Ambassador of SDG 13 – Climate Change

Former Ambassador of Sweden to Georgia, Ulrik Tideström

Ulrik Tideström

What is climate change, and why do we need to tackle climate change? How can we avoid climatic catastrophes in Georgia and worldwide?

Climate change is happening. It is accelerating, and we are facing an acute crisis for the climate. And I think it is really one of the defining issues of our age. We can still avoid a collapse and disaster, but we are running out of time.

I will reflect on the basic question – what is climate change? What we mean by climate change is a change in the average conditions in a region, or on the planet as a whole, over a longer period of time. So, we’re talking about things like rising sea levels, melting glacier ice, melting ice in the Arctic and Antarctica, changes to flora and fauna, and changes to the conditions for life on Earth. And we’re talking about something we can all notice: extreme weather, record temperatures, storms, flooding, drought, wildfires. That’s what we mean by climate change. And we are already beginning to see these effects. Why is this happening? Well, the main driver of climate change is global warming, and the average temperature on our planet has already increased by more than one degree compared to pre-industrial levels. And it continues to rise. There are clear signs that it continues to rise at an accelerated rate.

So, why, then does global warming cause climate change? It’s because of greenhouse gases. These are the gases in our atmosphere that trap heat. They let the sunlight pass through the atmosphere, but they prevent the heat from leaving the atmosphere. There are many different greenhouse gases, but the main one, the main problem, is carbon dioxide. So, to sum up, the climate emergency is already happening. It’s a direct consequence of our very carbon-heavy energy sources, industries, transport, agriculture, buildings, and what have you. So, we need profound changes across the board in all sectors and to drastically cut these emissions of greenhouse gases and, in particular, carbon dioxide. This sounds overwhelming to anyone, but it needs to be done, and I’m sure that it can be done. 

We all need to realize that the decisions that we make today are vital for our planet and future generations. The good news in all of this is that climate change is now prioritized on the global agenda, and we see more and more investments in fossil-free technology.

It’s hitting record heights not just in Sweden but across the world. And, of course, there’s the Paris Agreement – the big global deal for addressing global warming and climate change. As a world, we have agreed to keep global warming below two degrees, and we are trying to keep it below 1.5 degrees. However, we are already approaching the 1.5-degree threshold, so urgent action is needed.

Besides tackling climate change in Sweden, the Swedish government supports Georgia and other countries worldwide to do the same. What are the challenges, first of all, and how is the Swedish government supporting Georgian society and the government in order to address climate change?

The challenges are not unique to Georgia. The climate crisis is global. We have all been part of creating it, and we will all be affected by its consequences, and we all need to be a part of the solution. And that solution, again, is really about cutting emissions as the most important thing. As you say, under the Paris Agreement, Georgia is committed to supporting the sustainable and balanced development of this beautiful country. And this means taking into account socio-economic challenges and development equally, but also climate and environment. And it’s important to stress that there is no contradiction. There doesn’t have to be a contradiction between economic development, more jobs, and more growth, between that and the green agenda. 

When it comes to Georgia’s concrete commitments related to the Paris Agreement, it’s about a target of a roughly 50% reduction of Georgia’s greenhouse gas emissions compared to 1990, and this should be done by 2030. So, an ambitious target, I think, for Georgia, just like for Sweden or any country. It’s good to look at the main sources of our emissions. So, in Georgia, just a few sectors account for a lot of the emissions, which I think should be looked at with new eyes, such as transport. We know that both passenger and cargo transports in Georgia have grown significantly and keep growing. Of course, we still need transportation, but we can try to minimize it, and we can try to have greener transport. So that’s one thing.

Another thing is not unique to Georgia, but we need to look at how we get our energy, energy generation, and energy transmission. This is, in Georgia as elsewhere, one of the significant sources of emissions. What we need to do is to phase out fossil fuels and increase the share of renewable sources like hydropower, which Georgia is very good at, wind power, and solar energy. I think the potential for solar in Georgia to me seems to be very big with your lovely weather. Another big source of emissions in Georgia and elsewhere is in our buildings. There is a lot more we can do about energy efficiency in buildings.

Industry always accounts for a lot of emissions. That goes also for Georgia. More can be done there. Agriculture, one of the important sectors in the Georgian economy, keeps developing, which is excellent. But we also need to look at the emissions on that side. Also, waste management is contributing to emissions and pollution. As we know, in Georgia, there is still quite a bit of waste, to begin with – and then whatever is put in the waste bins, not much of it is recycled, and it ends up in landfills that are not always up to European standards. We are contributing to improving the entire chain of waste management in Georgia. I also see a lot of potential there to cut emissions.

And the last example I would mention is the forests in Georgia because our forests capture and remove a lot of carbon dioxide. So I think it’s important for Georgia, and any country, to stop deforestation and the degradation of the quality of our forests here. There are positive trends in Georgia, and we will keep supporting that, in addition to all of these things to cut emissions. We have a very broad political agreement that adopted a new and very ambitious climate action. So, our goal is to have zero net emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by 2045.  There is also a very broad consensus, not just in politics but in Swedish society, that this is something we have to do and we want to do. So also, the Swedish business community is very much at the forefront of this shift in developing and offering innovative solutions.

