Sweden’s Interactions with Ecocide Champion Nations

Ecocide Champion Nations

A July 23, 2023 report by Kristoffer Tigue published in Inside Climate News explained that a proposal to commit the G20 “members to triple their renewable energy development by 2030…failed to pass amid opposition from Saudi Arabia, China and Russia.” Tigue wrote: “The deadlocked deals, which come amid a summer of record-breaking global heat, are the latest indicators that the countries contributing the most to the climate crisis could fail to reach similar agreements at the COP28 global climate talks in November—an outcome that experts have said could jeopardize key Paris Agreement targets.”

In The Routledge International Handbook of Violence Studies Rob White and Olivier Hasler defined ecocide as follows: “Ecocide refers to significant destruction, degradation, and diminishment of the environment, in whole or in part as a result of human acts or omissions. Establishing the crime of ecocide is motivated by the need to respond to a singularly important trend: the existing planetary environment is rapidly being destroyed. Climate change and the gross exploitation of natural resources are leading to the general demise of the ecological status quo – and, hence, increasing the need for the crime of ecocide. The causes of ecocide reside in dominant systems of production and consumption that are under the control of transnational corporations and powerful nation-states.”

Therefore, Saudi Arabia, China and Russia are each supporting ecocidal tendencies. China is a special case as Tigue explains: “While China is ramping up its use of coal power—the dirtiest kind of energy—it is also the world leader on clean energy, installing more than four times as much renewable energy as the U.S. last year at an impressive 141 gigawatts of new capacity. The country is even on course to achieve its clean energy goals five years early.”

The leading producers of oil in 2022 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration were the U.S., Saudia Arabia, Russia, Canada, China, Iraq and United Arab Emirates (Table 1).

Table 1: The 10 largest oil producers and share of total world oil production in 2022

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, “What countries are the top producers and consumers of oil?,” 2023.

The Enerdata website reports that “the world’s coal consumption rose by 6.3%” in 2022, “driven up by an economic recovery in coal-reliant emerging countries and fuel switching to coal for power generation in a context of high natural gas prices.” Among the leading coal users are states in Asia and Europe: “Coal consumption expanded strongly in Asia (+8.9%), due to the economic upturn and high gas prices, with +8.8% in China, +8.3% in India and +52% in Indonesia. Growth in coal consumption was slower in Europe (+2.3%), with +3.5% in Germany, +3.2% in Türkiye and +48% in Italy.”

The leading consumers of coal in 2022 are identified in Figure 1 below. China, India, and the United States are the leading consumers of coal.

Figure 1: Leading coal consuming countries worldwide in 2022 (in exajoules)

Source: Statista, “Leading coal consuming countries worldwide in 2022 (in exajoules),” 2023.

Now let us turn to Sweden’s interactions with nations linked to ecocidal tendencies.

Swedish Interactions with Ecocide Champions

Over the last ten years, Sweden’s imports from China have dramatically increased (Figure 2). These imports provide capital to China which corresponds to (a) the demand for energy to produce goods sent to Sweden and (b) the capital that can be used to finance coal development.

Figure 2: Sweden’s Imports from China in Billions of US Dollars: 2013-2022

Source: Trading Economics, “Sweden Imports from China,” 2023.

In contrast, Sweden’s imports from Russia have dramatically decreased (partially based on geopolitical considerations related to energy security and Russia’s interventionist legacy) (Figure 3). Nevertheless, Sweden has in the past imported Russian oil in the billions of dollars. As late as 2020, the Russian news agency Tass reported: “Despite the political rhetoric and statements of environmental organizations pointing to the political and environmental aspects related to the purchase of Russian oil and its production, Swedish companies continue to import large volumes of it. The largest fuel-producing company Preem buys an average of 400,000 barrels of Russian crude oil on a trading day.” While Swedish condemnation of Russian imperialism is the order of the day, historical studies show that in “the industrial exploitation of coal at Spitsbergen and petroleum in Russia’s colonial periphery, Swedish actors played a leading role, in competition with players from the larger European nations.”

Figure 3: Sweden’s Imports from Russia in Millions of US Dollars: 2013-2022

Source: Trading Economics, “Sweden Imports from Russia,” 2023.

Turning next to Saudi Arabia, according to OEC, Sweden’s imports amounted to $95.5 million in 2021, with exports to Saudi Arabia amounting to $1.88 billion. Sweden’s imports had been declining and “decreased at an annualized rate of 2.07%, from $164M in 1995 to $95.5M in 2021.” Nevertheless, in recent years Trading Economics data reveals that Sweden has increased its exports to Saudi Arabia, helping to develop this ecocidal champion, as demonstrated in Figure 4. In 2007, the Swedish Defence Research Agency (FOI) launched plans to build an advanced weapons factory in Saudi Arabia, although these were aborted after a backlash. We can conclude that Sweden lacks an environmentalist foreign policy when it comes to Saudi Arabia, however. Such a policy would involve making trade dependent upon a country’s willingness to embrace comprehensive ecological goals. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates lead clean energy production in the Middle East, but this hardly mitigates the Saudi’s efforts to derail global decarbonization.

