Sweden to overhaul environment targets

Many existing targets difficult to understand, impossible to measure

The Swedish environment agency is to propose a complete overhaul of national environmental targets. The agency says that many existing targets are difficult to understand or impossible to measure, and that some will not be met. It plans to propose new targets this summer.

The 160 or so targets being reviewed have been set by the national parliament, in many cases based on recommendations by the environment agency. They cover all aspects of environmental policy, including waste, water, greenhouse gas emissions, biological diversity and other areas.

Now the agency is concerned that the targets may not be serving much of a useful purpose. It has launched "Environmental Targets '98" to review existing targets, and will propose revisions to the national system this summer.

Hans Vrådhe, an environment agency official working on the issue, told ENDS Daily that a range of problems has already been identified. One key obstacle is measurability. "Many targets are so diffuse that it is not possible to say how to reach them; for example, they lack numbers, years and so on", Mr Vrådhe said.

He noted a range of other practical difficulties. "In some cases it is not clear who is responsible to achieve targets; a lot of targets say nearly the same as other targets; and sometimes targets use words that are hard to understand by...the people that should be the users".

Mr Vrådhe cites several typical examples of national environmental targets that suffer from these deficiencies. One states that emissions of chemicals collectively known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) "should be reduced by the turn of the century to levels which will not damage the environment." Another states that "the use of water from lakes, rivers and streams...for water supply purposes should not be restricted by pollution."

A third says that waste separation at source should be "developed so as to ensure that, as from 1994, all waste...is sorted into categories which enable it to be dealt with appropriately." Mr Vrådhe comments that targets like these "might be very good to have as overall objectives but are very difficult to monitor and evaluate as targets."

The agency will submit a report to the government this summer on ways to revise environmental targets. Mr Vrådhe says that the proposals will include "some new policy...mainly in the areas of long-range planning and basing targets on sustainable development."

Follow Up:
Swedish environment agency, tel: +46 8 69 81 00.

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