Then on the international level, we are very much engaged. We encourage this transition to low and zero carbon emissions across the world in key sectors such as energy, agriculture, industry, buildings, forestry, and transport.  Again, we very much support and encourage the private sector to seize the opportunities for climate action. In Georgia, we are also quite active in the environment and climate. As you know, Sweden is and will remain, one of Georgia’s closest friends and strongest supporters of European integration and the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. There is no contradiction between European integration and the SDGs.

On the contrary, there are so many synergies. There is a lot of overlap in substance between the Global Goals and the Association Agenda and Agreement. We are Georgia’s third largest bilateral donor for reform. Sweden and the people of Sweden have invested over the past 20 years over 1 billion Georgian lari in different development programs and projects to support the reforms in Georgia for European integration and the implementation of the SDGs. Indeed, climate is one of our main areas of support. 

You mentioned, very importantly, the aspects of access to finance because it also connects all the transformations in the business sector and society. You talked about awareness-raising as well. Every different sector has its own responsibility. And you also mentioned that it’s very important to raise awareness generally in society around climate change and how to reduce emissions. How are you supporting that in society? You mentioned you’re building resilience against climate disasters. So, what do you do in that sense? How do you work with the business sector for them to transform their operations and fight climate change, and reduce emissions through their operations?

I’m going to start with your question about awareness-raising because this is incredibly important. We need to learn more about climate change, why it’s happening, about what we all can do. This is something that we focus on a lot also in Georgia and under the Paris Agreement. Georgia has made very strong and good commitments also in this regard to really increase public participation and general awareness about climate change. In this regard, there are more and more plans in Georgia, including, again, for children and youth and training for the wider population. I think in Georgia, just like in Sweden, the state has an important role in this. It’s something we also support in Georgia, not least to have education about the environment and climate on the curriculum for our schoolchildren, for our university students. But I also think that non-governmental organizations and the private sector have an important role to play in this awareness-raising and education. The business sector in Sweden, Georgia, and around the world has been part of the problem. A lot of the emissions are, of course, generated in privately owned industries, etcetera, but the business sector is also a key part of the solution. What I see in Georgia is that more and more companies here are becoming increasingly engaged in sustainable development and taking their share of the responsibility for doing responsible business.

And again, the Global Compact Network in Georgia is really important in this regard. I’m happy to see that more and more businesses in Georgia are joining the network, and I would encourage companies not yet with Global Compact to team up with you. When I look at the Swedish companies in Georgia, I’m happy to say that they are also very engaged. We have quite a number of Swedish businesses with a permanent presence in Georgia, and together they create jobs and incomes for somewhere between 20 and 25,000 people in Georgia, which is quite a lot. I’m very proud of them because they stand for responsible business conduct. And just like Swedish companies in our own country or elsewhere, they understand that sustainable business is not just an obligation but, indeed, a great opportunity. They know that this green shift away from emissions to zero carbon creates new business opportunities. They know that it is something that is demanded. There is demand for this among customers and also investors. 

What would your recommendations be to Georgian society, the government, and business? What should they do to tackle and address climate change in Georgia effectively?

I’m going to come back to what I said earlier, none of us can do everything, but we can all do something. So, I have the things that I try to think of and that I would encourage everyone to think of as individuals. What can we do, each and every one of us? One thing is, of course, to spread the word, to help others, and to understand that climate change is real. It’s accelerating. We’re running out of time, but we can still fix it. So, spread the word. That’s a good thing to start with. Number 2 is to keep up the pressure on our employers and on our politicians. Demand things. And I think it’s a good idea to be concrete. Pick some concrete issue you care about and demand that politicians and employers take action. Then the next thing is to think about transport. Let’s try to move away from cars. Use bikes, take a walk. If it’s not too far, take the bicycle. We are doing this interview in Tbilisi. I’m happy to see that more and more bicycle lanes are being constructed here. If it’s too far to walk or take a bike, let’s use public transport to the extent possible. Let’s also think about our flight habits. Do we need to fly? Can we do it online instead?

Another thing we can all do – think about our electricity use at home. Do I need to have plus 25C degrees in my apartment, or can I bring down the temperature? Maybe put on a sweater? Could I insulate my roof or windows? Do I need to have all my appliances plugged in 24/7?  We can all think about what we eat because meat production globally accounts for a lot of emissions. So maybe a little bit less meat and more plant-based food. I think our bodies will thank us and the planet. Then try to shop locally and buy sustainable products. This means fewer emissions from transport from other continents to our households, fewer emissions from storage, and it’s better for our local economies. Let’s try not to waste so much food. Actually, one-third of all the food produced in the world is wasted. We can think about what we wear and dress in a climate-smart way. I learned when I prepared for our meeting; I learned that the fashion industry alone accounts for 8 to 10% of global carbon emissions. So, I think we should ask ourselves, do I really need that many clothes? Could I wear them longer?
Another thing we can all do is to plant trees, stop deforestation and create more green areas; it`s good for our daily lives and, again, captures parts of emissions. And the last thing we can all do, not just when it comes to food or clothes, we can try to buy less. But do we really need all the things that we buy? Try to buy less and buy more environmentally friendly things. I think we should also be tough on ourselves and be tough customers, and ask questions at the shops – how was this thing made?