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Archive for the ‘Nordic Land of Sweden’ Category

In Sweden’s Arctic, global warming threatens reindeer herds

December 10, 2019

KIRUNA, Sweden (AP) — Thick reindeer fur boots and a fur hat covering most of his face shielded Niila Inga from minus 20-degree Celsius (minus 4-degree Fahrenheit) winds as he raced his snowmobile up to a mountain top overlooking his reindeer in the Swedish arctic.

His community herds about 8,000 reindeer year-round, moving them between traditional grazing grounds in the high mountains bordering Norway in the summer and the forests farther east in the winter, just as his forebears in the Sami indigenous community have for generations.

But Inga is troubled: His reindeer are hungry, and he can do little about it. Climate change is altering weather patterns here and affecting the herd’s food supply. “If we don’t find better areas for them where they can graze and find food, then the reindeers will starve to death,” he said.

Already pressured by the mining and forestry industry, and other development that encroach on grazing land, Sami herding communities fear climate change could mean the end of their traditional lifestyle.

Slipping his hand from a massive reindeer skin mitten, Inga illustrated the problem, plunging his hand into the crusted snow and pulling out a hard piece of ice close to the soil. Unusually early snowfall in autumn was followed by rain that froze, trapping food under a thick layer of ice. Unable to eat, the hungry animals have scattered from their traditional migration routes in search of new grazing grounds.

Half the herd carried on east as planned, while the rest retreated to the mountains where predators abound, and the risk of avalanches is great. Elder Sami herders recall that they once had bad winters every decade or so, but Inga said that “extreme and strange weather are getting more and more normal, it happens several times a year.”

The arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. Measurements by the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute show the country has warmed 1.64 degrees Celsius (2.95-degree Fahrenheit) compared with pre-industrial times. In Sweden’s alpine region, this increase is even greater, with average winter temperatures between 1991 and 2017 up more than 3 degrees Celsius (5.4-degree Fahrenheit) compared with the 1961-1990 average.

Snowfall is common in these areas, but as temperatures increase, occasional rainfall occurs — and ‘rain-on-snow’ events are having devastating effects. The food is still there, but the reindeer can’t reach it. The animals grow weaker and females sometimes abort their calves while the survivors struggle to make it through the winter.

“We have winter here for eight months a year and when it starts in October with bad grazing conditions it won’t get any better,” Inga said. That is devastating to Sami herders, a once-nomadic people scattered across a region that spans the far north of Sweden, Norway, Finland and the northwestern corner of Russia. Until the 1960s, this indigenous minority were discouraged from reindeer herding and their language and culture were suppressed. Today, of the 70,000 Sami, only about 10% herd reindeer, making a limited income from meat, hides and antlers crafted into knife handles.

“Everyone wants to take the reindeers’ area where they find food. But with climate change, we need more flexibility to move around,” said Sanna Vannar, a young herder from a community living in the mountains surrounding Jokkmokk, an important Sami town just north of the Arctic Circle. “Here you can’t find food, but maybe you can find food there, but there they want to clear-cut the forest and that’s the problem.”

The 24-year-old is the president of the Swedish Sami Youth organization and, together with eight other families elsewhere in the world, they launched a legal action in 2018 to force the European Union to set more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, the European General Court rejected their case on procedural grounds, but the plaintiffs have appealed.

“We’ve said we don’t want money because we can’t buy better weather with money,” Vannar said. “We’ve said we need that the EU take action and they need to do it now.” The EU’s new executive Commission is expected to present a ‘European Green Deal’ on Wednesday, to coincide with a U.N. climate conference in Madrid.

Herders have also started working with Stockholm University, hoping to advance research that will broaden understanding about changing weather patterns. As part of this rare collaboration between Sami and science, weather stations deep in the forests of the Laevas community are recording air and ground temperature, rainfall, wind speed and snowfall density. Sami ancestral knowledge of the land and the climate complements analysis of data gathered, offering a more detailed understanding of weather events.

“With this data we can connect my traditional knowledge and I see what the effects of it are,” says Inga who has been working on the project since 2013 and has co-authored published scientific papers with Ninis Rosqvist, a professor of Natural Geography at Stockholm University.

Rosqvist directs a field station operating since the 1940s in the Swedish alpine region measuring glaciers and changes in snow and ice. But through the collaboration with Inga, she realized that less “exciting” areas in the forests may be most crucial to understanding the impacts of changing climate.

