Location: Sweden

Navigating Market Exits: Companies’ Responses to the Russian Invasion of Ukraine

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Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022 led to widespread international condemnation. As governments imposed sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals tied to the war, international companies doing business in Russia came under increasing pressure to withdraw from Russia voluntarily. In the first part of this policy brief, we show what kind of companies decided to leave the Russian market using data collected by the LeaveRussia project. In the second part, we focus on prominent Swedish businesses which announced a withdrawal from Russia, but whose products were later found available in the country by investigative journalists from Dagens Nyheter (DN). We collect the stock prices for these companies when available and show how investors respond to these news.

Business Withdrawal from Russia

The global economy is highly interconnected, and Russia forms an important part. Prior to the invasion, Russia ranked 13th in the world in terms of global goods exports value and 22nd in terms of imports (Schwarzenberg, 2023). In the months following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s imports dropped sharply (about 50 percent according to Sonnenfeld et al., 2022). Before February 24th, Russia’s main trading partners were China, the European Union (in particular, Germany and the Netherlands) and Belarus (as illustrated in Figure 1). While there is some evidence of Russia shifting away from Western countries and towards China following the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the resulting sanctions, Western democracies still made up about 60 percent of Russia’s trade  in 2020 (Schwarzenberg, 2023). In the same year, Sweden’s exports to Russia accounted for 1.4 percent of Sweden’s total goods exports, of which 59 percent were in the machinery, transportation and telecommunications sectors. 1.3 percent of Swedish imports were from Russia (Stockholms Handelskammare, 2022).

Figure 1. Changes in trade with Russia, 2013-2020.

Source: IMF Direction of Trade Statistics, data until 2020. From Lehne (2022).

In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2024, Western governments imposed strict trade and financial sanctions on Russian businesses and individuals involved in the war (see S&P Global, 2024). These sanctions are designed to hamper Russia’s war effort by reducing its ability to fight and finance the war. The sanctions make it illegal for, e.g., European companies to sell certain products to Russia as well as to import select Russian goods (Council of the European Union, 2024). Even though sanctions do not cover all trade with Russia, many foreign businesses have been pressured to pull out of Russia in an act of solidarity. The decision by these businesses to leave is voluntary and could reflect their concerns over possible consumer backlash. It is not uncommon for consumers to put pressure on businesses in times of geopolitical conflict. For instance, Pandya and Venkatesan (2016) find that U.S. consumers were less likely to buy French-sounding products when the relationship between both countries deteriorated.

The LeaveRussia Project

The LeaveRussia project, from the Kyiv School of Economics Institute (KSE Institute), systematically tracks foreign companies’ responses to the Russian invasion. The database covers a selection of companies that have either made statements regarding their operations in Russia, and/or are a large global player (“major companies and world-famous brands”), and/or have been mentioned in relation to leaving/waiting/withdrawing from Russia in major media outlets such as Reuters, Bloomberg, Financial times etc. (LeaveRussia, 2024). As of April 5th, 2024, the list contains 3342 firms, the companies’ decision to leave, exit or remain in the Russian market, the date of their announced action, and company details such as revenue, industry etc. The following chart uses publicly available data from the LeaveRussia project to illustrate patterns in business withdrawals from Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Figure 2a shows the number of foreign companies in Russia in the LeaveRussia dataset by their country of headquarters. Figure 2b shows the share of these companies that have announced a withdrawal from Russia by April 2024, by their country of headquarters.

Figure 2a. Total number of companies by country.

Figure 2b. Share of withdrawals, by country.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project and global administrative zone boundaries from Runfola et al. (2020).

Some countries (e.g. Canada, the US and the UK) that had a large presence in Russia prior to the war have also seen a large number of withdrawals following the invasion. Other European countries, however, have seen only a modest share of withdrawals (for instance, Italy, Austria, the Netherlands and Slovakia). Companies headquartered in countries that have not imposed any sanctions on Russia following the invasion, such as Belarus, China, India, Iran etc., show no signs of withdrawing from the Russian market. In fact, the share of companies considered by the KSE to be “digging in” (i.e., companies that either declared they’d remain in Russia or who did not announce a withdrawal or downscaling as of 31st of March 2024) is 75 percent for more than 25 countries, including not only the aforementioned, but also countries such as Argentina, Moldova, Serbia and Turkey.

Withdrawal Determinants

The decision for companies to exit the market may range from consumer pressure to act in solidarity with Ukraine, to companies’ perceived risk from operating on the Russian market (Kiesel and Kolaric, 2023). Out of the 3342 companies in the LeaveRussia project’s database, about 42 percent have, as of April 5th, 2024, exited or stated an intention to exit the Russian market. This number increases only slightly to 49 percent when considering only companies headquartered in democratic (an Economist Intelligence Unit Democracy Index score of 7 or higher) countries within the EU. Figure 3 shows the number of companies that announced their exit from the Russian market, by month. A clear majority of companies announce their withdrawal in the first 6 months following the invasion.

Figure 3. Number of foreign companies announcing an exit from the Russian market, 2022-2024.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project.

Similarly to the location of companies’ headquarters, the decision to exit the Russian market varies by industry. Figure 4 a depicts the top 15 industries with the highest share of announced withdrawals from the Russian market among industries with at least 10 companies. Most companies with high levels of withdrawals are found in consumer-sensitive industries such as the entertainment sector, tourism and hospitality, advertising etc.

Figure 4a. Top 15 industries in terms of withdrawal shares.

Figure 4b. Bottom 15 industries in terms of withdrawal shares.

Source: Authors’ compilation based on data from the LeaveRussia project.

In contrast, Figure 4b details the industries with the lowest share of companies opting to withdraw from the Russian market. Only around 10 percent of firms in the “Defense” and “Marine Transportation” industries chose to withdraw. Two-thirds of firms within the “Energy, oil and gas” and “Metals and Mining” sectors have chosen to remain in business in Russia following the war in Ukraine.

Several sectors have been identified as crucial in supplying the Russian military with necessary components to sustain their military aggression against Ukraine, mainly electronics, communications, automotives and related categories. We find that many of these sectors are among those with the lowest share of companies withdrawing from Russia. Companies for which Russia constitute a large market share have more to lose from exiting than others. Another reason for not exiting the market relates to the current legal hurdles of corporate withdrawal from Russia (Doherty, 2023). Others may simply not have made public announcements or operate within an industry dominated by smaller companies that are not on the radar of the LeaveRussia project. Nonetheless, Bilousova et al. (2024) detail that products from companies within the sanction’s coalition continue to be found in Russian military equipment destroyed in Ukraine. This is due to insufficient due diligence by companies as well as loopholes in the sanctions regime such as re-exporting via neighboring countries, tampering with declaration forms or challenges in jurisdictional enforcement due to lengthy supply chains, among others. (Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer, 2023).

And Those Who Didn’t Leave After All

The data from the LeaveRussia project details if and when foreign businesses announce that they will leave Russia. However, products from companies that have announced a departure from the Russian market continue to be found in the country, including in military components (Bilousova, 2024). In autumn 2023, investigative journalists from the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter exposed 14 Swedish companies whose goods were found entering Russia, in most cases contrary to the companies’ public claims (Dagens Nyheter, 2023; Tidningen Näringslivet, 2023). For this series of articles, the journalists used data from Russian customs and verified it with information from numerous Swedish companies, covering the time period up until December 2022. This entailed reviewing thousands of export records from Swedish companies either directly to Russia or via neighboring countries such as Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. All transactions mentioned in the article series have been confirmed with the respective companies, who were also contacted by DN prior to publication (Dagens Nyheter, 2023b). DNs journalists also acted as businessmen, interacting with intermediaries in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, exposing re-routing of Swedish goods from a company stated to have cut all exports to Russia in the wake of the invasion (Dagens Nyheter, 2023d).

For Sweden headquartered companies exposed in DN and that are traded on the Swedish Stock Exchange, we collect their stock prices and trading volume. Our data includes information on each stock’s average price, turnover, number of trades by date from around the date of the DN publications as well as the date of each company’s prior public announcement of exiting Russia. Table 1 details the companies who were exposed of doing direct or indirect business with Russia by DN and who had announced an exit from the Russian market previously. In their article series, DN also shows that goods from the following companies entered Russia; AriVislanda, Assa Abloy, Atlas Copco, Getinge, Scania, Securitas Tetra Pak, and Väderstad. Most of the companies exposed by DN operate within industries displaying low withdrawal shares.

Table 1. Select Swedish companies’, time of exit announcement and exposure in Dagens Nyheter and stock names.


Source: The LeaveRussia project, 2023; Dagens Nyheter, 2023b, 2023c, 2023d. Note: The exit statements have been verified through companies’ press statements and/or reports when available. For Epiroc, the claim has been verified via a previous Dagens Nyheter article (Dagens Nyheter, 2023a).

In Figure 5, we show the average stock price and trades-weighted average stock price of the Swedish companies in Table 1 around the time when the companies announced that they are leaving Russia.

Figure 5. Average stock price of companies in Table 1 around Russian exit announcements.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Nasdaq Nordic.

There appears to be an immediate increase in stock prices after firms announced their exit from the Russian market. Stock prices, however, reverse their gains over the next couple of days. In general, stock prices are volatile, and we also see similar-sized movements immediately before the announcement. Due to this volatility and the fact that we cannot rule out other shocks impacting these stock prices at the same time, it is difficult to attribute any movements in the stock prices to the firms’ decisions to leave Russia.

