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Global warming - a business opportunity for smart Arctic dwellers

By Roger Kalla - posted Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sweden is, like Australia, experiencing the effects of an upward trend in temperatures that by some has been attributed to the recorded increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. However, Sweden unlike Australia is likely to gain economically from global warming.

Sweden has been in the forefront of implementing energy efficient building standards borne out of necessity. Swedes have always favoured smaller four cylinder cars with heated front and passengers seats, a feature which you learn to appreciate during the winter months. The winters in Northern Sweden are fierce with sub zero temperatures for months on end and very little if any daylight.

For example, the annual mean temperature of the town of Kiruna, famous for the largest underground iron ore deposits in the world, is below 0C. The mean temperature in Kiruna in January is -14.5. During the warmest month, July, the mean temperature is a balmy 12C. It is no surprise that the world famous Ice Hotel is located just outside Kiruna. The snow lies on the ground for more than half the year from late October until early May. During three weeks in winter the only thing that lights up the skies are the Northern Lights since the sun stays below the horizon. Another interesting fact is that Kiruna used to be the largest municipality in the world covering 22,000 km² within its city limits but has been surpassed by another mining town, Mount Isa in Queensland which covers more than 42,000 km².


The heating for much of the 20,000 inhabitants of Kiruna is, like in most towns in Northern Sweden, provided by a centrally located large furnace and distributed through a network of well insulated pipes that distributes hot water to a majority of buildings in the city. The fuel for the furnaces is green waste collected from the households and leftover biomass from the timber industry.

In the winter in 2007-2008 I had the opportunity to revisit my old hunting and fishing grounds up in Arctic Sweden, on a similar latitude from the North Pole as Mawson hut is from the South Pole.

During my stay in Sweden the Swedish version of the Ross Garnaut report, a comprehensive Swedish Government report entitled, Sweden and climate change - threats and opportunities (SOU2007:60 Sverige inför klimatförändringarna - hot och möjligheter) came out. In this report a wide range of experts in different fields of the Swedish economy were trying to calculate what the net economic impact global warming would have on the Swedish society.

Surprisingly, the conclusion was that Sweden on the whole would stand to gain a lot from global warming and not suffer any greater economic losses associated with an increase in mean temperature.

Winters would get warmer meaning heating requirements would be reduced and costs for infrastructure required for snow removal reduced. According to the modeling of the future climate in sub Arctic and Arctic Sweden (northern Sweden, or Swedish Lapland, spans the Arctic circle) average rainfall would increase which would mean that the pine forests that cover much of the interior of the country would grow better.

The increase in sea levels due to the melting of the polar ice caps would be balanced by the continuous rise in the elevation of the land. The post-glacial rise of the land after the last ice age that ended 10,000 years ago continues unabated at an astounding rate of 9mm per year in Northern Sweden or 90cm per 100 years. This figure is corrected for rising sea levels due to melting ice caps.


The climate of central Sweden where Stockholm is situated would, according to the report, be like central Europe by 2030 according to the modeling thus allowing the planting of wine grapes and other exotic crops.

However, the not so nice part of the story for a keen Nordic skier like myself, and possibly for the management of the Ice Hotel and the associated tourist industry built around the ice, snow and northern lights, is that the winters would be wetter and snow will become a scarcity much like in recent winters here in the Australian Alps.

However, Swedes have seldom suffered from myopic self interest. They have always had a global outlook and generally care about their close and not so close neighbours and are doing the right thing by us by agreeing to further cuts in CO2 emissions.

The leaders in the promotion of more carbon efficient technologies are the big industries in Sweden such as the car manufacturer Volvo and the paper producer Stora Enso. These companies have pledged to introduced new green technologies that will reduce CO2 emissions by a further 20 per cent by 2020.

The driving force behind being green is about new business opportunities. By continuing to be in the forefront of developing new sustainable environmental technologies Sweden is building the next export industry success stories which will be in green technologies that give private companies and the general public practical solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.

When will we see local car manufacturers and other polluting industries in Australia see the both the challenges as well as the opportunities that lies ahead? A change in mind set in large and small industries is required if we are not going to be a follower in green technology adoption.

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About the Author

Dr Roger Kalla is the Director of his own Company, Korn Technologies, and a stakeholder in Australia’s agricultural biotechnology future. He is also a keen part time nordic skier and an avid reader of science fiction novels since his mispent youth in Arctic Sweden. Roger is a proud member of the Full Montes bike riding club of Ivanhoe East.

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