Sweden is often regarded as a pioneer in the field of environmental policy and a champion of generous development assistance (Lundqvist 1996 ; Lafferty and Eckerberg 1998 ; Kronsell 1997). Indeed, since the 1960s Sweden has often been viewed as a 'model society', which has combined high and fairly evenly distributed social welfare with rather far-reaching environmental policy goals and solidarity with the Third World. With this record, one might expect that Sweden would also be among the pioneers in implementing sustainable development.
The Swedish government has, without doubt, taken the UNCED agreements seriously. In March 1996 the then newly appointed Prime Minister Göran Persson declared that Sweden should set an example to the Western world in building an environmentally sustainable society. And yet in this chapter it will be argued that the overall picture of Swedish national policy for sustainable development is inconsistent. In some respects the response to UNCED may seem overwhelming, and is probably unique by international comparison. This has occurred despite the economic crisis that Sweden faced in the 1990s, which has changed the context of welfare distribution, and created a new and difficult situation for energy and environmental policy as well as foreign assistance. But conflicting government messages are present within at least five areas that relate to sustainable development policy: connecting sustainability to the distribution of welfare within Sweden; maintaining a high level of Third World assistance; limiting emissions of greenhouse gases within transport and energy policy; protecting biological diversity; and supporting monitoring and research for a sustainable society.
Government policy currently relies on a revival of the traditional Social Democratic vision of the Folkhemmet (The People's Home) originally