The academic evidence on investors’ reactions to firms divesting from Russia is mixed. Using a sample of less than 300 high-profile firms with operations in Russia compiled by researchers at the Yale Chief Executive Leadership Institute, Glambosky and Peterburgsky (2022) find that firms that divest within 10 days after the invasion experience negative returns, but then recover within a two-week period. Companies announcing divesting at a later stage do not experience initial stock price declines. In contrast, Kiesel and Kolaric (2023) use data from the LeaveRussia project to find positive stock price returns to firms’ announcements of leaving Russia, while there appears to be no significant investor reaction to firms’ decisions to stay in Russia.

When considering the effect from DN’s publications, the picture is almost mirrored, with the simple and trades-weighted average stock prices dipping in the days following the negative media exposure before not only recovering, but actually increasing. Similar caveats apply to the interpretation of this chart. In addition, the DN publication occurred shortly after the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7 and Israel’s subsequent war on Gaza. While conflict and uncertainty typically dampen the stock market, the events in the Middle East initially caused little reaction on the stock market (Sharma, 2023).

Figure 6. Average stock price for companies listed in Table 1 around the time of DN exposure.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Nasdaq Nordic.

Discussion

As discussed in Becker et al. (2024), creating incentives and ensuring companies follow suit with the current sanctions’ regime should be a priority if we want to end Russia’s war on Ukraine and undermine its wider geopolitical ambitions. Nevertheless, Bilousova et al. (2024), and Olofsgård and Smitt Meyer (2023), highlight that there is ample evidence of sanctions evasions, including for products that are directly contributing to Russia’s military capacity. Even in countries that have a strong political commitment to the sanctions’ regime, enforcement is weak. For instance, in Sweden, it is not illegal to try and evade sanctions according to the Swedish Chamber of Commerce (2024). There is little coordination between the numerous law enforcement agencies that are responsible for sanction enforcement and there have been very few investigations into sanctions violations.

Absent effective sanctions enforcement and for the many industries not covered by sanctions, can we rely on businesses to put profits second and voluntarily withdraw from Russia? Immediately after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as news stories about the brutality of the war proliferated, many international companies did announce that they will be leaving Russia. However, a more systematic look at data collected by the LeaveRussia project and KSE Institute reveals that more than two years into the war, less than half of companies based in Western democracies intend to distance themselves from the Russian market. A closer look at companies who are continuing operations in Russia reveals that they tend to be in sectors that are crucial for the Russian economy and war effort, such as energy, mining, electronics and industrial equipment. Many of these companies are probably seeing the war as a business opportunity and are reluctant to put human lives before their bottom line (Sonnenfeld and Tian, 2022).

Whether companies who announce that they are leaving Russia actually do leave is difficult to independently verify. A series of articles published in a prominent Swedish newspaper (Dagens Nyheter) last autumn revealed that goods from 14 major Swedish firms continue to be available in Russia, despite most of these firms publicly announcing their withdrawal from the country. The companies’ reactions to the exposé were mixed. A few companies, such as Scania and SSAB, have decided to cut all exports to the intermediaries exposed by the undercover journalists (for instance, in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan). Other companies stated that they are currently investigating DN’s claims or that the exports exposed in the DN articles were final or delayed orders that were accepted before the company decided to withdraw from Russia. Another company, Trelleborg – a leading company within polymer solutions for a variety of industry purposes – reacted to the DN exposure by backtracking from its earlier commitment to exit the Russian market (Dagens Nyheter 2023b, 2023d). Wider reaction to these revelations was muted. Looking at changes in stock prices for the exposed companies, we find little evidence that investors are punishing companies for not honoring their public commitment to withdraw from Russia.

In an environment, where businesses themselves withdraw at low rates and investors do not shy away from companies contradicting their own claims, the need for stronger enforcement of sanctions seems more pressing than ever.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Nuclear Renaissance: Powering Sweden’s Climate Policy

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The current Swedish government has put nuclear energy front and center of their climate policies, with a goal of two new reactors in commercial operation by 2035, and around ten new reactors by 2045. In light of this revived focus, this policy brief tackles the following question: is a large-scale expansion of nuclear energy an environmental and economically efficient solution to achieve Sweden’s climate policy objective of net zero emissions by 2045? To answer this, three important aspects are analyzed: potential emission reductions, the cost-effectiveness of such abatement, and the practicality of the proposed timelines. As a case study, we draw lessons from the large-scale build-out of nuclear power in France in the late 1970s. The results show that France significantly reduced emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), at a net economic benefit, and with an average reactor construction time of around six years. However, today’s situation in Sweden contrasts sharply with France in the 1970s. Electricity production in Sweden is already low-carbon, the cost of alternative zero-carbon electricity sources has plummeted, and construction costs and timelines for nuclear power have steadily increased since the 1970s. Therefore, new reactors in Sweden are likely to yield only modest emission reductions at a relatively high abatement cost, and with construction times around two to three times longer than those achieved by France.

A Renewed Focus on Nuclear Energy

When the current government in Sweden, led by Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, came into power in 2022, they swiftly made changes to Sweden’s environment and climate policies. The Ministry of Environment was abolished, transport fuel taxes were reduced, and the energy policy objective was changed from “100 percent renewable” to “100 percent fossil free”, emphasizing that nuclear energy was now the cornerstone in the government’s goal of reaching net zero emissions (Government Office 2023, Swedish Government 2023). This marked a new turn in Sweden’s relationship with nuclear energy: from the construction of four different nuclear power plants in the 1970s – of which three remain operational today – to the national referendum on nuclear energy in 1980, where it was decided that no new nuclear reactors should be built and that existing reactors were to be phased-out by 2010 (Jasper 1990).

Today’s renewed focus on nuclear energy, especially as a climate mitigation policy tool is, however, not unique to Sweden. As of 2022, the European Commission labels nuclear reactor construction as a “green investment”, the US has included production tax credits for nuclear energy in their 2023 climate bill the Inflation Reduction Act, and France’s President Macron is pushing for a “nuclear renaissance” in his vision of a low-carbon future for Europe (Gröndahl 2022; Bistline, Mehrotra, and Wolfram 2023; Alderman 2022).

France As a Case Study

In the 1970s, France conducted an unprecedented expansion of nuclear energy, which offers valuable insights for Sweden’s contemporary nuclear ambitions. Relying heavily on imported oil for their energy needs, France enacted a drastic shift in energy policy following the 1973 oil crisis. In the subsequent decade, France ordered and began the construction of 51 new nuclear reactors. The new energy policy – dubbed the Messmer Plan – was summarized by the slogan: “All electric, all nuclear” (Hecht 2009).

To support the expansion of new reactors, the French government made use of loan guarantees and public financing (Jasper 1990). A similar strategy has recently been proposed by the Swedish government, with suggested loan guarantees of up to 400 billion kronor (around $40 billion) to support the construction of new reactors (Persson 2022).

France’s Emissions Reductions and Abatement Costs

To make causal estimates of the environmental and economic effects of France’s large-scale expansion of nuclear energy, we need a counterfactual to compare with. In a recent working paper – titled Industrial Policy and Decarbonization: The Case of Nuclear Energy in France – I, together with Jared Finnegan from University College London, construct this counterfactual as a weighted combination of suitable control countries. These countries resemble France’s economy and energy profile in the 1960s and early 1970s, however, they did not push for nuclear energy following the first oil crisis. Our weighted average comprises five European countries: Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Portugal, and Germany, with falling weights in that same order.

Figure 1 depicts per capita emissions of CO2 from electricity and heat production in France and its counterfactual – ‘synthetic France’ – from 1960 to 2005. The large push for nuclear energy led to substantial emission reductions, an average reduction of 62 percent, or close to 1 metric ton of CO2 per capita, in the years after 1980.

Figure 1. CO2 emissions from electricity and heat in France and synthetic France, 1960-2005.

Andersson and Finnegan (2024).

Moreover, Figure 1 shows that six years elapsed from the energy policy change until emission reductions began. This time delay matches the average construction time of around six years (75 months on average) for the more than 50 reactors that were constructed in France following the announcement of the Messmer Plan in 1974.

Table 1. Data for abatement cost estimates.

Andersson and Finnegan (2024).

Lastly, these large and relatively swift emission reductions in France were achieved at a net economic gain. Table 1 lists the data used to compute the average abatement cost (AAC): the total expenses incurred for the new policy (relative to the counterfactual scenario), divided by the CO2 emissions reduction.

The net average abatement cost of -$20 per ton of CO2 is a result of the lower cost of electricity production (here represented by the levelized cost of electricity (LCOE)) of new nuclear energy during the time-period, compared to the main alternative, namely coal, – the primary energy source in counterfactual synthetic France. LCOE encompasses the complete range of expenses incurred over a power plant’s life cycle, from initial construction and operation to maintenance, fuel, decommissioning, and waste handling. Accurately calculated, LCOE provides a standardized metric for comparing the costs of energy production across different technologies, countries, and time periods (IEA 2015).

Abatement Costs and Timelines Today

Today, more than 50 years after the first oil crisis, many factors that made France’s expansion of nuclear energy a success are markedly different. For example, the cost of wind and solar energy – the other two prominent zero-carbon technologies – has plummeted (IEA 2020). Further, construction costs and timelines for new nuclear reactors in Europe have steadily increased since the 1970s (Lévêque 2015).

Figure 2 depicts the LCOE for the main electricity generating technologies between 2009 and 2023 (Bilicic and Scroggins 2023). The data is for the US, but the magnitudes and differences between technologies are similar in Europe. There are two important aspects of this figure. First, after having by far the highest levelized cost in 2009, the price of solar has dropped by more than 80 percent and is today, together with wind energy, the least-cost option. Second, the cost of nuclear has steadily increased, contrary to how technology cost typically evolves over time, meriting nuclear power the “a very strange beast” label (Lévêque, 2015, p. 44). By 2023, new nuclear power had the highest levelized cost of all energy technologies.

