Picture: 123RF/NORASIT KAEWSAI
Picture: 123RF/NORASIT KAEWSAI

A controversial ruling that threatens a crippling cement shortage in Sweden highlights the clash between the need to build for a greener future and laws designed to protect the environment.

Cementa, which supplies 75% of the building material in Sweden, may be forced to halt a giant plant next summer unless the decision is overturned. A permanent stop could delay projects from green steel plants to wind parks needed to cut the nation’s carbon emissions. 

The case shows Sweden needs to be more pragmatic and rethink how some courts handle environmental permits to have any chance of reaching its 2045 net zero target, said Ann-Louise Lokholm Klasson, head of Sweden at Sweco, Europe’s largest architecture and engineering consultancy.

Important applications for facilities needed for the green transition should be handled by a separate, specialised central authority rather than local courts, she said.

She knows better than most how lengthy and complicated the process can get. The company has recently worked on big projects ranging from a green steel plant backed by Spotify Technology’s founder to the expansion of the subway in Stockholm.

While different, they share the frustrations of dealing with cumbersome legal processes. Sweco is working with Cementa on its way forward.

“The permitting issue is in the eye of the storm,” Lokholm Klasson said. “The companies that can supply the sustainable solutions for tomorrow are not asking us about power prices or payroll taxes, they want to know how soon they can have a permit in place.”

The government’s meddling in three landmark environmental cases in which it disagreed with the outcomes has only made the process more complicated.

It changed the law to allow Cementa to temporarily continue mining lime for cement until June 31, after a local court had ruled it had to stop as early as October 31.

Departing Prime Minister Stefan Lofven’s cabinet also delayed a decision on the nation’s permanent disposal of nuclear waste and influenced Preem to halt an expansion of the country’s biggest refinery, despite winning permits for a 1.6-billion kronor investment.

“This is not about dismantling the environmental laws, instead it’s about having to find a way to speed up the process,” Lokholm Klasson said. “We need to be brave and try new routes.”

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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