“As a scientist I can measure that something is happening, but I don’t know the impact of it on, in this case, the whole ecosystem. And that’s why you need their knowledge,” she said. Rosqvist hopes this research can help Sami communities argue their case with decision-makers legislating land use rights.

Back in the forest, Inga is releasing onto the winter pastures a group of reindeer that had been separated from the herd when the animals scattered earlier in autumn. Several other herders have spent more than a week high in the mountains searching for the other half of the herd and trying to bring the animals down, to no avail.

“As long as they are forced to stay there, they’ll get into worse and worse condition,” he warned.

Swedish bid hopes Latvia link key to 2026 Olympics host vote

June 23, 2019

LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — The head of Sweden’s 2026 Winter Olympics bid believes having Latvia on the hosting ticket can sway Monday’s vote for the perceived underdog against Milan-Cortina. The Stockholm-Are plan to stage ice sliding sports across the Baltic Sea at a venue in Latvia avoids building a white elephant venue in Sweden — a key demand of IOC reforms to cut Olympic hosting costs.

Using the sliding track at Sigulda “adds enormous value” to the two-nation bid, Stockholm-Are chief executive Richard Brisius told The Associated Press on Sunday. “It will be very important for delivering the new transformative games that we want to do,” Brisius said.

The International Olympic Committee wants the 2026 Winter Games to help end skepticism about the cost of bidding and hosting the games, after potential bids in Canada, Switzerland and Austria dropped out due to local opposition.

Brisius argued the Latvian element in Sweden’s bid is the best example of living up to the IOC’s promise to be flexible with candidates aiming to be cost-efficient. “Are the IOC members ready for that? We are offering that,” the Stockholm-Are official said in a challenge to around 85 IOC voters.

“If we can do this, and we show that this is the way to do it, it will open up for more bid cities in the future,” Brisius said. “I would not say we are the underdog — I think we are the future.” One member of Sweden’s delegation who is more than happy with the underdog label is retired high jumper Stefan Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013.

The 43-year-old Holm, who won Olympic gold in 2004, even drew comparisons with Sweden’s victory over Italy in the qualifying playoff for the 2018 World Cup. “Sweden is always the best when we’re the underdog,” Holm said after a bilateral meeting at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne. “In the team sports we could beat Italy in football and we’re always the underdog against Italy, the same against Canada in ice hockey or whatever.

“So I think we’re in a good place.” Sweden has never hosted the Winter Games. It made numerous bids between 1984 and 2004, while it was also briefly in the race for 2022. “We are a stable country politically speaking, economically speaking,” said Holm, who has been an IOC member since 2013. “We have never held the games before and we really, really want it. We are a sports loving people especially when it comes to winter sport so hopefully it’s our turn this time.”

IOC members are famously discreet about their voting intentions ahead of a hosting vote, and more than one-third of this electorate is voting for the first time. A total of 35 members have joined since the last contested vote in July 2015 when Beijing edged Almaty to get the 2022 Winter Games.

“I meet people who are very keen to find out what is best for the (Olympic) movement,” Brisius said of the newer recruits. Two of those 35 are Italian — bobsled federation president Ivo Ferriani and Italian Olympic committee head Giovanni Malago — and so cannot vote Monday.

Malago is confident that the support for the Italian bid, from the government and the general population, will see it edge out Sweden. That support is a contrast to recent Italian bids — three years ago, Italy was forced to end Rome’s bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics because of staunch opposition from the city’s mayor. And in 2012, then-premier Mario Monti scrapped the city’s candidacy for the 2020 Olympics because of financial concerns.

“We have never received a critic. From any parties,” Malago said of the current bid. “The government and the opposition support this bid. I think it is a unique case not only in Italy but also in the world.”

The IOC president traditionally does not vote, though in an expected close race the winner is likely to be the candidate most favored by Thomas Bach’s office.

Swedish foreign ministry investigates ambassador to China

February 14, 2019

BEIJING (AP) — The Swedish Embassy in China says its ambassador is under internal investigation. The embassy said Thursday that Ambassador Anna Lindstedt has returned to Stockholm to meet with officials from the foreign affairs ministry. She is not under criminal investigation.

Lindstedt left Beijing on Wednesday, according to the embassy, which declined to give further details. Her departure comes after Angela Gui, the daughter of detained Swedish book publisher Gui Minhai published an account Wednesday detailing a “strange” meeting with a pair of Chinese businessmen arranged by Lindstedt.