Regarding the construction time of nuclear reactors, these have steadily increased in both Europe and the US. The reactor Okiluoto 3 in Finland went into commercial operation last year but took 18 years to construct. Similarly, the reactor Flamanville 3 in France is still not finished, despite construction beginning 17 years ago. The reactors Hinkley Point C in the UK were initiated in 2016 and, after repeated delays, are projected to be ready for operation in 2027 at the earliest (Lawson 2022). Similarly, in the US, construction times have at least doubled since the first round of reactors were built. These lengthened constructions times are a consequence of stricter safety regulations and larger and more complex reactor designs (Lévêque, 2015). If these average construction times of 12-18 years are the new norm, Sweden will, in fact, not have two new reactors in place by 2035. Further, it would need to begin construction rather soon if the goal of having ten new reactors by 2045 is to be achieved.

Figure 2. Levelized Cost of Electricity, 2009-2023.

Source: Bilicic and Scroggins (2023).

Sweden’s Potential Emission Reductions

The rising costs and extended construction times for new reactors are notable concerns, yet the crucial measure of Sweden’s new climate policy is its capacity to reach net zero emissions across all sectors. Figure 3 depicts per capita emissions of CO2 from electricity and heat production in Sweden and OECD countries between 1960 and 2018.

Figure 3. Sweden vs. the OECD average.

Source: IEA (2022).

In 2018, the OECD’s per capita CO2 emissions from electricity and heat averaged slightly over 2 metric tons. In comparison, Sweden’s per capita emissions at 0.7 metric tons are low and represent only 20 percent of total per capita emissions. Hence, the potential for substantial emission cuts through nuclear expansion is limited. By contrast, Sweden’s transport sector, with CO2 emissions more than two times larger than the emissions from electricity and heat, presents a greater chance for impactful reductions. Yet, current policies of reduced transport fuel taxes are likely to increase emissions. The electrification of transportation could leverage the benefits of nuclear energy for climate mitigation, but broader policies are then needed to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles.

Conclusion

As Sweden rewrites its energy and climate policies, nuclear energy is placed front and center – a position it has not held since the 1970s. Yet, while nuclear energy may experience a renaissance in Sweden, it will not be the panacea for reaching net zero emissions the current government is hoping for. Expected emission reductions will be modest, abatement costs will be relatively high and, if recent European experiences are to be considered an indicator, the aspirational timelines are likely to be missed.

Considering these aspects, it’s imperative for Sweden to adopt a broader mix of climate policies to address sectors such as transportation – responsible for most of the country’s emissions. Pairing the nuclear ambitions with incentives for an accelerated electrification of transportation could enhance the prospects of achieving net zero emissions by 2045.

References

  • Alderman, L. (2022). France Announces Major Nuclear Power Buildup. The New York Times. February 10, 2022.
  • Andersson, J. and Finnegan, J. (2024). Industrial Policy and Decarbonization: The Case of Nuclear Energy in France. Working Paper.
  • Bilicic, G. and Scroggins, S. (2023). 2023 Levelized Cost of Energy+. Lazard.
  • Bistline, J., Mehrotra, N. and Wolfram, C. (2023). Economic Implications of the Climate Provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. Tech. rep., National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Government Office. (2023). De första 100 dagarna: Samarbetsprojekt klimat och energi. Stockholm, January 25, 2023.
  • Gröndahl, M-P. (2022). Thierry Breton: ’Il faudra investir 500 milliards d’euros dans les centrales nucléaires de nouvelle génération’.  Le Journal du Dimanche January 09, 2022.
  • Hecht, G. (2009). The Radiance of France: Nuclear Power and National Identity after World War II. MIT Press.
  • IEA. (2015). Projected Costs of Generating Electricity: 2015 Edition. International Energy Agency. Paris.
  • IEA. (2020). Projected Costs of Generating Electricity: 2020 Edition. International Energy Agency. Paris.
  • IEA. (2022). Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Energy (2022 Edition). International Energy Agency. Paris.
  • Jasper, J. M. (1990). Nuclear politics: Energy and the state in the United States, Sweden, and France, vol 1126. Princeton University Press.
  • Lawson, A. (2022). Boss of Hinkley Point C blames pandemic disruption for 3bn delay. The Guardian. May 20, 2022.
  • Lévêque, F. (2015). The economics and uncertainties of nuclear power. Cambridge University Press.
  • Persson, I. (2022). Allt du behöver veta om ’Tidöavtalet. SVT Nyheter. 14 October, 2022.
  • Swedish Government. (2023). Regeringens proposition 2023/24:28 Sänkning av reduktionsplikten för bensin och diesel. State Documents, Sweden. Stockholm, October 12, 2023.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Greening Politics – Navigating Environmental Policy Consistency Amidst Political Change

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The Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and the Forum for Research on Eastern Europe: Climate and Environment (FREECE) would like to invite you to its 2024 SITE Energy Talk. This edition will address the complexities of upholding environmental policies amidst a changing political landscape.

In the ongoing battle against climate change, maintaining our environmental commitments is more crucial than ever. However, the evolving landscape of global politics, marked by shifting international relations and significant concerns regarding democratic regression, presents escalating challenges to the continuity of our environmental objectives and obligations. This year’s SITE Energy Talk will prioritize the identification of risks posed by political transitions to our environmental aspirations and explore strategies for maintaining the credibility of environmental policies in the face of political flux.

Speakers

Michaël Aklin

Michaël Aklin, Associate Professor of Economics and holder of the Chair of Policy & Sustainability (PASU) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, who will offer a broader European perspective.

 

 

 

Thomas Tangerås

Thomas Tangerås, Associate Professor, Program Director at the Research Institute of Industrial Economics (IFN), who will address the Swedish perspective on the issue.

 

 

 

Paweł Wróbel

Paweł Wróbel, Energy and climate regulatory affairs professional. Founder of GateBrussels and Managing Director of BalticWind.EU, who will present Polish perspective on green transition in the face of European and regional challenges.

Registration

The event will take place in room Torsten, Sveavägen 65, 113 50 Stockholm (the main building of SSE) and the registration opens at 11.45 near room Torsten.

The event will also be streamed online via Zoom for those who cannot join the event in person. Please register via the Trippus platform:

NOTE: A light lunch will be provided for those who pre-register for in-person participation.

Please contact site@hhs.se if you have any questions regarding the event.

Highlights from Previous SITE Energy Talk Events

SITE Energy Talk is an annual event. The purpose is to bring together scholars and practitioners to discuss recent developments in the energy markets and regulation, such as:

Media Influence on Behavior During COVID-19: Insights from a Recent Study

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In their paper, recently accepted by Health Economics, Marcel Garz from Jönköping University and Maiting Zhuang from the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) shed light on the impact of media coverage on individual behavior during the Covid-19 pandemic in Sweden.

Media Coverage and Pandemic Behaviour: Evidence from Sweden

This paper explores the intricate relationship between media depictions of COVID-19 and shifts in individuals’ conduct, focusing on Sweden, a standout nation for not imposing lockdowns or curfews during the pandemic. Instead, Sweden relied on voluntary compliance with public health recommendations, making it a crucial case study.

Researchers Marcel Garz and Maiting Zhuang analyzed Swedish newspaper articles about Covid-19 in 2020, totalling 200,000 articles. The study utilized mobility data from Google and employed a robust methodology, including municipality-day panel models and instrumental variable strategies, to ensure accurate results.

The research contributes to the empirical literature by identifying the causal impact of media coverage on individual behavior during a public health crisis.

Key Findings from the Research

The results unveil a significant correlation between media coverage and alterations in behavior patterns. Specifically, mentions of COVID-19 in the media correlated with reduced visits to workplaces and retail and recreation areas, while simultaneously extending the duration of stays in residential locations. Employing two distinct identification strategies, the researchers established a causal link between media coverage and behavioral changes.

Moreover, the study underscores that the impact of media coverage is most pronounced when news stories are locally relevant, visible, and based on facts. Articles referencing crisis managers and providing explicit public health advice were identified as having significant effects on behavior.

These findings carry broad implications for public communication strategies, emphasizing the pivotal role of local media in shaping individual responses to public health crises.

Full Research Paper Access

For a comprehensive understanding of the research background, methodology, data and variables, as well as the empirical strategy and conclusions, kindly refer to the complete paper on Health Economics.

What Is the Evidence on the Swedish “Paternity Leave” Policy?

20240204 Swedish Paternity Leave image representing fathers parental leave policy

Since 1995, Sweden has earmarked an increasing number of parental leave days to each parent, creating a strong incentive for fathers to increase their (traditionally low) parental leave uptake. The literature on the causal impacts of these policies establishes several important findings. First, the incentive seems to work, as fathers tend to increase their uptake of paternity leave. However, who responds to the incentive, the timing of the leave and how mothers adjust to it is heterogenous, depending on the policy design and the underlying couple characteristics. Second, there is no strong support in the data for the argument, popular in public opinion and among policy-makers, that paternity leave should improve the balance of childcare duties within a couple and ultimately enhance women’s labor market position. However, in order to estimate causal effects, the studies reviewed in this policy brief focus on the first cohort of families affected by earmarked parental policies, whereas impacts on mothers’ labor market outcomes are more likely to manifest in the long run. Further, paternity leave policies in the broader sense have benefitted mothers’ health post childbirth and they may also have broken the social stigma on fathers taking time off to care for their children. Finally, recent evidence suggests that earmarking has improved gender attitudes in the next generation, making men less likely to hold stereotypical views about gender roles in society.

