Sweden boosts forest protection spending

Influence of Greens seen in budget decision to nearly triple state forest purchase programme

The Swedish government has announced a big increase in state purchasing of forest land for nature conservation in its first budget statement since last month's election. The environment ministry is to increase spending on forest land purchasing from SKr190m (Ecu19.9m) per year currently to SKr500m by 2001. Another SKr99m over three years of extra funding for habitat protection has been allocated to the trade and commerce ministry.

Swedish environmental groups have warmly welcomed the extra spending on forest protection. Per Stenbeck of Greenpeace attributed the increase to the Green Party's new role as a coalition partner to the ruling Social Democrats, who were returned to power but on a reduced vote.

Mr Stenbeck told ENDS Daily the increase would help to improve Sweden's poor record in protecting old-growth forest. Nevertheless, Greenpeace believes annual spending of up to SKr1bn would be needed over a decade in order to achieve just a 5% protected area.

Today's budget also marks a 50% increase in funding for environmental monitoring projects designed to support the achievement of a series of national environmental quality objectives adopted in the spring (ENDS Daily 15 May). In addition, more money is to be given to county administrative boards to cover the costs of supervising implementation of Sweden's new environmental code (ENDS Daily 5 December 1997).

Speaking at the opening of parliament last week, Prime Minister Göran Persson pledged that Sweden would "show the way in the transition to sustainable development". He said the government would stimulate the efforts of local government and encourage development of its home-grown "ecocycle" philosophy.

Mr Persson also offered support to maintain the competitiveness of energy-intensive industries in Sweden while moving on with plans to phase out nuclear power. The phase-out is currently on ice pending a judicial review of plans to shut down the first nuclear power station at Barsebäck (ENDS Daily 15 May). A legal ruling on the issue is expected by the end of the year. Mr Persson also announced plans to draw up a programme with Sweden's motor industry to develop environmentally-friendly cars.

Announced last week, the government's new cabinet contained a big surprise - the transfer of outspoken environment minister Anna Lindh to the foreign affairs ministry. Environmental groups described the loss of Ms Lindh as a "blow," while industry groups said they had developed a good working relationship with her. The new minister, Kjell Larsson, was described by all sides as a "dark horse" in terms of his environmental beliefs. But he was acknowledged to be a seasoned and influential politician.

Follow Up:
Swedish environment ministry, tel: +46 8 405 1000.

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