a new conflict, and need to have a new conflict, and they are using the climate transformation. But I do not think they will succeed, because we have such strong support from companies and the unions."

He said changes of the scale of Sweden's ongoing shift to lower or zero-emission industry always generated some anxiety, opening up opportunities for populists. 

"It's always like this if you do a big transformation in a very short period of time. People are afraid. What will happen? How might it impact my electricity price? And in that situation, you can be populist."

But the insinuation from the Sweden Democrats and other opponents that the government would have to provide heavy subsidies to the companies investing in the most ambitious green transition projects at taxpayers' expense was wide of the mark, he said.

"They are getting no money for the full scale-up in their production because this project was bankable from the beginning," he said of Hybrit. "The market is there. People want to buy 25 percent more expensive steel. It's the same situation for climate-neutral cement or biofuels. The market is there." 

The key thing now, he said, was for business leaders to work even harder at communicating the advantages of these ambitious green transformation projects to the Swedish public. 


"We have a very strong story to tell about Sweden becoming the first fossil free welfare nation. It's not painful to be fossil free. It's the opposite," he said. "And I can prove that by all the many different leaders who have said that if they don't do this, they will have to close their companies in the future." 

The key now was to increase the communication push at a local level, he said.

"Now we need to communicate even more strongly that the companies where people are employed will be more competitive if they are fossil free. We need to step up our communication, with even mid-sized companies, the companies that deliver products to the big companies, communicating that this is not a problem in every region in Sweden."

Article published in February 2023.



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