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Climate issue a matter of solidarity and economic opportunities

Sweden opted for a more ambitious target than obliged to under the Kyoto Protocol, since the climate issue was perceived as an economic opportunity.

Opportunities for economic development and the link with justice issues are both key explanations for Sweden's actions during the climate negotiations, reveals research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

International environmental cooperation is rarely successful in nature. The reason is that states have few incentives to contribute to the common good, but more of an incentive to get a free ride on the back of others.

"This is certainly a pertinent image, but given such a description it's hard to understand why Sweden not only took on an ambitious target in Kyoto, but will also exceed its own goals," says Mathias Zannakis, who is defending his thesis at the Department of Political Science at the University of Gothenburg.

Mathias Zannakis has examined Sweden's interpretation of issues relating to who has responsibility for acting to combat climate change and the measures that should be taken. The starting point for the thesis is that Swedish climate policy is constructed via socially established discourses, where certain norms and types of behaviour are strong.

The opportunity storyline, i.e. that Sweden and the Swedish economy may derive benefits from the challenge of climate change, has existed alongside a sacrificial storyline, which is about climate work involving a cost.

"But the opportunity storyline has gained prominence and can be exercised by all parties," says Mathias Zannakis.

Maximising the benefit to themselves
Sweden's actions can be explained by the notion that the Swedish economy may gain benefits, as well as by an ecological justice storyline, i.e. that the rich world has the greater moral responsibility in relation to climate policy.

"The combination of these storylines has helped boost Sweden's legitimacy, both among poor countries and among rich countries who have said that climate policy involves a sacrifice. Whether or not Sweden will continue along this track in the wake of the Copenhagen process remains to be seen."

In its conclusions, the thesis refers to the fact that global environmental problems are unilaterally described as social dilemmas, where individual players are doing everything possible to maximise the benefit to themselves.

"My point is that problems start arising if you assume that people are only acting in their own interests. That makes actions like those of Sweden in this case 'odd' and difficult to explain," says Mathias Zannakis.

"For the majority of countries, the most rational course of action has been to try and avoid commitments. Sweden's actions show that what is perceived as rational cannot be taken for granted."

The thesis shows that Swedish policy is a clear reproduction of the consensual climate science as advocated by the UN Climate Panel, IPCC. This acknowledgement of the problem enables the construction of Sweden's sense of responsibility through a combination of two storylines: an ecological justice storyline and an opportunity storyline. The results also reveal that Sweden is tackling the climate issue by involving the whole of society. There is also a strong belief that the rational, planned society will succeed in achieving its goals by introducing cost-effective measures. This is brought about by the fact that in Sweden, a strong state that tries to guide and restrict various activities is traditionally regarded as legitimate.

For more information: Mathias Zannakis
Phone. +46 (0)31 7861200

Helena Aaberg | idw
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