"Which are the challenges and opportunities in reaching a sustainable society of tomorrow? – The role of policy making and co-operation"
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It's a great pleasure to be back here at the Royal Institute of Technology.
I served as a member of the board of directors here in my previous role as the chairman of the trade union IF Metall. I had a great opportunity to be involved in your development as one of the leading universities in Scandinavia.
It is often my privilege as a policy maker to listen in to the great debate on sustainability and society. My goal here today is to present my broader viewpoints as a politician on the role of policy making in creating a sustainable society.
I know that men and women in the academic world are fans of precise definitions, and so am I.
So I would like to start off by pointing out that my definition of the term "a sustainable society" stems from the UN Report "Our Common Future", also known as the Brundtland Report.
While the details of the report may be dated, the broad view of defining a sustainable society as both economically, ecologically and socially sustainable is still viable today. So in my definition of a sustainable society, I connect economic stability, ecological protection and social equality – as they are dependant on each other.
I know that there are various other possible definitions, but this is the one I will use and you can always fight me for it afterwards...
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The main foundation for building a sustainable society in a democracy is of course popular support.
Reports that our global society is unsustainable have been coming for many decades now, and especially on the clear evidence of climate change. But the step from alarm to action has not always been easy.
However, we can see that where progress have been made and there have been a popular support for the creation of a more sustainable society, these policies have been connected to popular results, such as creating jobs and granting a better private economy for all.
If we look at Swedish history, the same tactics could be seen in the creation of the Swedish welfare state. The foundation of a more socially and economically sustainable society was connected to the goal of full employment and rising living standards for the entire population.
The same could be done with ecological sustainability. I like to quote my late colleague Anna Lindh, who during her time as minister of environment pointed both at unemployment and climate change and said:
"Out of two problems we can create one opportunity."
And there are in fact great opportunities in creating employment while moving towards an ecologically sustainable society.
Many of the growing sectors in Europe today are creating sustainable infrastructure, energy sources and green technology. And we can see a great, work-consuming transformation ahead – not only creating so called green jobs but making all jobs green.
But we can also see sustainability linked to other issues. The Democratic Party in the US has created popular support for an increase in sustainable energy sources, connecting it to the issue of foreign oil dependency.
The argument goes that for every solar plant and wind power station being built in the US, the dependence on oil resources controlled by despotic leaders in the Middle East will decrease. It has been reasonably successful so far, but we will have to see if they will get the mandate to continue these policies after the November election.
But not all aspects of creating a sustainable society can be building, creating, constructing and so on. Some parts need to be changed, preserved and decreased and will not result in employment.
So the main key in all aspects of creating support for a change towards a sustainable society is that this change is perceived as a move forward, not backwards. Increased sustainability should be viewed as an addition – and not a reduction of our current way of life.
This could be seen as a great communicative challenge for policy makers, but it is of course eased by the shared concern for younger generations, and their children. In a long-term perspective, a sustainable path is of course not only the best choice presented, it is the only reasonable choice if we want to transfer our possibilities and way of life to our children.
Because individual freedom granted in a sustainable society is the only one that can be preserved and inherited by all future generations. Such a freedom, a sustainable freedom, should therefore be the goal of policy making – a goal that has a great chance of gaining popular support.
And when such a goal can be presented, we have a chance of shifting popular support towards popular demand – turning the creation of a sustainable society into something that is not only accepted, but demanded by the general public.
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This presents us with a second question: How should we meet this popular demand?
In our current shadow budget, we address all three aspects of sustainability: economic, social and ecological.
We focus both on battling unemployment and increased poverty. We will create a more ecologically sustainable society through investments in
the end of the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea and many more projects.
We know that the creation of a sustainable society will always be a complex process. There is no single solution but rather thousands of small steps that need to be taken.
But looking at the bigger picture, we need to see sustainability not as a policy area, but as the core of every political decision. Every new law or budget proposal should be evaluated on its effect on the creation of a sustainable society.
This is an area where policy makers and academics could work closer together.
Universities and research institutes today are doing a very important job in pointing out both what needs to be done and how it could be done. But I also see a great need for implementing sustainability in every political decision.
One way of doing this, focused on ecological sustainability, is to create a set framework for emission reduction, similar to the frameworks we have constructed for our financial policies.
These frameworks could then be in place regardless of changes in government or our economic situation. This would assure our path towards a more ecologically sustainable society – and make us completely free from fossil fuels by 2050, with at least a 90 percent reduction of greenhouse gases.
This is an idea that is growing all over Europe and has been developed in countries such as Great Britain and Denmark.
It makes clear that global agreements do not prevent individual countries from acting as international role models in the move towards a sustainable society – and in that progress sustainability needs to be included in every single decision.
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Another key issue is the lack of co-operation. Government alone cannot, and should not, be the sole actor in developing our society.
What we need is a deeper understanding and collaboration between government, corporations, unions and academia – and fixed forums for that work to take place.
These forums could transform politics from a monologue into a constant dialogue. They would shorten political feedback processes and create a more dynamic way of handling political issues.
Because all these actors need to be involved.
- Research institutes and universities, such as the Royal Institute of Technology, need better forums to turn research results into policy, but also to listen to different demands from society.
- Companies need to see the vast opportunities that are presented in the demand for sustainable products and services, and describe their situation while also getting a full understanding of the limits and challenges that we face as a society.
- Unions and other representatives from the civil society need to have their voices heard. Not only through demonstrations or applause after a decision has been made but by being involved in the decision-making process itself.
I truly believe that the only way of properly implementing research results from academia, and getting both employers and employees on board, is to include all actors in the policy making process.
As the saying goes: If you want quick results – do it alone. If you want good results – do it together.
And the current situation makes it abundantly clear that we need a greater government responsibility to make change happen, not less.
We therefore allocate resources in our current shadow budget to create a possibility for deeper cooperation between government, academia, corporations and unions. This is a clear sign that we see it as the government's responsibility to create and uphold these forums for development.
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So, in conclusion. I view the role of policy makers as:
1. Creating popular support and popular demand for a sustainable society. Showing the link to other popular issues and making it clear that the path to sustainability is indeed a path forward – towards a greater and more long-term individual freedom.
2. Meeting that demand, not only through specific investments, but with the help of modern tools from academia making sustainability part of every political decision.
3. Creating and upholding forums where government, academia, corporations and unions can meet and create policy together. To shift politics from an ineffective monologue to a more dynamic dialogue.
I believe that those are key issues in achieving a sustainable society.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to personally thank you all as researchers for your thorough work, constantly presenting new ideas for a better society. We will do our best to make those ideas become reality.