Swedish mining policy in transformation: Actors, controversies, possible worlds
Resistance and environmental conflict – reactions to 21st-century mining policy
Sweden is once again a leading mining nation – but at what cost? In a new book, researchers from Linköping University analyse the transformation of Swedish mining policy, and the many conflicts the policy has caused. Mining is, according to the authors, today’s great environmental issue at the local level, and the state must take greater responsibility.
In 1991, Sweden’s mineral policy was revised. Subsidies and legislative changes made it easier for the private sector to invest in mines, and state involvement in the sector decreased. The goal was to make Sweden a leading mining country, and this was achieved.
The transformation of the mining policy has engaged people all across the country, and across institutional boundaries – from local action groups to newly formed protest networks to state agencies and the parliament.
“The mining debate has grown, geographically and in terms of the issues themselves, which is interesting. It’s country-wide, with intensive conflicts in certain locations, and it concerns everything from major interventions in the local environment to opposition to foreign investment in Swedish mineral deposits”, says Simon Haikola, research fellow at Linköping University.
Together with Jonas Anshelm and Björn Wallsten, Simon Haikola is co-author of the book “Svensk gruvpolitik i omvandling: Aktörer, kontroverser, möjliga världar” (Swedish mining policy in transformation: Actors, controversies, possible worlds). The book was written within the framework of the research project “The transformation of Swedish mining policy”. This was funded by the Swedish Research Council, and in conjunction with the Seed Box research programme, funded by Mistra and Formas, two Swedish research funding bodies.
Strong resistance and demands for responsibility
Among other things, the book explains how the withdrawal of the state has shifted responsibility for mining policy to local administrations, state agencies, civil society and the mining companies themselves. This has led to firm resistance at many levels of society.
One of the book’s chapters describes how the efforts to prevent the limestone quarry on the Swedish island of Gotland united a wide range of stakeholders in a unique environmental-policy battle. The local population demonstrated alongside traditional conservationist organisations, activists from Greenpeace, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, county council representatives, county governor and local politicians from both political blocks. In the battle, which was mainly played out in and between Swedish courts of law, the conservation of natural resources was pitted against the extraction of minerals in a way that shook up the entire political system.
After the strong economy turned weak around 2011, a new conflict emerged. Who should bear the financial, ecological and social responsibility for municipalities that are completely reliant on mining companies?
“The widespread resistance from the grassroots as well as the officials, together with the state’s withdrawal, are what characterise Swedish mining policy in the 21st century. Many want to see the state take greater responsibility for the environment, regional development and indigenous rights”, says Simon Haikola, Linköping University.
Book (in Swedish):
Svensk gruvpolitik i omvandling: Aktörer, kontroverser, möjliga världar. Jonas Anshelm, Simon Haikola and Björn Wallsten (2018).