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Interview in Forskning & Framsteg on Sweden and European biodiversity

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Project researcher Guillaume Chapron at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was interviewed by Swedish magazine Forskning & Framsteg:

“Sweden finds all kinds of loopholes in EU nature protection laws”

Biodiversity protection risks being weakened during Sweden’s EU presidency, says SLU researcher Guillaume Chapron. Now he warns of the consequences.

In an opinion piece published in the scientific journal Science, Sweden is described as anything but a pioneer country when it comes to environmental and climate issues. Guillaume Chapron is a researcher at Grims√∂ Research Station, part of the Department of Ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU. He is highly critical of the country’s environmental policy.

1 | What prompted you to write this text?
In June, the European Commission presented a new legislative proposal to strengthen the protection of biodiversity in the EU, the first time in 30 years that such a framework has been presented. The proposal is also ambitious as it sets binding targets for restoring damaged ecosystems. Sweden is the only country to have opposed the proposal out of concern that forestry will be negatively affected. In its comment, it says that forestry is better regulated at national level.

2 | What problems do you see with this?
In early 2023, Sweden will take over the rotating presidency of the EU for six months. It is likely that attempts will be made to stop or weaken the proposal, which is likely to have a number of negative knock-on effects. If the bill is rejected, it is my assessment that biodiversity will continue to decline in Europe.

3 | Sweden is often seen as a frontrunner in environmental and climate issues. What do you think about that?
Yes, Sweden has a bit of star status and a very good reputation. I wanted to write to my European colleagues and explain to them that this reputation as a moral superpower is not justified when it comes to nature protection. On the contrary, one could say that it is a kind of Swedish innovation to find all kinds of loopholes in European nature protection laws.

4 | What reactions have you received?
So far, I’ve mainly received a few emails from colleagues. However, I understand that academic freedom is somewhat limited in Sweden. In other European countries, such as France, there is a tradition of debate in a completely different way. Disagreement is a way to develop, not a threat to the social order. It is clear to me that the Swedish culture of consensus allows the forest industry to retain a disproportionate influence over Swedish politics.

5 | Are you directing your criticism at the new or the old government?
On its very first day, the new government chose to close the Ministry of the Environment. However, the previous majority in the Riksdag did not do so well either and expressed negative views on the new bill. When it comes to biodiversity, the previous government went backwards in the right direction, now the new government is going forwards in the wrong direction.

Forskning & Framsteg has contacted the Minister of the Environment, Romina Pourmokhtari, for a comment on the criticism but has not received a reply.

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