Gui wrote on Medium, an online publishing platform, that the businessmen threatened her after offering to help secure her father’s release from prison in China. Gui Minhai, a naturalized Swedish citizen, co-owned a Hong Kong store which sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders.

Lessons for Brexit from Norway’s hard border with Sweden

February 10, 2019

ORJE, Norway (AP) — With fresh snow crunching under their boots and a handful of papers to be checked and stamped, truck drivers from Latvia, Sweden and Poland make their way across Norway’s Orje customs station to a small office where their goods will be cleared out of the European Union and into Norway.

While many border posts in Europe have vanished, Norway’s hard border with the European Union is clearly visible, with cameras, license-plate recognition systems and barriers directing traffic to customs officers.

Norway’s membership in the European Economic Area (EEA) grants it access to the EU’s vast common market and most goods are exempt from paying duties. Still, everything entering the country must be declared and cleared through customs.

Technological solutions being tested in Norway to digitalize customs procedures for cargo have been seized on by some in Britain as a way to overcome border-related problems that threaten to scuttle a divorce deal with the EU. But the realities of this northern border also show the difficulties that persist.

A divorce deal between Britain and the EU has stumbled over how to guarantee an open border between the United Kingdom’s Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29.

The Irish border area was a flashpoint during decades of conflict in Northern Ireland that cost 3,700 lives. The free flow of people and goods across the near-invisible Irish border now underpins both the local economy and Northern Ireland’s peace process.

The EU’s proposed solution is for Britain to remain in a customs union with the bloc, eliminating the need for checks until another solution is found. But pro-Brexit British politicians say that would stop the U.K. from forging new trade deals around the world.

Technology may or may not be the answer, depending on who you talk to. “Everyone agrees that we have to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland, and … technology will play a big part in doing so,” said Northern Ireland Minister John Penrose.

But EU deputy Brexit negotiator Sabine Weyand said on Twitter: “Can technology solve the Irish border problem? Short answer: not in the next few years.” The Customs office at Orje, on the road connecting the capitals of Oslo and Stockholm, has been testing a new digital clearance system to speed goods through customs by enabling exporters to submit information online up to two hours before a truck reaches the border.

At her desk in Orje, Chief Customs officer Nina Bullock was handling traditional paper border clearance forms when her computer informed her of an incoming truck that used the Express Clearance system.

“We know the truck number, we know the driver, we know what kinds of goods, we know everything,” she told The Associated Press. “It will pass by the two cameras and go on. It’s doesn’t need to come into the office.”

That allows Customs officers to conduct risk assessments before the vehicle even reaches the border. So far, only 10 Swedish companies are in the pilot project, representing just a handful of the 400-450 trucks that cross at this border post each day. But if it’s successful, the plan will be expanded.

In the six months since the trial began, Customs section chief Hakon Krogh says some problems have brought the system to a standstill, from snow blocking the camera, to Wi-Fi issues preventing the border barrier from lifting, to truck drivers who misunderstand which customs lane to use.

“It’s a pilot program, so it takes time to make things work smoothly before it can be expanded,” said Krogh, who still felt the program could have a long-term benefit. The program also limits flexibility for exporters. If a driver calls in sick and is replaced by another, or extra cargo is added to a shipment, then all the paperwork must be resubmitted online.

Yet a greater barrier to digitalizing the border is the complexity of international trade. The Svinesund customs office, 90 kilometers (56 miles) south of Orje, is Norway’s major road border, with 1,300 trucks each day carrying goods into the country from all over Europe. Customs section chief Kristen Hoiberget has been following the Orje pilot program with interest but warns of systematic challenges to its expansion.

“It’s very easy to deal with a digital system when the goods are uniform,” said Hoiberget. “If you have one kind of goods in a lorry, it’s less complicated. But if you have a lorry that picks up goods at ten different places abroad, the complexity arises rapidly.”

He said most of the export information needed is available digitally but Customs, clearance houses and exporters all use different computer systems. “There are a lot of prerequisites to a digital border,” he said. “A frictionless border would need development and lots of legislation.”

Back in Orje, vehicles entering Norway are randomly checked, with officers mainly looking for alcohol and cigarettes, which are cheaper in Sweden. Border changes are coming, but certainly not in the tight two-month timeframe that any Brexit border changes would need.

