Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson’s speech at the Tylösand Summit: Green growth and equality – a Swedish concept for a more dynamic economy
Speech by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson at the Tylösand Summit, since 1948 organised by the SNS, Center for Business and Policy Studies.
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Thanks for inviting me to discuss this matter of great importance to both Sweden and the world. And good to be here again, and as Prime Minister. I think it might be my tenth or so Tylösand conference.
Today, both Sweden, Europe and large parts of the democratic world find themselves at a crossroads.
In recent decades, we have lived in a paradigm were technology beats politics. However, the last decade we have been forced to question this premise.
Instead, another truth now seems to be more significant:
Geopolitics beats technology.
There are many contemporary examples: the increasing global tensions over chips production. I guess many of us have read Chris Miller’s Chip War. But also of course Chinese and US trade conflicts on AI critical technology, and Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
These all prove that in the end, the geopolitical interests and values of states can influence the direction of technology. To connect was a political decision. But to dis-connect, regardless of you call it de-couple or de-risking, is also a political decision with long term effects that are hard to predict.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the 1500s, imperial China banned ocean-going ships, which propelled what has been known as the “great divergence” between the West and Asia.
Whereas trade, innovation and growth increased rapidly in Europe, they stagnated in Asia. China had the technology to become a great sea-faring nation, but decided against it – based on the assumption that trade was a threat to national interest.
That assumption proved to be wrong, both for the welfare of millions of Chinese, and for China’s own geopolitical influence.
I believe history teaches us lessons to look into the future.
The European Union aims to be climate neutral by 2050. During the Swedish Presidency we reached a deal on the big climate package called ‘Fit for 55’, which sets far-reaching targets for countries, but also gives them tools to reach them.
This is a significant change that requires states and businesses alike to step up. It’s obviously not easy. But doing this work – enabling businesses to lower their emissions – is a key part of the growth strategy of the future.
In the short and medium term, I believe there are at least three areas that are paramount for future growth.
I will briefly explain them, tell you what Sweden does and share what lessons we can draw from our own history in combining growth with equality.
First, climate and energy transition.
It is clear to most political and business leaders today that growth must become sustainable for the planet and for future generations. Non-sustainable business will not be competitive at all. A large part of this process is about energy transition.
Energy must be made green and affordable for both businesses and households. And Sweden is committed to this task.
This means we’re committed to expanding all fossil-free energy sources, and to building the next generation nuclear power in Sweden. It’s a precondition for the green transition to take place, with large-scale electrification of industries and transportation.
Have a look on our own history. Between 1970 and 1990 Sweden reduced emissions by half. At the same time our economy expanded with 50 percent. We can do this again.
Green growth at home also depends on our ability to foster green growth abroad.
Since trade policies at the European level increasingly seeks to internalise CO2-emissions, this means that trading partners who care about emissions reduction also benefits Europe.
My government has tripled climate investments abroad until 2032, in line with the Paris agreement. And we are currently reviewing our national climate policy, in order to make the best use of Swedish climate investments outside the EU. John Hassler – also present here today – is in charge of this review.
The energy transition is the starting point for a much broader transformation of our industrial base. Permitting systems have to be ready for this change. Politics is not business and should not be. But speed and agility have their own virtues.
Just look at the mining industry. Sweden is home to some of the world’s largest deposits of rare earth minerals, which are necessary for the green transition. Some of them were even discovered by Swedish scientists.
But in recent years Sweden has plunged in international rankings of mining countries, due not least to unpredictable permitting processes. This simply must change.
The government now carry out a full-scale review of the Swedish environmental code to make permitting more rapid and more predictable. High environmental standards at the local level cannot veto investments for the global climate transition.
Thirdly, we need to lay the ground for future human competence and skills – which are also the raw material for growth and future welfare. Don’t take it for granted! Self-praise about Swedish past achievements should not be enough.
As every pop music artist knows – you’re never better than your last record.
That’s why we need to continue to invest in R&D, in universities, in re-skilling – and even more so in the most advanced education for young people: mathematics, natural sciences and early stages of computer science.
The government has quietly started the work of analysing where Sweden could play a unique role in the development and applications of AI.
To make sure we benefit from the opportunities that AI brings, but also take seriously the potential risks, the Swedish government will shortly establish a new AI commission, anchored in Swedish industrial base and experience.
The aim is to identify policy steps the government can take in cooperation with business and science, ensuring that AI technology benefits the broader society. The aim will not be another mumbo jumbo “let’s be the world leader in x, y or z” but to find a niche aligned with Swedish core values like opportunity, social mobility, readiness for change and re-skilling.
Finally: It is not a coincidence that Sweden has more unicorns per capita than Silicon Valley, or many world leading industries in the climate transition. It is the fruit of openness to innovation and robust political support for a knowledge-based economy.
This is a legacy to build on, but of course we’re by no means done. My real reason for being here is to listen to wise inputs and good pieces of advice.