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Clear, but not absolute
Environmental Performance Review of Sweden

Sweden’s good reputation for a clean environment may be deserved, but there are murky spots. True, it gained high marks in the recent OECD Environmental Performance Review of Sweden. It was one of the first OECD countries to cut its use of environmentally harmful chemicals, and is one of the few OECD countries on track to meet their commitments under the Kyoto Protocol to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Take water. Sweden is dotted with more than 83,000 lakes covering close to 40,000 square kilometres. As European countries have cut down on their own sulphur dioxide and other emissions, the acidity of the lakes has fallen. Since the country’s first OECD review in 1996, Sweden has improved what was an already advanced urban wastewater treatment programme, and met the 2000 deadline for the EU wastewater directive for secondary treatment, as well as the overall 50% phosphorus reduction target. The waters of Stockholm are clean again and clear enough for fishing and even a swim.

But, as the second Environmental Performance Review of Sweden warns, its ambitious environmental quality objectives for water management, such as good quality groundwater, a balanced marine environment and healthy coastline (Sweden’s is 2,700 km long), still need much attention, as do a number of EU water directives, such as further cutting nitrate concentrations.

Sweden is responsible for 21% of the total land-based leaching of nitrogen into the Baltic and Kattegat Bay, for instance. Contaminants, such as dioxin, once emitted by the pulp and paper industry, remain a problem and the consumption of both freshwater and marine fish is restricted. Old abandoned mines are a long-term source of heavy metal contamination in Swedish lakes. Furthermore, overfishing has reduced populations of cod and Baltic herring to dangerously low levels, the Environmental Performance Review reports.

Sweden has adopted cutting-edge environmental quality objectives and upped the ante on conservation legislation, says the OECD’s Environmental Performance Review of Sweden. Yet its efforts need to be buttressed internationally. Indeed, without action, persistent organic pollutants drifting in from afar and the effects of climate change could yet lower the Arctic chill, and turn the renowned Ice Palace back into water.

©OECD Observer No 244, September 2004