Figure 4: Sweden’s Exports to Saudi Arabia

Source: Trading Economics, “Sweden Exports to Saudi Arabia,” 2023.

Turning finally to India, we can identify another country in which Swedish industrialists helped develop the country, but without any requirement that its development be coal-free. A report by the Indian embassy in Sweden notes: “Swedish companies came to India even before it gained independence. Ericsson, Swedish Match (WIMCO), SKF and ASEA (later to become ABB) have been in India from the 1920s. Since then other Swedish companies like Atlas Copco, Sandvik, Alfa Laval, Volvo, Astra Zeneca, SAAB, etc. have invested in India.” These developments took place before the ascendancy of environmental modernism or advances in ecological consciousness which date from the 1970s. Yet, Sweden’s exports of weapons to Indian increased significantly last year, suggesting that there is no uniform teleological development of consciousness in Swedish-India relations (see Figure 5 based on Comtrade data).

Figure 5: Swedish Exports of arms and ammunition, parts and accessories to India in Millions of US Dollars: 2013-2022

Source: Trading Economics, “Sweden Exports of arms and ammunition, parts and accessories to India,” 2023.

“Not giving a f-ck is considered a desirable cultural norm in contemporary Sweden.” Photo taken by author in front of the Weekday store in the Bohemian Söder area of Stockholm on August 8, 2023.

Does Sweden Have a Choice?

In an essay by Boris Grozovski published by the Wilson Center on May 16, 2022, the author writes: “Asking markets to serve human progress represents an attempt to institute a new doctrine of international relations, trade, and finances. If accepted, it would fundamentally change the world economy and politics.” He asks, “would it be feasible to deprive the violators of access to the global economy when they show the first signs of violating human rights, eliminating political competition, or dangerous saber-rattling?” UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss argued that “free markets should serve human progress, not rule-breakers who commit crimes at home and in other countries.” I assume that human progress means dramatic, comprehensive action on climate change, global warming, and the ecological crisis, although Grozovski manages to use none of these words in his essay.  The author argues: “a country’s inclusion in global trade and finance is not a reward for good behavior, nor is it allocated by anyone to someone else for any reason other than being a good deal.” This economic argument is followed by the observation that: “Cutting Russia out of the global economy now seems to be a morally justifiable decision. But what would happen if this approach were extended to China for crimes against the Uighurs. More generally, who should decide, and how, which crime was enough to throw a country out of the world economy? Where would the line be drawn between those who were allowed to trade and those who were not allowed? Would a tiered approach to admission to trade become necessary?” Grozovski discussed that problems of empowering tyrants with trade, citing Thomas Pogge at Yale University as follows: “By authorizing firms in developed countries to acquire natural resources from tyrants and thus protecting the firms’ property rights in the resources so acquired, we are offering a prize to every would-be autocrat or junta anywhere.” He continues, “by controlling rents, strongmen and juntas can levy low taxes, which exempts them from accountability to the citizenry” and “such countries are more prone to civil wars, have lower economic growth, and have more poverty.”

Grozovski explains a major barrier to moralizing trade: “autocracies now account for 31 percent of the global GDP (14 percent without China). Cutting off a third of the global economy is impossible: autocracies are closely intertwined with democracies economically. They participate in the global division of labor, trade, investment, and finance.” We must begin to answer the question of whether Sweden could do things differently by analyzing the great extent to which Sweden’s economy is driven by trade with other nations. This dependency has grown dramatically over the last sixty years as part of processes linked to globalization, European integration and the weakening of national industrial policies. Figure 5 illustrates this dramatic expansion in external dependency. Grozovski holds out for applying moral principles to trade: “Now it is time to start negotiating the global rules for world politics and universal human rights. As the world has learned to trade by the rules, it will eventually agree on political rules of conduct and respect for human rights. None of this should put into question the sovereignty of individual nations. But if a country wants to be part of the global humanity, it has to abide by the common rules.”

Figure 5: Sweden Trade to GDP Ratio 1960-2023

Source: Macrotrends, “Sweden Trade to GDP Ratio 1960-2023,” 2023.

