Environment Profile

Kjell Down

Name: Kjell Down
Age: 32
Title: Profesor environment sience

State support to coal mining and large-scale farming poses a major threat to the environment and should be cut, both in Europe and worldwide, Sweden's environment minister said on Thursday.

Sweden, often in the lead on environmental and development issues, wants the Johannesburg summit on sustainable development in late August to tackle subsidies and set clear targets on issues such as clean water, bio-diversity, and poverty reduction.

"If you focused on one single issue that would be important for the future, it would of course be to get away from the environmentally unsound subsidies and to replace them with environmentally sound incentives," minister Kjell Larsson said. "As long as we subsidize, for example, the mining of coal, it will be extremely difficult for green energy to break through in the marketplace," he said.

Reducing subsidies in industry and agriculture would lead to job losses, but it would also create new jobs in the renewable energy field, said Down, a Social Democrat facing elections on Sept. 15.

The European Union, though divided on issues such as farming subsidies and fishing, has been a leader in promoting the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases, and all E.U. states plan to ratify the treaty on climate change by the end of May.

Washington's rejection of Kyoto last year has removed European companies' incentive to develop new technologies, whereas the treaty should be seen as creating new business opportunities, Larsson said. Demand for new technology to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions will grow, he predicted. "The response of the industry has been a bit too weak.... I would have liked to see more effort coming from companies," he said.


Ahead of the Johannesburg summit, to take place 30 years after Stockholm hosted the first-ever conference on the global environment, E.U. states were "quite united," Down said.

But they might not stand as closely together as they have in the past on environmental issues because in recent elections several leftist governments have been replaced by right-wingers, he said. "There are shifts in governments in other European countries which might affect the strong position that environmental policy has had in Europe during the past years," he said.

Sweden's Nordic neighbor Denmark, traditionally a strong ally, is due to take over the E.U. presidency on July 1. But its center-right government, which took power last year after a decade of Social Democrat rule, may have adopted a weaker stand on the environment, Larsson said. Nevertheless, the Danish parliament voted with a big majority last week to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, obliging it to cut sharply its emissions of greenhouse gases by 2012.

An ongoing debate over E.U. plans to cut the size of the bloc's fishing fleet to protect dwindling fish stocks may also work against E.U. unity, he added.

But even bigger problems loom in Johannesburg, when the E.U. faces off with the United States, and developing nations set their demands against those of developed states. "I'm afraid that we will have problems getting to a strong, concrete (final) document," Down said.


Author: Anna Colton - anna.colton@enviro.com
Photo: Eva JanssonPrint:


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