Parental Leave in Sweden

All parents in Sweden have been entitled to paid parental leave benefits since 1974, with no difference between birthing and non-birthing parents (for simplicity referred to as mothers and fathers henceforth). Despite this, fathers’ parental leave take-up has historically been very low (see Figure 1).

To change this pattern, the legislator has introduced a few reforms over the years. In 1995, 30 of the wage-replaced days (i.e. parental leave days compensated at almost the rate of the daily wage) were earmarked to each parent, creating the so called ”mum/dad month”. When a parent failed to take up these 30 days these would be “lost”, as earmarked days could not be transferred to the other parent. Through two subsequent reforms, effective from 2002 and 2016 respectively, the number of earmarked wage-replaced days increased, first to sixty days and then to ninety days.

Today, the total allowance is 480 benefit days, of which 390 are wage-replaced (paid at about 80 percent of the parent’s wage), and the remaining 90 are compensated at a low flat rate (approximately 15 euros per day). 90 of the wage-replaced days are earmarked to each parent. The parental leave days can be utilized until the day the child turns 12 or until the child finishes 5th grade, but 80 percent of these days must be used by the time the child turns 4.

As shown in Figure 1, father’s share of the total parental leave steadily grew over the years when the earmarking reforms occurred but has since 2018 stalled at a rate of 69/31 (i.e., mothers and fathers take 69 and 31 percent respectively of the total number of leave days claimed in Sweden during one year).

Figure 1. Men’s share of parental leave days in Sweden, 1974-2021, in percent.

Source: Author’s compilation based on data from Statistics Sweden.

One could speculate, based on these trends, that earmarking might have successfully increased father’s take-up of parental leave. However, without rigorous statistical analysis, it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the role of the earmarking polices and secular trends in preferences over parental leave. Thankfully, a few papers have studied the Swedish parental leave reforms, using state-of-the art techniques to understand their respective causal impacts. What is the research-based evidence on the Swedish parental leave earmarking reforms? Did they successfully incentivize fathers to increase their take-up? Did they succeed in their broader goal of balancing child responsibilities within couples, ultimately helping women improve their position in the labor-market? How were children affected by them? What lessons from the Swedish experience can be useful for fine-tuning of the Swedish policy or for similar designs in other countries?

This policy brief delves into the academic literature on the impacts of the Swedish earmarking reforms. The review is by no means representative of the large amount of academic work produced on the Swedish parental leave reforms. Rather, it is a small selection of studies where results can be more easily interpreted as causal impacts, as they are based on comparing families with children born just before versus just after the relevant date for the policy implementation, and account for so called month-of-birth effects (see e.g. Larsen et al., 2017) when needed. Causal estimates can be more directly used to inform policy-making, which is what motivates the focus of this review.

Earmarking and Take-up of Paternity Leave

As explained above, the Swedish earmarking system creates strong incentives for fathers to increase their take-up of leave days, as these would otherwise be “lost”, leaving couples with the need to resort to potentially more costly arrangements for childcare.

It is thus not surprising that the 1995 reform increased fathers’ take-up of wage-replaced leave by an average of 15 days, 50 percent of the pre-reform take-up (Ekberg et al., 2013). This change seems to mostly stem from the 54 percent of fathers who were taking 0 days of leave before the reform and were induced to take between 20 and 40 days after, so that the percentage of fathers not taking any leave declined to 18 precent.

In a recent working paper, Avdic et al. (2023) complement this evidence, considering all leave days together. They show that the reform induced fathers to increase their take-up of total parental leave by 21 days, whereby mothers decreased it by the same amount. Therefore, on average, the total amount of leave taken by Swedish parents remained unchanged, but the mother’s share decreased by about 5.4 percentage points. The paper also compares changes in parents’ take-up month-by-month, finding that some mothers took some unpaid leave within the child’s first year to compensate for the loss of wage-replaced days. It is not clear why these mothers would not resort to the low flat rate leave, as other mothers seem to have done (see Ekberg at al., 2013). In general, the data points to fathers having mostly, although not exclusively, substituted for mothers’ time with the child during the child’s second year of life.

Avdic and Karimi (2018) extend the policy-evaluation to the 2002 reform, which earmarked one additional month to each parent, but also made one more month of wage-replaced leave available. They find that this reform also caused an increase in take-up of paternity leave, but for a different group of fathers. While in 1995 fathers that otherwise would have taken no leave were induced to take approximately one month, the 2002 shift occurred mostly among fathers who, instead of taking between 30 and 40 days of leave, started taking more than 50 days.

These findings are consistent with those in Alden et al. (2023), who study the characteristics of fathers who do not take any leave. They find that while the 1995 reform changed the composition of this group of fathers, the same thing did not happen with the 2002 and 2016 reforms. Over-time, one group of men consistently stands out for not taking any parental leave regardless of the incentives created by the legislator, namely fathers with worse labor-market positions, and whose earnings are lower than that of the mothers.

Paternity Leave and Gender Gaps

The main motivation for policies that seek to increase the take-up of parental leave among fathers is that this increase can help women, especially high-skilled ones, improve their labor-market position (Ekberg et al., 2013). The economics literature has long established a systematic loss in earnings and employment for women following the birth of their first child (the so-called child penalty; see e.g. Kleven et al., 2019). There are two main mechanisms through which earmarking policies could improve women’s labor market outcomes. First, if firms discriminate against women because of the (perceived) cost of maternity leave, the discrimination should decline once employers expect also men to take parental leave. Ginja et al. (2020) show evidence (although not causal) consistent with long maternity leaves reducing child-bearing aged women’s “attractiveness” among Swedish employers.  Second, by creating a stronger bond between fathers and children, and by reducing mothers’ specialization in childcare, paternity leave should increase the time fathers allocate to childcare as the child grows up, thus re-balancing the division of non-market (and possibly market) work within the couple.

As pointed out in Cools et al. (2015), the first type of effect, more likely to be relevant in the long run, is hard to estimate with data from only one country, as virtually all employers in the country should be somewhat affected by the change in perceptions.

Instead, Ekberg et al. (2013) study the effect on intra-household division of childcare responsibilities, by estimating the impact of the 1995 reform on the amount of time that fathers and mothers claim off work when their child is sick. They find no evidence that the 1995 reform increased the share of time off taken by fathers to care for sick children. Consistently, the study also fails to find evidence of large and robust changes in mothers’ earnings for thirteen years post childbirth. Similarly, Avdic et al. (2023) show that mothers affected by the 1995 reform did not increase, on average, their labor supply, except during the first year of the child’s life.

While these analyses are extremely valuable for our understanding of the reforms’ effects on the first cohort of families affected, they fall short of capturing long-term dynamics. For instance, it is important to acknowledge that the decision on who takes time off when the child is sick depends on many factors, including the availability of flexible arrangements at work. Women are known for selecting into occupations and jobs that allow a more flexible schedule (Goldin, 2014). This pattern might change if the increase in take-up of paternity leave leads to updated expectations among women on partners’ willingness to share daycare responsibility. This is most likely a long-term development, which the design used in the above outlined studies does not capture.

Another effect of the Swedish parental leave system, not directly linked to earmarking but nevertheless indicative of the importance of fathers’ time off work during the child’s first year of life, is that on mothers’ health. Persson and Rossin-Slater (2019) show that a Swedish 2012 reform that in practice allowed fathers to take 30 days of parental leave in concomitance with the mother during the child’s first year of life reduced the likelihood of mothers experiencing health issues due to post-partum complications.

An important aspect that the literature has so far not emphasized is also that earmarking reforms might affect another gender gap, namely the “freedom” to take the leave. Given the traditional division of roles across genders, there might be a stigma at a societal level against men taking parental leave. By creating strong economic incentives for taking paternity leave, the earmarking policies may downplay the stigma in the short-term and break it in the long-term. There is some suggestive, although not definitive, evidence that norms around paternity leave might have changed. Avdic and Karimi (2018) show that between 1995 and 2002 the share of fathers who were taking more than one month of leave had already started increasing before the second month was earmarked. More research would be needed, however, to assess the role of policies in changing societal perceptions around paternity leave.

Paternity Leave and Children’s Outcomes

An obvious question to ask is how children are affected by earmarking of parental leave days. Avdic et al. (2023) study this question in the context of the 1995 reform. By looking separately at different groups of children by sex and parents’ education, they find that the 1995 reform caused a decline in GPA for sons of non-college-educated fathers and mothers. The most likely channel for this relationship, according to the authors, is boys’ diminished access to fathers’ time, due to the 1995 reform increasing the likelihood of couple dissolution within the child’s first three years of life (for households with low-earning mothers). At that time children tended to live predominantly with the mother in case of parental separation. However, a potential additional channel could be the worsened economic situation caused by the paternity leave. In households with low-earning mothers, mothers’ and family earnings declined post-reform due to mothers compensating for “lost” leave days by taking unpaid leave. Very conflictual separations could also be behind the effect on children’s GPA.

These findings highlight the importance of considering potential unintended consequences of the parental leave policies, and the diverse effects they might have on different demographic groups. Such considerations could improve the design of future policies. For instance, Avdic and Karimi (2018) find that the 2002 reform, which earmarked one more month and added one month of wage-replaced parental leave, did not cause couple dissolution. Thus, the authors conclude that not imposing strong constraints on households, while creating incentives for fathers to take paternity leave, is highly desirable.

