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Sweden pushes EU climate action

By Oana Lungescu
European affairs correspondent, BBC News

Coal power station chimney
Urgent action is needed on emissions, Sweden says

Sweden has called on the European Union to take the lead in fighting climate change despite facing the worst economic downturn since the 1930s.

Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt said the EU should reach a common position ahead of a major international climate conference in Copenhagen in December.

Climate change is "coming quicker and earlier than we thought" and our way of living is "not sustainable", he said.

Sweden has taken over the revolving presidency of the EU.

Mr Reinfeldt, during the presidency, will also try to make headway on financial regulation, the fate of the stalled Lisbon treaty and admitting new members.

No easy task

The slogan of the Swedish presidency is "taking on the challenge" and Mr Reinfeldt sees a lot of challenges over the next six months.

His priority is to persuade all 27 EU countries to speak with one voice on climate change, in order to get the US and other major polluters such as China to sign up to substantial cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in December.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt
We need to take down our dependency on fossil fuel and we need an answer this autumn
Fredrik Reinfeldt
Swedish PM

But with unemployment and public debt rising fast across Europe, it will not be an easy task.

Mr Reinfeldt said: "We need to see a lot of leadership, a lot of nations moving on this issue.

"The climate change is happening, it's coming quicker and earlier than we thought and our way of living is just not sustainable.

"We need to alter the direction, we need to take down our dependency on fossil fuel and we need an answer this autumn."

Mr Reinfeldt said Sweden could be a model.

Its economy has grown by 50% in the last two decades, while the country imposed the world's highest carbon tax on fossil fuels for industry, households and transport.

But raising taxes is hardly popular in times of crisis, and neither is Sweden's insistence that others, like France, should start reducing the huge deficits they have run up as a result of the recession.

Keeping the EU's door open to new members is also getting harder.

All three candidates are blocked by their EU neighbours over bilateral disputes - Turkey by Cyprus, Croatia by Slovenia and Macedonia by Greece.

"I'll try to keep our commitments," Mr Reinfeldt told the BBC, "but I'm not saying that it's possible to deliver that much."



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