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Event Report: Climate Security Scenarios for Sweden

February 2023

By Erin Sikorsky and Brigitte Hugh | Edited by Francesco Femia


In the coming decades, Sweden will face increasing security risks due to climate change. These risks stem primarily from climate hazards outside Sweden’s borders, though warming temperatures and increasingly erratic and intense precipitation may strain the country’s domestic military, energy, and economic infrastructure. External climate security game changers for Sweden include the potential for aggressive Russian and Chinese behavior in a more navigable Arctic, strains on the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) due to increasing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) demands, and the potential for reactionary European political responses to climate-related migration from the Middle East and North Africa. These threats are unlikely to develop on straightforward linear pathways, as climate change intersects with other developments to cause cascading or complex risks. Tipping points – whether from climate change or from societal developments – could amplify these risks on a shorter timeline than expected.

Navigating these risks requires a whole-of-society approach across Sweden that breaks down planning and programmatic siloes among government ministries, civil society and the private sector. To that end, in October 2022, the Swedish Defence University and the Center for Climate and Security convened a cross section of leaders from the military, academia, civil society and the private sector to explore potential future climate security scenarios for Sweden over the next five years. This paper provides an overview of the key findings of the scenarios discussion, including a discussion of drivers of climate security risk, and entry points for action and further research going forward. (See Annex A for more details on the exercise).

Key Findings

Building resilience to climate hazards is as much about good, adaptive governance as it is about physical interventions. A theme across all scenarios was the importance of strengthening societal resilience through investments in a shared information landscape and strong institutions at all levels (local, state, and international). There was particular concern that a fractured media landscape and increased disinformation are already weakening Sweden’s resilience by increasing divisions within society. This in turn makes it more difficult to pursue a cohesive civilian response to both the direct impacts of climate hazards, such as heatwaves and drought, as well as the secondary impacts, such as increased climate-related migration.  Additionally, there was recognition that trust in government and strong democratic institutions are important for managing climate security risks across society – and that this good governance is needed at all levels, from local communities to international institutions, such as the EU. These factors were deemed at least as, if not more, important than physical climate change resilience measures, and it was noted they have the added benefit of creating resilience to a wider range of threats (e.g. pandemics, disinformation). 

Swedish policymakers and private sector leaders should prioritize mainstreaming and integrating climate change considerations across ministries and sectors. The scenarios discussion underscored that tackling climate security risks will require breaking down silos among government ministries and between the public and private sectors. Leaders should develop mechanisms for regularly bringing climate-related data into strategic planning and decision-making processes, while also ensuring regular cross-talk about preparing for climate hazards among key ministries such as Defense, Infrastructure, Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Environment. At the same time, the need to integrate climate change considerations into the country’s Total Defense program was repeatedly underscored, including connecting the preparedness approach of Total Defense to the climate challenge. Participants suggested using climate scenarios to stress test the assumptions underlying the Total Defense approach, and encouraged greater collaboration with the scientific community in doing so. Finally, the importance of outreach to the Swedish energy sector was emphasized, with one energy representative noting that this convening was the first time he had an opportunity to consider some of the national security implications of the climate and energy crises.

Sweden must balance an international approach to climate security (via the EU, the UN, and NATO) with a focus on domestic resilience. Tackling climate security risks outside Sweden’s borders requires collaboration with international institutions and alignment with their climate security agendas. However, the country needs a separate security strategy to manage domestic adaptation and resilience. For example, the UN Security Council (UNSC) approach to climate security, with its focus on instability and conflict zones in the global South, is less relevant to Sweden’s concerns regarding energy security, climate-related migration, and Arctic threats. Participants agreed that Sweden must set concrete goals for engaging international institutions on this topic. Some especially cautioned that joining NATO in particular provides both opportunities and challenges in this realm. For example, gaming out how Sweden’s current approach to the Arctic – a key climate security flashpoint – may or may not mesh with NATO’s Arctic Strategy (and whether or how NATO’s Arctic Strategy will need to change given the views of new members in the alliance) is worthwhile. 

Sustained resilience requires transformative change. Throughout the scenarios discussion, it became clear that truly sustained resilience to climate security threats in Sweden would require two significant transformative changes in the economic and political spheres. The first is a shift to creating more slack in energy and food systems, i.e. moving away from ‘just in time’ supply chains to create more redundancy in order to absorb shocks. Sustaining such a shift requires a change in economic systems which all participants acknowledged was a significant hurdle and one that Sweden is not alone in facing. Even so, participants noted that progress is being made by some private sector actors to build greater redundancy into energy systems in response to the Ukraine crisis. The second shift is prioritizing crisis prevention over crisis response – investing ahead of time in strategic foresight planning and proactive adaptation will make Swedish society more resilient to all manner of shocks. Again, participants recognized that this will be difficult, and that many countries are struggling with the same challenge. The group was optimistic however that the predictive capabilities associated with climate change are a powerful tool that can be used to invest in preparedness.

Direct inquiries to: Andrew Facini, afacini [at]

Cover image: A satellite image of the Fennoscandian Peninsula, Denmark, and other areas surrounding the Baltic Sea covered in snow. Image courtesy Jacques Descloitres/ NASA GSFC.

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