Finally, in a very recent working paper, Fontenay and Gonzalez (2024) consider the effect of earmarking policies on children’s gender attitudes as adults, leveraging data from online surveys of 3,000 respondents across six European countries, including Sweden. They study changes in attitudes as measured by an Implict Association Test, which is meant to capture subconscious associations between women and family and men and career.  In five of the countries studied they find that male respondents born soon after an earmarking reform have less stereotypical gender attitudes than those born before. No differences are detected for women. The effect in Sweden is one of the largest: in a sample of 237 male respondents, the father being eligible for the “dad-month” makes the child hold more egalitarian gender-attitudes as an adult by 0.3 standard deviations. The authors suggest that a role model effect might be at play, whereby boys who observe their fathers being more involved in childcare are nurtured to hold more egalitarian beliefs about gender roles.

Conclusion

Since 1995, Sweden has earmarked an increasing number of parental leave days to each parent, creating strong incentives for fathers to increase their previously very low parental leave uptake. This policy brief has reviewed the literature that studies the causal impacts of these earmarking reforms, highlighting a number of important conclusions as well as gaps in the knowledge on the effects of these policies.

First, the incentives created by the earmarking policies seem to work, as fathers tend to increase their uptake of paternity leave, while mothers tend to increase their labor supply during their child’s first year of life. However, such effects are heterogeneous, depending on the policy design and the underlying couple characteristics. Designs that impose strong constraints on household choices seem to have adverse effects on low-income or low-education households, reducing mothers’ earnings, triggering couple dissolution, and negatively affecting children’s GPA. Future increases in earmarking or similar policies in other countries should consider these design details carefully.

Second, there is no strong support in the data for the argument, popular in the public opinion and among policy makers, that paternity leave improves the balance of childcare duties within a couple and that it ultimately enhances women’s labor market position. However, to estimate causal effects, the studies analyzed in this policy brief focus on the first cohort of families affected by the earmarked reforms, whereas impacts on mothers’ labor market outcomes are more likely to be seen in the long run. After all, Sweden is one of the countries with the lowest documented child penalty in employment and earnings (see the child penalty atlas), and it is unlikely that policy played no role in narrowing gender gaps among parents. Consistently, recent evidence suggests that earmarking has improved gender attitudes in the next generation, making men less likely to hold stereotypical views about gender roles in society.

Further, it is important to mention that paternity leave policies in general have benefitted mothers’ post-childbirth health and that they may have broken a societal stigma around fathers taking time off to care for their children.

References

  • Aldén, L., Boschini, A. and Tallås Ahlzen, M. (2023). Fathers but not Caregivers. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4405212
  • Avdic, D. and Karimi, A., (2018). Modern family? Paternity leave and marital stability. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 10(4), pp. 283-307.
  • Avdic, D., Karimi, A., Sundberg, E. and Sjögren, A. (2023). Paternity leave and child outcomes. IFAU, Working Paper 25.
  • Ekberg, J., Eriksson, R., and Friebel, G. (2013). Parental leave—A policy evaluation of the Swedish “Daddy-Month” reform. Journal of Public Economics, 97, pp. 131-143.
  • Ginja, R., Karimi, A. and Pengpeng Xiao. (2023). Employer responses to family leave programs. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 15(1), pp. 107-135.
  • Goldin, C., (2014). A grand gender convergence: Its last chapter. American Economic Review, 104(4), pp. 1091-1119.
  • Gonzalez, L. and Fontenay, S. (2024). Can Public Policies Break the Gender Mold? Evidence from Paternity Leave Reforms in Six Countries. BSE, Working Paper 1422.
  • Kleven, H., Landais, C., Posch, J., Steinhauer, A. and Zweimüller, J. (2019). Child penalties across countries: Evidence and explanation”. AEA Papers and Proceedings, 109, pp. 122-126.
  • Larsen, E. R. and Solli, I. F. (2017). Born to run behind? Persisting birth month effects on earnings. Labour Economics, 46, pp. 200-210.
  • Persson, P., and Rossin-Slater, M. (2019). When dad can stay home: fathers’ workplace flexibility and maternal health. National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 25902.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Impact of Rising Gasoline Prices on Households in Sweden, Georgia, and Latvia – Is This Time Different?

20231201 The Impact of Rising Gasoline Prices Image 02

Over the last two years, the world has experienced a global energy crisis, with surging oil, coal, and natural gas prices. For European households, this translates into higher gasoline and diesel prices at the pump as well as increased electricity and heating costs. The increase in energy related costs began in 2021, as the world economy struggled with supply chain disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and intensified as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022. In response, European governments have implemented a variety of energy tax cuts (Sgaravatti et al., 2023), with a particular focus on reducing the consumer cost of transport fuel. This policy paper aims to contextualize current transport fuel prices in Europe by addressing two related questions: Are households today paying more for gasoline and diesel than in the past? And should policymakers respond by changing transport fuel tax rates? The analysis will focus on case studies from Sweden, Georgia, and Latvia, countries that vary in economic development, energy independence, reliance on Russian oil, transport infrastructure, and transport fuel tax rates. Through this study, we aim to paint a nuanced picture of the implications of rising fuel prices on household budgets and provide policy guidance.

Record High Gasoline Prices, Historically Cheap to Drive

Sweden has a long history of using excise taxes on transport fuel as a means to raise revenue for the government and to correct for environmental externalities. As early as in 1924, Sweden introduced an energy tax on gasoline. Later, in 1991, this tax was complemented by a carbon tax levied on the carbon content of transport fuels. On top of this, Sweden extended the coverage of its value-added tax (VAT) to include transport fuels in 1990. The VAT rate of 25 percent is applied to all components of the consumer price of gasoline: the production cost, producer margin, and excise taxes (energy and carbon taxes).

In May 2022, the Swedish government reduced the tax rate on transport fuels by 1.80 SEK per liter (0.16 EUR). This reduction was unprecedented. Since 1960, there have only been three instances of nominal tax rate reductions on gasoline in Sweden, each by marginal amounts in the range of 0.04 to 0.22 SEK per liter. Prior to the tax cut, the combined rate of the energy and carbon tax was 6.82 SEK per liter of gasoline. Adding the VAT that is applied on these taxes, amounting to 1.71 SEK, yields a total excise tax component of 8.53 SEK. This amount is fixed in the short run and does not vary with oil price changes.

Figure 1. Gasoline Pump Price, 2000-2023.

Source: Drivkraft Sverige (2023).

Figure 1 shows the monthly average real price of gasoline in Sweden from January 2000 to October 2023. The price has slowly increased over the last 20 years and has been historically high in the last year and a half. Going back even further, the price is higher today than at any point since 1960. Swedish households have thus lately been paying more for one liter of gasoline than ever before.

However, a narrow focus on the price at the pump does not take into consideration other factors that affect the cost of personal transportation for households.

First, the average fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet has improved over time. New vehicles sold in Sweden today can drive 50 percent further on one liter of gasoline compared to new vehicles sold in 2000. Arguably, what consumers care about the most is not the cost of gasoline per se but the cost of driving a certain distance, as the utility one derives from a car is the distance one can travel. Accounting for vehicles’ fuel efficiency improvement over time, we find that even though it is still comparatively expensive to drive today, the current price level no longer constitutes a historical peak. In fact, the cost of driving 100 km was as high, or higher, in the 2000-2008 period (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Gasoline Expenditure per 100 km.

Source: Trafikverket (2023) and Drivkraft Sverige (2023).

Second, any discussion of the cost of personal transportation for households should also factor in changes in household income over time. The Swedish average real hourly wage has increased by more than thirty percent between 2000-2023. As such, the cost of driving 100 km, measured as a share of household income, has steadily declined over time. Further, this pattern is consistent across the income distribution; for instance, the cost trajectory for the bottom decile is similar to that of all wage earners (as illustrated in Figure 3). In 1991, when the carbon tax was implemented, the average household had to spend around two thirds of an hour’s wage to drive 100 km. By 2020, that same household only had to spend one third of an hour’s wage to drive the same distance. There has been an increase in the cost of driving over the last two years, but in relation to income, it is still cheaper today to drive a certain distance compared to any year before 2013.

Figure 3. Cost of Driving as a Share of Income, 1991-2023.

Source: Statistics Sweden (2023).

Taken all together, we see that on the expenditure side, vehicles use fuel more efficiently over time and on the income side, households earn higher wages. Based on this, we can conclude that the cost of travelling a certain distance by car is not historically high today.

Response From Policymakers

It is, however, of little comfort for households to know that it was more expensive to drive their car – as a share of income – 10 or 20 years ago. We argue that what ultimately matters for households is the short run change in cost, and the speed of this change. If the cost rises too fast, households cannot adjust their expenditure pattern quickly enough and thus feel that the price increase is unaffordable. In fact, the change in the gasoline price at the pump has been unusually rapid over the last two years. Since the beginning of 2021, until the peak in June 2022, the (nominal) pump price rose by around 60 percent.

