SES interviews Andreas Carlgren, former Swedish Minister for the Environment
By Alex Schmidt
Andreas Carlgren was the longest serving Swedish Minister for the Environment from 2006-2011. Throughout his term, he helped Sweden expand renewable energy and significantly reduce its’ GHG (Green House Gas) emissions. He also was a key negotiator in various environmental negotiations on behalf of Sweden and the European Union, such as the 2009 Copenhagen conference and the Cancun Agreement. Today, Carlgren works at the Newman Institute in Uppsala, Sweden, where our first cohort of Loyola students have just finished their fall semester.
Recently, SES (formally IES) sat down with Carlgren to hear about his experiences as Swedish Minister for the Environment and the advice he has for environmental science students.
SES: How did you first become interested in environmental politics? How did you become Swedish Minister for the Environment?
Carlgren: My interest actually started early on, because I grew up on one of the first organic farms in Sweden. Later on as a teenager, I studied a lot of classic environmental readings, such as Rachel Carson, in my free time.
In terms of my political career, I went in and out of politics many times on a local and regional level. But before I went into politics I was also working with Swedish car and truck companies, where I developed educational programs for their management in the 1980’s. I became the major in a local municipality in the 1990s. Then some years later I came into Swedish parliament for several years. All those years I covered other things as well, but the environment was a main interest of mine. Following this I became Swedish Minister of the Environment between 2006-2011.
Read the full interview, here.
SES: During your term, you worked with the Swedish government and other states to protect the Arctic. As a member of the Arctic Council, what is your stance on Arctic drilling?
Carlgren: To me, one of the scariest aspects of climate change is the possible exploitation of the Arctic, because there’s a lot of potential for damage. It really isn’t a regional issue. Sweden, together with Norway, the United States, Russia, Canada, and other states, are members of the Arctic Council. We have worked to stop Arctic drilling and create protection for the future of that area, but it is very difficult to convince all the countries involved. Some members want to exploit resources, such as minerals and oil. I think it is so important that we all understand that even when we are rich in natural resources, our environments are still incredibly sensitive. Globally, it is so interconnected, and it is really part of a common heritage that we should be apart of.
SES: As the longest serving minster for the environment, what accomplishments are you most proud of? Did you witness a change in public sentiment at all over time?
Carlgren: I am most proud of seeing how Sweden developed to be so incredibly committed to combating climate change. We set a goal to reduce our emissions by 40 percent from 1990 to 2020, and we are on track to manage that goal. We are among the lowest emission levels in Europe, and by 2020 Sweden should be the lowest emitter per capita among developed countries.
This was done by supporting renewables, such as wind and solar, but mostly bio energy. We used the leftover parts of the forestry industry to convert into biofuels. We also saw an enormous rise in the green cars industry in Sweden. As a nation, I have been happy to see society and our economy come together to take action on climate change and make it a part of our every-day life. That has been really rewarding.
SES: What value systems does Sweden have in regards to the environment that you’d like to impart on U.S students and citizens?
Carlgren: I think it is this practical love for our natural environment. It means both living close to nature but also really making sustainability a part of everyday life. Its cities planning for the sustainability in the future, and improving clean water, clean air, clean energy, and renewables. What has astonished the Loyola students studying abroad through the Newman Institute is the extent that nature becomes a part of their everyday life. It really is important to develop and practice this fundamental respect for nature.
Another value is recognizing the importance of community. Environmental issues are not private. It really requires a sense of understanding your place in your local and global community- a sense of experiencing that this is something that everyone is involved in. It is said that Americans are individualistic, and might not think about these issues. But us Swedes are also individualistic in that sense. I think it is really important to think in the sense “yes I have my own life and identity, but I am also responsible for the community I am a part of.” Those mustn’t be in conflict.
Lastly, it is so important to demand environmentally friendly policy. It’s not always the main issues discussed in the election campaigns, but it should be a priority.
SES: So our last question is for our students who wish to pursue a career in environmental policy, what career advice do you have?
Carlgren: First of all, it is important to recognize that there are various different fields and career paths to pursue environmental science and sustainability.
You could use almost every sort of life experience as an important element of that career. On one hand, you see the importance of natural science, but we also need an understanding of the social science in society. You don’t always have to cover both, but both are needed now and even more so in future. Environmental issues affect all parts of society, both in business, political life, and NGOs. So it is important to consider all possible avenues.
After graduation, I think that it is always important to keep reading. It is really important to stay informed and always reflecting. Staying educated on issues is a big part of creating change in the world.