An obvious question is whether a country like Sweden which is so dependent on trade, imports and exports, will have moral scruples about what countries it does business with. More precisely, where and how do countries gain moral leverage by changing their patterns of investment? One way to answer the question is to examine deficits in domestic infrastructure spending. Such investments can increase a country’s growth and expansion and provide alternative sources of jobs, growth and investment. Does Sweden have a deficit in such infrastructure? GlobalEconomy.com provides useful statistics on this point. In 2009, Sweden was ranked the 13th best (rank score 5.42), behind first place Switzerland (rank 6.8). By 2019, however, Sweden’s rank deteriorated to 39th best (rank score 4) behind first place Japan (rank score 6.8).

Sweden has made some planning commitments to increase infrastructure investments, however. On February 16, 2022 Trafikverket published the country’s planning framework for transport infrastructure measures. The plans involved investments of “SEK 799 billion (at 2021 price levels) for the period 2022–2033.” The plan was related to these investments

+ SEK 165 billion is to be set aside for operation, maintenance and renewals in state-owned railways.

+ SEK 197 billion is to be set aside for the maintenance and renewals of
the state-owned road network, including ensuring load-bearing capacity
and frost-proofing.

+ SEK 437 billion is to be used to develop the transport system. In the directive,
the Government states that SEK 107 billion of this should be allocated to new
high-speed rail mainlines and SEK 42 billion to county plans.

Only time will tell if these investments prove sufficient to reverse the decline of Swedish railroads. In cany case, there have been other areas of infrastructure deficits within Sweden. At the regional level, the North Sweden European office reported the following in 2019: “On October 7, the European Commission published its Regional Competitive Index. The index that categorizes the competitiveness of regions shows that Northern Sweden is behind other comparable regions in Europe when it comes to infrastructure, among other things, and that this reduces competitiveness compared to other regions.”

More significant perhaps has been a systematic under-investment in healthcare, which represents one of the country’s largest areas of infrastructure deficit. This under-investment is outlined in complaints about the healthcare system that were identified last year in a July 22 to August 5, 2022 survey of 500 persons published in Statista (Figure 6). A news report published in January 2023 outlines further details of the health under-investment crisis. Last year the country’s Health and Social Care Inspectorate (Ivo) “announced the first part of the conclusions of a national inspection of Swedish healthcare launched in January 2022, in which it inspected 27 hospitals, covering all 21 of the country’s regional health authorities.” The inspection was led by Peder Carlsson who found that the Swedish healthcare system faced serious deficits, including personnel shortages which gave patients unacceptable treatment. Carlsson said half of the investigated hospitals investigated explained that every week they were forced to send people home from emergency care who should have actually been admitted.  Carlsson said: “We have examples of patients with sepsis who are sent home instead of being admitted and given antibiotics.” The Local explained: “the shortage of hospital beds had been allowed to go too far, leading to so-called överbeläggning, where patients are cared for in hospital corridors, waiting rooms and other places not designed for healthcare, and utlokaliseringar, where patients are cared for in a hospital unit that lacks the specific competence to treat their illness or injury.”

Figure 6: Share of individuals who said select problems were the biggest facing the health care system in Sweden in 2022

Source: Statista, “Share of individuals who said select problems were the biggest facing the health care system in Sweden in 2022,” 2023.

Conclusions: Demilitarization is Necessary for Moral Contingency

In the case being considered here, moral choices (contingency) depends on the ability to organize the economy differently, on a more enlightened basis. Yet, militarization robs society of their capacity to act morally or reduces that capacity considerably. The ability to tax and spend on domestic infrastructure is a way to promote some level of de-linking from dystopian trade relations. At the very least, Sweden should focus on expanding its ecological exports and reducing its military exports. Trade obviously helps generate profits, growth and revenues which are taxed to finance the state and infrastructure. Yet, a declining civilian infrastructure can constrain competitiveness, competence and the capacity to expand trade. One key source of capital to finance the green industrial infrastructure can be found in the monies now spent on military budgets. Sweden, however, has rapidly been expanding its military budgets as seen in Figure 7 (based on SIPRI data). This expenditure represents a massive opportunity cost against the civilian economy, despite claims made about civilian spin-offs. Military spending has retarded clean industries’ development, such as the passenger rail industry in the United States. In Sweden, Saab’s wind power development was thwarted by its military production system.

Figure 7: Swedish Military Expenditures in Millions of US Dollars: 2013-2022

Source: Trading Economics, “Sweden Military Expenditure,” 2023.

The counterfactual arguments often center on defending Sweden against Russia and support for Ukraine, but Sweden has aided the former nation’s oil business and thus helped finance its military. As for Ukraine, peace negotiations will not be accelerated by Swedish military spending. There is absolutely no connection there, unless you argue that Swedish arms transfers speed up peace. This connection seems illogical in light of the Ukraine government’s legal actions against one of its leading peace advocates. Sweden’s concerns for human rights should start by dismantling its arms export machine that aids tyrants.