Hottest Summer Bumps Up Climate Fight in Swedish Election

(Bloomberg) -- The Swedish election next month was supposed to be all about immigration, but with the sweltering heatwave that’s had the Nordic region’s biggest economy in its grip for months, the parties are now jostling to meet growing climate angst among voters.

From dried-out lawns to the caravans of Polish fire fighters and Italian water bombers drafted in to help combat the wild fires, the evidence of the hottest summer on record for much of the nation is there to see. And while immigration is still most important for voters, the climate is now second ahead of health care, according to a poll from Demoskop and cited in the Expressen newspaper on Thursday.

Hottest Summer Bumps Up Climate Fight in Swedish Election

“For the first time, everyone that lives in Sweden has been impacted by some kind of extreme weather this summer,” said Maria Weimer, a lawmaker and energy spokeswoman for the Liberal Party. “It will raise awareness of climate change and maybe also make voters choose party based on proposals made to raise this issue.”

The main parties are now scrambling to present climate proposals ahead of the election on Sept. 9. On Monday, the Liberals called for a joint EU-wide tax on carbon emissions. Later the same day, Margot Wallstrom, the foreign minister and a Social Democrat, dismissed the idea as “wishful thinking” and instead presented a plan to increase local climate investments to 2.3 billion kronor by 2020.

Mediterranean Weather

The heatwave has seen Stockholm experiencing Mediterranean conditions since May, with temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) for days on end. Even before the sweltering conditions, climate was the most worrying topic among Swedish voters -- ahead of terrorism, according to a report by the SOM-Institute in Gothenburg.

“It’s clear that the extreme heat, the severe drought and the fires have brought the climate to the top of the agenda for many voters,” said Linus Lakso, a lawmaker for the Greens. “It’s great that more parties wants to talk about it.”

The Green Party wants to spend another 50 billion kronor on the climate during next term, it said on Friday. Among other things it wants to build new high speed railway, add infrastructure for charging electric vehicles and replace nuclear with more wind and solar generation.

Swedish law states that there should be zero emissions impacting the climate by 2045. It’s about halfway there and needs to accelerate reductions by 2030 to be on track to meet the target.

Hottest Summer Bumps Up Climate Fight in Swedish Election

And while there are still no clear estimates for the overall hit on the economy, the drought has so far cost Swedish farmers about 10 billion kronor ($1.1 billion) in lost income from poor harvests and lack of food for livestock, according to The Federation of Swedish Farmers. And the value on the forests that’s gone up in smoke has been put at almost 1 billion kronor.

Then there’s the cost of fighting the fires, with Sweden also needing assistance from France, Germany and Denmark.

The dry weather has also depleted hydro power reservoirs and pushed electricity prices to records, something SEB AB and Nordea Bank AB say will stoke inflation.

Read More on How the Heatwave is Causing Havoc in Sweden:
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Immigration was still the most important topic for 23 percent of the 1,025 people polled last week as resentment has built over the influx of more than 600,000 immigrants over the past five years to a country of 10 million people. Climate was the top issue for 16 percent of the respondents. It was only joint fifth, with child care, back in May.

The main difference between us and the government is that we believe emissions can be cut while maintaining economic growth, said Rickard Nordin, energy and climate spokesman for the Center Party, which is part of an alliance of four parties seeking power.

The opposition has tried to block the introduction of an aviation tax and Sweden Democrats as well as the Moderate Party has said they would end support to local climate investments.

“There’s a lot of will to do something, but the proposal from those that are newly awaken to the question is not that thorough if you want to cut emission already during the next term,” said Asa Westlund, a spokeswoman for the Social Democrats. “We’ve made a big commitment to local and regional climate investments that the opposition parties wants to remove, they will have to say what they propose instead.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.