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Photos: Johnér and Martin Lehmann, Ritzau Scanpix

Nordic visions of a climate neutral society

Keeping global average temperatures to well below 2 °C and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C requires rapid transformation across all societies and all sectors
IPCC (2022). Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Sixth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [P.R. Shukla, J. Skea, R. Slade, A. Al Khourdajie, R. van Diemen, D. McCollum, M. Pathak, S. Some, P. Vyas, R. Fradera, M. Belkacemi, A. Hasija, G. Lisboa, S. Luz, J. Malley, (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK and New York, NY, USA. Retrieved from: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/sixth-assessment-report-working-group-3/
and it is unlikely that technical solutions alone will be enough. Thus, the latest UN Gap Report (2022) called for “wide-ranging, large-scale, rapid and systemic transformation
United Nations Environment Programme (2022). Emissions Gap Report 2022: The Closing Window - Climate Crisis Calls for Rapid Transformation of Societies. Retrieved from: https://www.unep.org/resources/emissions-gap-report-2022
. This will result in changes to our society and in the everyday lives of citizens. How we reach climate neutrality and what a climate neutral society looks like is a question of many types of choices – societal, political, and personal – however all too often we forget to think about what we gain from choosing one path over the other, while focusing on what we might lose, thus experiencing inability and unwillingness to act.
Sociological research has shown the need for visions in managing transformational shifts – describing how expectations of the future shape processes of social change in the present
Jensen, C. L., Oldin, F. & Andersen, G. (2022). Imagining and co-creating futures of sustainable consumption and society. Retrieved from: https://doi.org/10.1332/XQUM7064
. For example, sociological research on consumption has shown that lifestyle changes are “just as much about changes to meanings, norms and ideas about what ‘a good life’ is as they are about access to the necessary competences, infrastructures and sustainable alternatives
Mandich, G. (2017). Why sociology needs anticipation? In: Poli, R. (eds) Handbook of Anticipation. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-31737-3_65-1
This report is meant as a starting point for further discussion about positive visions of climate neutrality in the Nordic countries – and globally. From citizens to politicians, we all need to start thinking about what “a good life” means in a climate neutral world.
It is also an attempt to demystify the concept of climate neutrality. What kinds of positive changes could it imply for citizens? And why is it worth striving for? These are important questions that have not been fully answered yet. Partly because there is no single answer to any of them. And partly because the dominant climate neutrality narrative has focused on technical aspects of the green transition and the necessity of urgent action.
Based on interviews conducted across the Nordic countries, Nordic visions of the climate neutral society could be visions of a society in balance, environmentally and socially. It could be visions about a healthier society, with strong, local communities. It could be visions of a Nordic society with a global mindset and with more spare time. It could be visions of a new, climate friendly economy, a smarter society, and a society with inclusive democracy and long-term policies. These are the elements described in the report.

1.1. The context of this report

This report is one of two main deliverables of the project “Nordic Stocktake and Visions – Pathways to Climate Neutrality”, conducted by the organizations CONCITO, CICERO, IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, University of Iceland, Reykjavik University, and Tyrsky Consulting for the Nordic Council of Ministers. In other parts of this project, the consortium has taken stock of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the Nordic countries and described and assessed the national pathways towards climate neutrality in the Nordic region (covering Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden).
The project is part of the initiative “Climate transition in the Nordics” to support the Nordic Vision 2030. The overall aim of the Nordic Vision is to become the most sustainable and integrated region in the world by 2030. All co-operation in the Nordic Council of Ministers must serve this purpose. The objectives of the vision include to strengthen research and development and the promotion of solutions that support climate neutrality and climate adaptation. The work of the Nordic Council of Ministers should also contribute to the positive development of international co-operation on the environment and climate, such as by promoting Nordic green solutions in the rest of the world.

1.2. Methodology

The visions of a climate neutral Nordic society described in this paper have been derived from 23 interviews with experts and thought leaders across the Nordic countries. The names of interviewees are available in Appendix 2. In selecting the interviewees, we have tried to ensure representation in perspectives across the Nordic region with regards to different backgrounds, occupations, sectors, gender, and age. This report does not reflect all potential views and visions of a future climate neutral society and should thus be read as a starting point for discussion. 
In the interviews, the interviewees have been asked to describe their vision of a climate neutral Nordic society and what characterizes this society
The interview guide can be found in Appendix 1.
. As such, the views of interviewees do not represent their organizations, workplaces, or any other affiliations they might have. It is also important to note that achieving climate neutrality has been a premise for the interviews and thus the resulting themes and visions.
The interviews have been supplemented by material from talks and discussions at the Nordic Pavilion during COP27
YouTube: 10 highlights from the Nordic Pavilion at COP27 (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLRzSENBt6RqIHU5K1Y551JhoWGyebhKmg)
. However, most of the analysis have been conducted on the interview data collected in this project.
When doing the analysis, the interview data was translated to English and anonymized. Quotes from the interviews carried out in this project are thus also anonymized. This was done in order to the interviewees to be able to fully express their opinions.  
The insights from the interviews were discussed at a virtual workshop with participation from the project team and many of the interviewees. The recommendations outlined in the last chapter in this report were the primary outcomes of the workshop.  
The project team would like to thank the experts and thought leaders who chose to participate in the project and share their visions of a climate neutral Nordic society. Special thanks go to those experts and thought leaders who also found the time to participate in the virtual workshop and the discussions on realizing the potential co-benefits of a climate neutral Nordic society.

1.3. Reader’s guide

Based on the qualitative data from the interviews, a range of topics/themes have been identified. The report is structured around these topics.
After two introductory chapters about the role of visions and the degree of change, respectively, the first part of the report covers a set of potential, broad characteristics of the climate neutral society:

Characteristics of the climate neutral society

  • A society in social and environmental balance
  • A healthier society
  • A society with more spare time
  • A society with strong, local communities
  • A society with a global mindset
  • A smarter society
  • An inclusive democracy with long-term policies
  • A new just and climate-friendly economy
The second part of the report focuses on the potential changes in the everyday life of Nordic citizens:  

Everyday life in the climate neutral society

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Consumption