Noll poäng? Sweden’s Vision(s) Zero

Sweden’s Vision Zero for climate change is less revolutionary or surprising than it might at first appear!

For her international neighbours, Sweden is still closely associated with the Eurovision Song Contest, but a few decades of disappointing results have rather taken the shine off this particular tradition. Thankfully, a rather different vision—the “Vision Zero”, or Nollvisionen—has been realised instead.

Nollvisionen is actually the second initiative to bear the name: back in 1997 the Swedish parliament adopted the first Vision Zero for road traffic safety, which was hailed as a promising policy around the world. During its first decade of implementation, deaths among car users decreased drastically, and Sweden’s roads are among the world’s safest even now. Because nothing sells like success, the Vision Zero label spread swiftly through the 2000s to other risks to human life—e.g. fire prevention, surgical procedures and healthcare, workplace safety and suicide prevention—albeit with somewhat less spectacular results. 

During the 2030s, climate activists in Sweden took advantage of the original road-fatalities vision and demanded that the government incorporate measures to shift the dominant modes of transportation to walking and biking; they argued that Vision Zero should mean a holistic approach to road safety, and address related societal goals such as reducing air pollution, respiratory disease and heat mortality, and increasing physical activity.

Seen in this light, the Vision Zero for climate change is less revolutionary or surprising than it might at first appear! Written into law in 2047—fifty years after the original vision was implemented, and following a surge of drought, floods and heatwaves through the 2030s—the new Vision Zero change was backed strongly by residents and local decision-makers in southern Skåne, for whom the impacts of “global weirding” were increasingly obvious and immediate concerns. It emphasises a responsibility for all aspects of climate-related risks and health issues which is shared between national and local governments, public institutions, industries and individuals.

Preventing lives lost to a changing climate now means a lot more than simply reducing the likelihood of traffic accidents. For example, one popular initiative attached to the Vision Zero is to meet or preferably exceed the “3-30-300 rule”: in an urban setting, there should be at least three trees visible from any dwelling, there should be at least 30% tree canopy cover in every neighbourhood, and the nearest public green space should be no further than 300 meters away. The presence of trees and greenery in cities reduces temperatures and air pollution, as well as soaking up rainfall, thus reducing risks to life—though of course, they’re just nice to be around, too, which has made the 3-30-300 rule an easy sell. Other initiatives are more controversial, such as the mandating of the construction of evacuation towers in coastal communities—though the communities themselves have taken to them quite enthusiastically. The “strategic retreat” model of the flexmark, however, is enduringly contentious, even to those who enjoy its benefits.

As any politician will tell you—some with more eye-rolling than others—you can never please everyone. While the new Vision Zero has been broadly well-received in its generalities (if not always in its specifics), the very vocal “more-than-humanist” wing of the environmental movement has criticised its implicit valuing of human life above that of other species, arguing for an extension of the Vision that will ensure that no animal, plant or living organism should die due to climate change or any other man-made actions. Even within the movement, there is disagreement over the practical limits of this proposal; for example, do they mean that no individual representative of any species should die, or just that extinctions of entire species should be avoided? The latter is more practical, perhaps, but it’s still a high bar to pass.

But while the small print is fought over in countless local discussion groups and online forums, the basic principle—that of an eco-centric system, in which all living organisms should be represented in the decision-making process—seems to be gathering some traction at the grass-roots level, particularly in those areas of Skåne where local all-species parliaments have already taken their first tentative steps. Whether they will advance further is yet to be seen—but few in 1997 would have imagined Nollvisionen as it now exists, so who knows?

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