Swedish government violates Paris deal, approves sale of its German coal assets

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The Swedish government failed a vital climate test today, paving the way for coal mining to continue beyond its borders, while taking credit for emissions cuts at home. In an “act of climate sabotage” the Swedish government approved a plan for its state-owned energy firm Vattenfall to flog its German coal operations to EPH, a company headquartered in the Czech Republic. Instead of stopping the deal, the government announced it will buy and tear up EU emissions rights each year to 2040. Today’s decision passes the buck of 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions over to EPH, as it attempts to eek the last remaining profit from Europe’s dwindling fossil fuel infrastructure. The Swedish government has previously been a strong supporter of the clean energy transition, and came under intense pressure in recent weeks to reject the sale of its lignite mines and keep its coal in the ground. By failing to listen to the calls of  its citizens, it joins an increasingly isolated group of countries keeping the doors open to dirty energy; tarnishing its climate reputation, betraying its commitment to decarbonisation and violating the collective promise it made under the Paris Agreement.

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Key Points

  • Governments can not wash their hands of coal pollution by simply selling their assets, the only real solution is keeping it in the ground. Coal is one of the dirtiest forms of energy, and approving the sale of its German coal mines the Swedish government has kept the doors open to 60 to 65 million tonnes of the brown stuff and 60 million tonnes of CO2. Many countries, from the UK and Belgium to the US are shifting away from coal power, but others – such as Japan and Australia – continue to linger at the toxic party, risking the climate, their economies and their citizen’s health.

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Key Quotes

  • “Physics is not fooled by this kind of trick. Pouring that carbon is an act of climate sabotage, and we will work hard to keep that coal in the ground.” – 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben
  • “Sweden has the power and responsibility to ensure the carbon it owns stays in the ground. Slavery didn’t end by selling slaves to someone else. They have to be freed. Climate change won’t stop by selling the fossil fuels you own to someone else. They need to stay in the ground.” – 350.org Keep it in the ground coordinator Tim Ratcliffe
  • “Sweden’s breach of the Paris agreement shows that governments won’t keep their promise to prevent climate catastrophe unless we make them. It’s up to us, ordinary people, to make sure the fossil fuels we simply cannot burn stay in the ground and push for a just transition away from fossil fuels.” – Olivia Linander, Swedish campaigner at 350.org
  • “Today the Swedish government has passed up a golden opportunity, namely to write history as a climate vanguard. The coal phaseout at Lusatia would have been Sweden’s most effective contribution to climate protection, because Vattenfall’s lignite-fired power plants produce more CO2 than Sweden in total. Sweden now washes its hands of responsibility. But also in future Lusatian coal will burn the climate. Real climate protection looks different. An alternative to the sale laid on the table: the development of a long-term plan to liquidate the lignite branch in an environmentally and socially responsible way. Vattenfall has never been, a ‘partner of the region’, but its gravedigger. For a long time the state-owned company has earned high profits in Lusatia at the expense of the environment and health. Now others will have to clean up the damages.” – Dr. Philip Bedall, Energy Campaigner, ROBIN WOOD
  • “By taking this decision, the Swedish government is spurning the landmark treaty on climate change adopted last year in Paris. The agreed limit to keep global warming well below 2°C or even below 1.5°C requires a dedicated and immediate effort to phase out coal. Otherwise, climate change will spiral out of control. The sale is also a failed attempt to clean up Vattenfall’s dirty environmental record. In fact, it fosters the continued digging up and burning of dirty coal in the region. This is fuelling climate change and its dire consequences, as heavy droughts or extreme weather disasters are increasingly destroying harvests and the livelihoods of millions of people especially in the poorest nations. Rather than keeping the dirty coal industry alive, all countries must engage in a socially just transition away from dirty coal and towards a world of 100% renewables such as solar and wind. If the economic powerhouse, Germany, is to play its fair part in keeping warming below 1.5°C, its last coal power station must go offline by 2035 at the very latest.” – Jan Kowalzig, Climate Policy Advisor at Oxfam Germany
  • “This is a shameful decision for Sweden, a country claiming to be at the forefront of climate action and a proactive supporter of the Paris agreement. Climate change already takes 150,000 lives each year, and almost all of those deaths are among children in developing countries, children who also happen to bear 88% of the burden of disease from climate change. We don’t need more coal to be polluting our climate, our communities and our children, we need leadership and vision and a clear path towards a 100% clean and renewable energy future.” – Frida Berry Eklund, Founder of Our Kids’ Climate
  • “Swedish politicians have missed a historic opportunity  and betrayed the climate. This can lead to emissions that are 24 times greater than Sweden’s annual emissions. This decision demonstrates a political collapse. It shows the politicians inability to grasp the seriousness of the issue  and to make decisions necessary to save the climate. The government had a fantastic opportunity to fulfill its part of the Paris agreement, if the lignite is sold, this chance is gone.” – Greenpeace Nordic

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