An interdisciplinary research initiative about law and biodiversity conservation

New letter in Science: Sweden threatens European biodiversity

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Project researcher Guillaume Chapron at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences published a new letter in the 28th October 2022 edition of Science:

In June, the European Commission proposed a nature restoration law to repair Europe’s damaged ecosystems (1). This regulation stands out by setting legally binding biodiversity targets for member states and has been well received by ecological scientists (2). However, the proposal faces an uphill battle to become European law. In January 2023, the rotating presidency of the European Union will be held by Sweden, whose parliament has already voted against the Commission proposal, arguing that its conservation measures were disproportionate (3). The newly appointed Swedish government terminated on its first day the 35-year-old standalone Ministry of Environment in charge of nature conservation (4). Given its political record of weakening biodiversity laws, Sweden is also likely to counter the proposed European law during its presidency.
Sweden has failed to align its wolf policy with European law for a decade (5) and has often undermined biodiversity conservation efforts when they affect extractive industries. A previous Swedish government instructed authorities to abuse exemptions allowed by the European Water Directive (6). Shortly after the UN environmental summit Stockholm+50 this spring, a majority in the Swedish parliament voted a motion to reopen an international convention on environmental democracy to introduce limits on litigation by environmental organizations (7). After the European Court of Justice ruled in 2021 on bird conservation and Swedish forestry, Sweden urgently amended its Species Protection Ordinance to remove alleged legal obstacles against forestry (8).
The political inbreeding between some authorities and forest industries is such that the latter has been able to overrule an independent scientific review when deciding to fund a large strategic research project by a public research foundation (9). On biodiversity issues, the Swedish state apparatus largely appears to have been captured by extractive industry lobbies (10).
Sweden faces hardly any backlash from its backward-looking biodiversity policies. Its administrative culture of consensus does not value dissent (11) and the country historically benefits from its reputation as a moral superpower (12). For example, the current Czech presidency of the EU has outsourced some environmental aspects to Sweden (13) because of its experience in international environmental relations. A 6-month presidency of the EU may not give Sweden the ability to irreversibly block the proposed nature restoration law, but it can provide enough political momentum for Sweden to substantially weaken or delay it. A likely outcome may be a law with added loopholes that allows Sweden to claim environmental leadership while safeguarding a status quo benefiting its environmentally damaging industries. European member states, institutions, and experts are therefore advised to handle biodiversity conservation policies made by Sweden with the highest level of skepticism and scrutiny.

References and Notes
  1. N. Hoek, Eur. Energ. Environ. Law Rev. 31, 320 (2022).
  2. Society for Ecological Restoration (European Chapter), “Declaration on the European Commission proposal for a regulation on nature restoration” (2022).
  3. Swedish Parliament, 2021/22:MJU32 (2022).
  4. D. M. Dougall, “‘Devastating consequences’ as new Swedish government scraps environment ministry,” Euro News (2022).
  5. L. Laikre et al., Science 377, 162 (2022).
  6. Swedish Government, 2017/18:243 (2018).
  7. Swedish Parliament, 2021/22:MJU29 (2022).
  8. Swedish Ministry of the Environment, “Ändringar av artskyddsförordningen ska skapa tydligare tillämpning” (2022) [in Swedish].
  9. J. Andersson, E. Westholm, Sci. Technol. Hum. Val. 44, 237 (2019).
  10. L. Röstlund, Skogslandet: En Granskning (Forum, Stockholm, 2022) [in Swedish].
  11. P. Hall, in The Oxford Handbook of Swedish Politics (2015), pp. 299–314.
  12. A.-S. Dahl, Int. J. 61, 15 (2022).

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