So, should policymakers respond to the rapid price increase by lowering gasoline taxes? The perhaps surprising answer is that lowering existing gasoline tax rates would be counter-productive in the medium and long run. Since excise taxes are fixed and do not vary with the oil price, they reduce the volatility of the pump price by cushioning fluctuations in the market price of crude oil. The total excise tax component including VAT constitutes more than half of the pump price in Sweden, a level that is similar across most European countries. This stands in stark contrast with the US, where excise taxes make up around 15 percent of the consumer price of gasoline. As a consequence, a doubling of the price of crude oil only increases the consumer price of gasoline in Sweden by around 35 percent, while it increases by about 80 percent in the US. Households across Sweden, Europe, and the US have adapted to the different levels of gasoline tax rates by purchasing vehicles with different levels of fuel efficiency. New light-duty vehicles sold in Europe are on average 45 percent more fuel-efficient compared to the same vehicle category sold in the US (IEA 2021). As such, US households do not necessarily benefit from lower gasoline taxation in terms of household expenditure on transport fuel. They are also more vulnerable to rapid increases in the price of crude oil. Having high gasoline tax rates thus reduces – rather than increases – the short run welfare impact on households. Hence, policymakers should resist the temptation to lower gasoline tax rates during the current energy crisis. With imposed tax cuts, households will, in the medium and long run, buy vehicles with higher fuel consumption and thus become more exposed to price surges in the future – again compelling policymakers to adjust tax rates, creating a downward spiral. Instead, alternative measures should be considered to alleviate the effects of the heavy price pressure on low-income households – for instance, revenue recycling of the carbon tax revenue and increased subsidies of public transport.

Conclusion

To reach environmental and climate goals, Sweden urgently needs to phase out the use of fossil fuels in the transport sector – Sweden’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions. This is exactly what a gradual increase of the tax rate on gasoline and diesel would achieve. At the same time, it would benefit consumers by shielding them from the adverse effects of future oil price volatility.

The most common response from policymakers regarding fuel tax rates however goes in the opposite direction. In Sweden, the excise tax on gasoline and diesel was reduced by 1.80 SEK per liter in 2022 and the current government plans to further reduce the price by easing the biofuel mandate. Similar tax cuts have been implemented in a range of European countries. Therefore, the distinguishing factor in the current situation lies in the exceptional responses from policymakers, rather than in the gasoline costs that households are encountering.

Gasoline Price Swings and Their Consequences for Georgian Consumers

The energy crisis that begun in 2021 has also made its mark on Georgia, where the operational expenses of personal vehicles, encompassing not only gasoline costs but also maintenance expenses, account for more than 8 percent of the consumer price index. The rise in gasoline prices sparked public protest and certain opposition parties proposed an excise tax cut to mitigate the gasoline price surge. In Georgia, gasoline taxes include excise taxes and VAT. Until January 1, 2017, the excise tax was 250 GEL per ton (9 cents/liter), it has since increased to 500 GEL (18 cents/liter). Despite protests and the suggested excise tax reduction, the Georgian government chose not to implement any tax cuts. Instead, it initiated consultations with major oil importers to explore potential avenues for reducing the overall prices. Following this, the Georgian National Competition Agency (GNCA) launched an inquiry into the fuel market for motor vehicles, concluding a manipulation of retail prices for gasoline existed (Georgian National Competition Agency, 2023).

The objective of this part of the policy paper is to address two interconnected questions. Firstly, are Georgian households affected by gasoline price increases? And secondly, if they are, is there a need for government intervention to mitigate the negative impact on household budgets caused by the rise in gasoline prices?

The Gasoline Market in Georgia

Georgia’s heavy reliance on gasoline imports is a notable aspect of the country’s energy landscape. The country satisfies 100 percent of its gasoline needs with imports and 99 percent of the fuel imported is earmarked for the road vehicle transport sector. Although Georgia sources its gasoline from a diverse group of countries, with nearly twenty nations contributing to its annual gasoline imports, the supply predominantly originates from a select few markets: Bulgaria, Romania, and Russia. In the last decade, these markets have almost yearly accounted for over 80 percent of Georgia’s total gasoline imports. Furthermore, Russia’s share has substantially increased in recent years, amounting to almost 75 percent of all gasoline imports in 2023. The primary reason behind Russia’s increased dominance in Georgia’s gasoline imports is the competitive pricing of Russian gasoline, which between January and August in 2023 was almost 50 percent cheaper than Bulgarian gasoline and 35 percent cheaper than Romanian gasoline (National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023). Given the dominance of Russian gasoline in Georgia, the end-user (retail) prices of gasoline in Georgia, are closer to gasoline prices in Russia than EU gasoline prices (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. End-user Gasoline Prices in Georgia, Russia and the EU, 2013-2022.

Source: International Energy Agency, 2023.

However, while the gasoline prices increased steadily in 2020-2022 in Russia, gasoline prices in Georgia increased sharply in the same period. This more closely replicated the EU price dynamics rather than the Russian one. The sharp price increase in gasoline raised concerns from the Georgian National Competition Agency (GNCA). According to the GNCA one possible reason behind the sharp increase in gasoline prices in Georgia could be anti-competitive behaviour among the five major companies within the gasoline market. Accordingly, the GNCA investigated the behaviour of major market players during the first eight months of 2022, finding violations of the Competition Law of Georgia. Although the companies had imported and were offering consumers different and significantly cheaper transport fuels compared to fuels of European origin, their retail pricing policies were identical and the differences in product costs were not properly reflected in the retail price level. GNCA claims the market players coordinated their actions, which could have led to increased gasoline prices in Georgia (National Competition Agency of Georgia. (2023).

Given that increased gasoline prices might lead to increased household expenditures for fuel, it is important to assess the potential impact of recent price developments on household’s budgets.

Exploring Gasoline Price Impacts

Using data from the Georgian Households Incomes and Expenditures Survey (National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023), weekly household expenditures on gasoline and corresponding weekly incomes were computed. To evaluate the potential impact of rising gasoline prices on households, the ratio of household expenditures on gasoline to household income was used. The ratios were calculated for all households, grouped in three income groups (the bottom 10 percent, the top 10 percent and those in between), over the past decade (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Expenditure on Gasoline as Share of Income for Different Income Groups in Georgia, 2013-2022.

Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023.

Figure 2 shows that between 2013 and 2022, average households allocated 9-14 percent of their weekly income to gasoline purchases. There is no discernible increase in the ratio following the energy crisis in 2021-2022.

Considering the different income groups, the upper 10 percent income group experienced a slightly greater impact from the recent rise in gasoline prices (the ratio increased), compared to the overall population. For the lower income group, which experienced a rise in the proportion of fuel costs relative to total income from 2016 to 2021, the rate declined between 2021 and 2022. Despite the decline in the ratio for the lower-level income group, it is noteworthy that the share of gasoline expenditure in the household budget has consistently been high throughout the decade, compared to the overall population and the higher-level income group.

The slightly greater impact from the rise in gasoline prices for the upper 10 percent income group is driven by a 4 percent increase in nominal disposable income, paired with an 8 percent decline in the quantity of gasoline (Figure 3) in response to the 22 percent gasoline price increase. Clearly, for this income group, the increase in disposable income was not enough to offset the increase in the price of gasoline, increasing the ratio as indicated above.

For the lower 10 percent income group, there was a 23 percent increase in nominal disposable income, paired with a 9 percent decline in the quantity of purchased gasoline (Figure 3) in response to the 22 percent gasoline price increase . Thus, for this group, the increase in disposable income weakened the potential negative impact of increased prices, eventually lowering the ratio.

Figure 3. Average Gasoline Quantities Purchased, by Household Groups, per Week (In Liters) 2013-2022.

Source: National Statistics Office of Georgia, 2023.

Conclusion

The Georgian energy market is currently fully dependent on imports, predominantly from Russia. While sharp increases in petrol prices have been observed during the last 2-3 years, they do not seem to have significantly impacted Georgian households’ demand for gasoline. Noteworthy, the lack of impact from gasoline price increases on Georgian households’ budgets, as seen in the calculated ratio (depicted in Figure 2), can be explained by the significant rise in Georgia’s imports from the cheap Russian market during the energy crisis years. Additionally, according to the Household Incomes and Expenditures survey, there was in 2022 an annual increase in disposable income for households that purchased gasoline. However, the data also show that low-income households spend a high proportion of their income on gasoline.

Although increased prices did not significantly affect Georgian households, the extremely high import dependency and the lack of import markets diversification poses a threat to Georgia’s energy security and general economic stability. Economic dependency on Russia is dangerous as Russia traditionally uses economic relations as a lever for putting political pressure on independent economies. Therefore, expanding trade and deepening economic ties with Russia should be seen as risky. Additionally, the Russian economy has, due to war and sanctions, already contracted by 2.1 percent in 2022 and further declines are expected (Commersant, 2023).

Prioritizing actions such as diversifying the import market to find relatively cheap suppliers (other than Russia), closely monitoring the domestic market to ensure that competition law is not violated and market players do not abuse their power, and embracing green, energy-efficient technologies can positively affect Georgia’s energy security and positively impact sustainable development more broadly.

Fueling Concerns: The True Cost of Transportation in Latvia

In May 2020, as the Latvian Covid-19 crisis began, Latvia’s gasoline price was 0.99 EUR per liter. By June 2022, amid the economic effects from Russia’s war on Ukraine, the price had soared to a record high 2.09 EUR per liter, sparking public and political debate on the fairness of fuel prices and potential policy actions.

While gas station prices are salient, there are several other more hidden factors that affect the real cost of transportation in Latvia. This part of the policy paper sheds light on such costs by looking at some of its key indicators. First, we consider the historical price of transport fuel in Latvia. Second, we consider the cost of fuel in relationship to average wages and the fuel type composition of the vehicle fleet in Latvia.

The Price of Fuel in Latvia

Latvia’s nominal retail prices for gasoline (green line) and diesel (orange line) largely mirror each other, though gasoline prices are slightly higher, in part due to a higher excise duty (see  Figure 1). These local fuel prices closely follow the international oil market prices, as illustrated by the grey line representing nominal Brent oil prices per barrel.