“If you look 15 years ahead, I guess this office won’t be here. I won’t be sitting here stamping papers,” said Bullock. “But customs officers will still be on duty, to prevent goods coming into Norway that are not supposed to.”

As an AP journalist waited in the snow to watch a truck at Orje use the Express Clearance lane, a truck driver made his way across a large parking lot to the customs office. “You must be doing a Brexit story,” he joked. “They’ll be in the same boat soon.”

Lawless contributed from London.

Swedish temperature dips to -39.5C; coldest night in UK

January 31, 2019

STOCKHOLM (AP) — The Swedish weather service says temperatures of minus 39.5 degrees Celsius (minus 39.1 degrees Fahrenheit) have been recorded in northern Sweden, the coldest recorded this month. The Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute says it was measured Thursday in the Swedish town of Nikkaluokta in Lapland, which covers the northern parts of Norway, Sweden and Finland.

The service added, however, that on average January has been “warmer than normal.” Sweden’s news agency TT reported that the coldest temperature ever recorded in Sweden was minus 52.6 Celsius in 1966 in Lapland.

In Britain, officials recorded the coldest night this winter so far, with temperatures dipping to minus 11 C in Scotland. The cold snap prompted some trains to be cancelled, and Manchester and Liverpool airports were brought to a standstill on Wednesday.

Sweden votes for Lofven, ends political deadlock

January 18, 2019

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A center-left minority government led by the current caretaker prime minister, Stefan Lofven, was approved Friday by Swedish lawmakers, ending a four-month political deadlock.

The vote in Riksdagen, or parliament, was 153-115 in favor of Lofven, with 77 abstentions. His own Social Democrats and the Greens backed him and the center-right bloc voted against, while three smaller parties abstained in Friday’s ballot.

In Sweden, a prime minister can govern as long as there is no majority against him or her. Swedish politicians have been trying to form a government without the Sweden Democrats, which has neo-Nazi roots. Parties have refused to cooperate with Sweden’s third-largest party, which made great strides in the Sept. 9 national election.

Jan Bjorklund of the Liberals, whose party supported Lofven, noted “how racist and populist parties have strengthened their positions across the world.” He cited U.S. President Donald Trump, France’s National Rally led by Marine le Pen and Hungary’s nationalist prime minister Viktor Orban as examples.

“We have chosen another path,” he said. Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Akesson, who had hoped for more political influence, repeatedly used the word “absurd” to describe the coalition talks. “My ambition now is that the Sweden Democrats will be a dominating forced in a new strong center-right opposition,” he said.

The September election produced a hung parliament with the left-leaning side and the center-right bloc securing about 40 percent of the vote each, leaving neither with a majority and paving the way for months of complex coalition talks.

To get the support from two center-right parties, Lofven had to compromise over labor laws, causing irritation from his party’s union backers and the Left Party. Lofven who heads Sweden’s largest party but has no majority, will present his government and start his second term as prime minister on Monday.

Sweden’s center-left PM loses confidence vote

September 25, 2018

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Sweden’s prime minister lost a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday after an election this month stripped him of his majority. Stefan Lofven, the leader of the Social Democratic Party who has been prime minister for four years, will continue in a caretaker role until a new government can be formed that has the command of the Riksdagen.

Lawmakers voted 204-142 against Lofven, while three abstained. The vote was mandatory after the Sept. 9 general election delivered a hung parliament. Though Lofven remains optimistic that he may be able to form a government, the vote means Sweden faces weeks of political uncertainty. Both main political blocs in the parliament have refused to cooperate with the anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats, which made great strides in the election.

Neither the left-leaning bloc led by the Social Democrats nor the Moderates-led center-right opposition managed to secure a majority in the 349-seat parliament. In the election, the Social Democrats got 28.3 percent of the vote while the Moderate Party received 19.8 percent and the Sweden Democrats 17.5 percent. The center-left and center-right blocs control respectively 144 and 143 seats while the Sweden Democrats have 62 lawmakers in the assembly.

Andreas Norlen, a member of the center-right Moderates who was elected Monday as speaker, is charged with trying to find someone in parliament who may be able to command a majority and to form a government. He alone decides which of the party leaders can begin these talks.

Lofven remained optimistic he could form a governing coalition but stopped short of saying with whom. “I am available for talks,” Lofven said after the vote. Lofven ruled out having any contacts with the Sweden Democrats, saying “time after time, their connections to racist and Nazi organizations have been exposed.”

Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen contributed to this report.

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