The excise duty rate has been relatively stable in the past,  demonstrating that it has not been a major factor in fuel price swings. A potential reduction to the EU required minimum excise duty level will likely have a limited effect on retail prices. Back of the envelope calculations show that lowering the diesel excise duty from the current 0.414 EUR per liter to EU’s minimum requirement of 0.33 EUR per liter could result in approximately a 5 percent drop in retail prices (currently, 1.71 EUR per liter). This at the cost of a budget income reduction of 0.6 percent, arguably a costly policy choice.

In response to recent years’ price increase, the Latvian government opted to temporarily relax environmental restrictions, making the addition of a bio component to diesel and gasoline (0.065 and 0.095 liters per 1 liter respectively) non-mandatory for fuel retailers between 1st of June 2022 until the end of 2023. The expectation was that this measure would lead to a reduction in retail prices by approximately 10 eurocents. To this date, we are unaware of any publicly available statistical analysis that verifies whether the relaxed restriction have had the anticipated effect.

Figure 1. Nominal Retail Fuel Prices and Excise Duties for Gasoline and Diesel in Latvia (in EUR/Liter), and Nominal Brent Crude Oil Prices (in EUR/Barrel), January 2005 to August 2023.

Source: The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, St. Louis Federal Reserve’s database, OFX Monthly Average Rates database, The Ministry of Finance of Latvia, The State Revenue Service of Latvia.

The True Cost of Transportation

Comparing fuel retail prices to average net monthly earnings gives insight about the true cost of transportation in terms of purchasing power. Figure 2 displays the nominal net monthly average wage in Latvia from January 2005 to June 2023 (grey line). During this time period the average worker saw a five-fold nominal wage increase, from 228 EUR to 1128 EUR monthly. The real growth was two-fold, i.e., the inflation adjusted June 2023 wage, in 2005 prices, was 525 EUR.

Considering fuel’s share of the wages; one liter of gasoline amounted to 0.3 percent of an average monthly wage in 2005, as compared to 0.12 percent in 2023, with diesel displaying a similar pattern. Thus, despite recent years’ fuel price increase, the two-fold increase in purchasing power during the same time period implies that current fuel prices may not be as alarming for Latvian households as they initially appeared to be.

Figure 2. Average Nominal Monthly Net Wages in Latvia and Nominal Prices of One Liter of Gasoline and Diesel as Shares of Such Wages (in EUR), January 2005 to June 2023.

Source: The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia.

Another factor to consider is the impact of technological advancements on fuel efficiency over time. The idea is simple: due to technological improvements to combustion engines, the amount of fuel required to drive 100 kilometers has decreased over time, which translates to a lower cost for traveling additional kilometers today. An EU average indicator shows that the fuel efficiency of newly sold cars improved from 7 liters to 6 liters per 100 km, respectively, in 2005 and 2019. While we lack precise data on the average fuel efficiency of all private vehicles in Latvia, we can make an informed argument in relation to the technological advancement claim by examining proxy indicators such as the type of fuel used and the average age of vehicles.

Figure 3 shows a notable change in the fuel type composition of the vehicle fleet in Latvia. Note that the decrease in the number of cars in 2011 is mainly due to a statistical correction for unused cars. At the start of the 21st century, 92 percent of Latvian vehicles were gasoline-powered and 8 percent were diesel-powered. By 2023, these proportions had shifted to 28 percent for gasoline and 68 percent for diesel. Diesel engines are more fuel efficient, usually consuming 20-35 percent less fuel than gasoline engines when travelling the same distance. Although diesel engines are generally pricier than their gasoline counterparts, they offer a cost advantage for every kilometer driven, easing the impact of rising fuel prices. A notable drawback of diesel engines however, is their lower environmental efficiency – highlighted following the 2015 emission scandal. In part due to the scandal, the diesel vehicles growth rate have dropped over the past five years in Latvia.

Figure 3. Number of Private Vehicles by Fuel Type and the Average Age of Private Vehicles in Latvia, 2001 to 2023.

Source: The Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia, Latvia’s Road Traffic Safety Directorate.

Figure 3 also shows that Latvia’s average vehicle age increased from 14 years in 2011 to 15.1 years in 2023. This is similar to the overall EU trend, although EU cars are around 12 years old, on average. This means that, in Latvia, the average car in 2011 and 2023 were manufactured in 1997 and 2008, respectively. One would expect that engines from 2008 have better technical characteristics compared to those from 1997. Recent economic research show that prior to 2005, improvements in fuel efficiency for new cars sold in the EU was largely counterbalanced by increased engine power, enhanced consumer amenities and improved acceleration performance (Hu and Chen, 2016). I.e.,  cars became heavier, larger, and more powerful, leading to higher fuel consumption. However, after 2005, cars’ net fuel efficiency started to improve. As sold cars in Latvia are typically 10-12 year old vehicles from Western European countries, Latvia will gradually absorb a more fuel-efficient vehicle fleet.

Conclusion

The increase of purchasing power, a shift to more efficient fuel types and improvements in engine efficiency have all contributed to a reduction of the overall real cost of transportation over time in Latvia. The recent rise in fuel prices to historically high levels is thus less concerning than it initially appears. Moreover, a growing share of cars will not be directly affected by fuel price fluctuations in the future. Modern electric vehicles constitute only 0.5 percent of all cars in Latvia today, however, they so far account for 10 percent of all newly registered cars in 2023, with an upward sloping trend.

Still, politicians are often concerned about the unequal effects of fuel price fluctuations on individuals. Different car owners experience varied effects, especially when considering factors like income and location, influencing transportation supply and demand.

First, Latvia ranks as one of the EU’s least motorized countries, only ahead of Romania, with 404 cars per 1000 inhabitants in 2021. This lower rate of vehicle ownership is likely influenced by the country’s relatively low GDP per capita (73 percent of the EU average in 2022) and a high population concentration in its capital city, Riga (32 of the population lives in Riga city and 46 percent in the Riga metropolitcan area). In Riga, a developed public transport system reduces the necessity for personal vehicles. Conversely, areas with limited public transport options, such as rural and smaller urban areas, exhibit a higher demand for personal transportation as there are no substitution options and the average distance travelled is higher than in urban areas. Thus, car owners in these areas tend to be more susceptible to the impact of fuel price volatility.

Second, Latvia has a high Gini coefficient compared to other EU countries, indicating significant income inequality (note that the Gini coefficient measures income inequality within a population, with 0 representing perfect equality and 1 indicating maximum inequality. In 2022, the EU average was 29.6 while Latvia’s Gini coefficient was 34.3, the third highest in the EU). With disparities in purchasing power, price hikes tend to disproportionately burden those with lower incomes, making fuel more costly relative to their monthly wages.

These income and location factors suggest that inhabitants in rural areas are likely the most affected by recent price hikes. Distributional effects across geography (rural vs urban) are often neglected in public discourse, as the income dimension is more visible. But both geography and income factors should be accounted for in a prioritized state support, should such be deemed necessary.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

The Future of Energy Infrastructure Resilience in Europe

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In the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, large parts of Europe have experienced skyrocketing energy prices and a threat of power shortages. The need to transition to low-carbon energy systems, driven by sustainability concerns, further adds to the pressure put on the European energy infrastructure. This year’s Energy Talk, organized by Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, invited four experts to discuss the opportunities and challenges of energy infrastructure resilience in a foreseeable future.

Introduction

Energy infrastructure has an indispensable role in facilitating the functioning of modern society, and it must – today as well as in the future – be resilient enough to withstand various challenges. One of the most important challenges – the green transition: shifting towards economically sustainable growth by decarbonizing energy systems and steering away from fossil fuels – requires energy infrastructure to absorb subsequent shocks. Another, and preeminent challenge, is that, even when directly targeted and partly destroyed as in the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, energy infrastructure should be withstanding. Additionally, energy infrastructure is increasingly subject to supply chain disruptions, energy costs increase or network congestions. How does our energy infrastructure react to these challenges? How do they affect its ability to facilitate the needs of the green transition? Which regulations/measures should be implemented to facilitate energy infrastructure resilience?

Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) invited four speakers to the 2023 annual Energy Talk to discuss the future of Europe’s Energy infrastructure resilience. This brief summarizes the main points from the presentations and discussions.

Energy System Resilience in the Baltics

Ewa Lazarczyk, Associate Professor at Reykjavik University, addressed the question of energy system resilience, focusing on the Baltic States and their dependence on Russia and other neighbors to fulfill their electricity needs.

The Baltic States are not self-sufficient when it comes to electricity consumption. Since 2009, Lithuania has become a net importer of electricity, relying on external sources to fulfill its electricity demand. Similarly, Estonia experienced a shift towards becoming a net importer of electricity around 2019, following the closure of environmentally detrimental oil fueled power plants.

The Baltics are integrated with the Nordic market and are heavily dependent on electricity imports from Finland and Sweden. Additionally, all three Baltic States are part of the BRELL network – a grid linking the electricity systems of Belarus, Russia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – which provides stability for their electrical networks. As a result, despite the absence of commercial electricity trading between Estonia and Russia, and limited commercial trading between Russia and the other two Baltic states, the power flows between the Baltic States and Russia and Belarus still exist. This creates a noticeable dependency of the Baltics on Russia, and a potential threat, should Russia decide to disconnect the Baltics from BRELL before the planned separation in 2024/2025.

This dependency was put on trial when Russia on May 15th 2022 cut its electricity trade with Europe. On the one hand, the system proved to be relatively resilient as the cut did not lead to any blackouts in the Baltics. On the other hand, price volatility amplified in its main import partner countries, Sweden and Finland, and congestion increased as compared to 2021.

Figure 1. Price volatility in Sweden and Finland before and after the trade cut.

Notes: Sweden is split into four price zones, SE1-SE4. Finland is split into only one price zone. Source: Lazarczyk and Le Coq, 2023.

This increased price volatility and congestion following the Russian halt in electricity trade gives an indication that the Baltics and the Nordics are vulnerable to relatively small supply cuts even at the current demand levels.

In the future, electricity consumption is however expected to increase throughout the region as a result of the electrification of the economy (e.g., by 65 percent in 2050 in the Nordic region). This highlights the need to speed up investments into energy infrastructure of internal energy markets.

In summary; recent events have demonstrated a remarkable resilience of the Baltic State’s electricity system. While the disruption of commercial flows from Russia did have some impact on the region, overall, the outcome was positive. Nonetheless, it is important to note that the region relies heavily on electricity imports, and with increasing demand for power in both the Baltics and the neighboring areas, potential issues with supply security could arise if the demand in the Nordics cannot be met through increased production. The risk of an early disconnection from the BRELL network further amplifies this concern. However, the case of Ukraine – which managed to abruptly disconnect from Russian electricity networks – serves as an example that expediting the process of establishing new connections is feasible, although not risk free.

The Ukrainian Energy Sector and the Immediate Threat from Russia

While the Baltics are facing the effects from the Russian halt in electricity trade and the threat of a potential premature disconnection from BRELL, Ukraine’s energy networks are at the same time experiencing the direct aggression from Russia.

Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Center of Public Finance and Governance at the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), and Igor Piddubnyi, Analyst on Energy Sector Damages and Losses and Researcher at the Center for Food and Land Use Research at KSE, both gave insight into the tremendous damages to the Ukrainian energy system from Russian attacks, the short-term solutions to cope with the damage, as well as the long-term implications and reconstruction perspectives.

Since the invasion, about 50 percent of the energy infrastructure has been damaged by shelling. In addition, several power plants are under Russian control or located in Russian occupied territories. As of February 2023, nearly 16 GW of installed capacities of power plants remained in Russian control, equivalent of the peak demand. Apart from the damages to the producing side, transmission and distribution facilities have also been severely affected, as well as oil storage facilities. In April 2023, the damages to Ukraine’s energy infrastructure were estimated to amount to $8.3 billion, almost 6 percent of the total estimated direct damages from the war.

While the damages are massive, the population did not experience complete blackouts, and the Ukrainian energy system did not collapse. This is partly due to diesel-driven generators substituting much of the damaged electricity generation and partly due to a fall in demand of about 30-35 percent in 2022, mainly driven by decreased industry demand.

In the short term, Ukraine is likely to continue to face Russian attacks. Its top energy priorities would thus be to restore damaged facilities and infrastructure like heating and clean water, increase the stocks of fuel, gas, and coal, and to try to liberate occupied areas and facilities. Another vital aspect of the Ukrainian energy infrastructure and its resilience towards the Russian goal of “freezing” the country relates to energy efficiency. Ukraine’s energy efficiency has been relatively low, with the highest rate of electricity losses in Europe, and the numbers are also high for gas supply and district heating. Here, minor changes such as light bulb switching, can have great impacts. Additionally, solar panels – especially those that can also store energy – can help alleviate the acute pressure on the transmission grid. Other vital measures involve continued donations from Ukraine’s partners, sustained efforts from energy workers – at the risk of their lives – and persistent successful deterrence of cyber-attacks currently targeting the country.

Achieving a greener energy system is currently challenging (if not nearly impossible) due to the use of diesel-driven generators, the attacks on the energy system, and the fight for control over nuclear power plants such as Zaporizhzhia, which since March 2022 is under the control of Russian forces. Damages to renewable energy production further exacerbate these difficulties.

Thus, it is crucial to ensure that the planning and reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector is done in accordance with the European Green Deal. By 2030, the country should have at least 25 percent renewables in its energy mix, which would require substantial installations of at least 13 GW of wind, solar, small hydro and biogas capacities. In addition, transition entails decommissioning old coal power plants to run on natural or biogas instead of coal.

While this is a tall task, investments targeted to the energy system are not only essential for Ukraine’s population to sustain through the 2023/2024 winter – but also to facilitate the green transition in Europe. The potential for export of biomethane, green hydrogen, and nuclear power from Ukraine to Europe is considerable. As Europe’s biofuel demand is expected to increase by 63 percent while Ukrainian grain exports are still proving to be challenging, biofuel production for export on the European market is a particularly likely future scenario for the Ukrainian energy market.

In summary; the Ukrainian energy sector has done remarkably well, considering the impact of the damages from the Russian aggression. As Ukrainian short-term energy priorities lie in facilitating quick and efficient responses to infrastructural damages, current measures may not be particularly environmentally friendly. However, the longer-term reconstruction of Ukraine’s energy sector has great potential for being in line with the green transition objectives.

Energy System’s Resilience in the Green Transition

Mikael Toll, Senior Advisor at Ramboll Management Consulting highlighted the importance of infrastructure resilience. He emphasized the significance of the Energy Trilemma in achieving a successful transition to greener energy systems. This trilemma implies balancing between energy security, environmental sustainability, and affordability, all representing societal goals. Focusing on the energy security aspect of this trilemma, he stressed that energy infrastructure should be part of a more holistic approach to the problem. It is essential to establish resilient supply chains and implement efficient management procedures to prevent and mitigate the negative consequences of disruptions. It entails ensuring the performant infrastructure and supply, but also fostering well-functioning markets, putting in place state-governed crisis management mechanisms, and cooperation with other states. By combining these elements, one can enhance preparedness both in normal times and during crises.

Sweden as an Example

Sweden has since long been increasing its share of renewables in the energy mix, as depicted in Figure 2. This suggests that it is relatively well-prepared to the needs of the green transition. However, electricity demand is expected to increase by 100 percent in the coming years, driven by increased electrification of the industry and transport sectors, adding pressure to Sweden’s electricity system. The need for more investments in several energy systems is tangible, and investment opportunities are numerous. However, political decisions concerning the energy system in Sweden tend to be short-sighted, even though energy infrastructures have a long lifespan – often well over 50 years. As a result, investment risks are often high and change character over time, which creates a lack of infrastructure investment. Other challenges to Sweden’s energy resilience include limited acceptance of new energy infrastructure among the public, time-consuming approval processes, and a lack of thorough impact assessment.

Figure 2. Total supplied energy in Sweden, 1970-2020.

Source: Swedish Energy Agency, 2022.

Further, the current geopolitical context creates an increased need to consider external threats – such as energy system disruptions resulting from the Russian war on Ukraine – and increased dependency on China as a key supplier of metals and batteries required for electrification. It is also important to realize that external influence may affect not only physical infrastructure but also domestic decision-making processes. This calls for more energy and political security alongside the green transition, in combination with higher readiness against security threats and a reassessment of global value chains.

In summary; to successfully move into a greener future, it is necessary to invest in energy systems and infrastructure based on a careful multi-dimensional analysis and with the support of long-sighted political decisions. At the same time, we must push investments that also consider the security threats from and dependencies on global actors.

Conclusion

This year’s Energy Talk provided an opportunity to hear from leading experts on the current situation of Europe’s energy resilience. It outlined the key challenges of the green transition in the current geopolitical and economic context. Greener solutions for Europe’s energy system will require tremendous physical efforts and investments but also political will and public understanding. There are, however, immense benefits to be realized if the associated risks are not overlooked.

On behalf of the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics, we would like to thank Ewa Lazarczyk, Yuliya Markuts, Igor Piddubnyi and Mikael Toll for participating in this year’s Energy Talk. The presentations from the webinar can be seen here.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Media Coverage and Pandemic Behaviour: Evidence from Sweden

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Individual behaviour can often have wider societal consequences and it is important to understand how to affect positive behavioural change. In this policy brief, we document the ability of the media to increase pro-social behaviour during a public health crisis. In Garz and Zhuang (2022), we collect a unique dataset of 200,000 newspaper articles about the Covid-19 pandemic from Sweden – one of the few countries that did not impose mandatory lockdowns or curfews but largely relied on voluntary social distancing. We show that mentions of Covid-19 significantly lowered the number of visits to workplaces and retail and recreation areas, while increasing the duration of stays in residential locations. The impacts are largest when Covid-19 news stories were more locally relevant, more visible and contained simple and explicit public health advice. These results have wider implications for the design of public communications and the value of the local news media.

The Covid-19 pandemic had devastating health and economic consequences for the entire world (see, for instance, the COVID19 | FREE Network Project for more information on the pandemic experience of the FREE network countries). To stop the spread of the virus, many governments imposed curfews or lockdowns. These mandatory restrictions on people’s movements were and remain controversial. In several countries, these public health policies fuelled conspiracy theories and led to protests and refusals to adopt other protective measures, such as wearing face masks. The policies have also been criticised for placing the burden disproportionately on the poorest members of society, many of whom lost their livelihoods due to the restrictions.

Sweden is one of few countries in the world that did not to impose any lockdowns or curfews. Instead, the Swedish strategy relied on voluntary compliance with public health recommendations aimed at reducing mobility and encouraging social distancing (for FREE policy briefs featuring in-depth discussions of the Swedish pandemic response and experience, see Becker et al., 2020; Hauser, 2020a; Hauser, 2020b; Campa, Roine and Strömberg, 2021; Berlin, 2020.) This strategy was by and large effective, with Sweden seeing similar falls in average mobility in 2020 compared to its Scandinavian neighbours which however imposed strict lockdowns.

What are the drivers of voluntary compliance? A recent SITE working paper “Media Coverage and Pandemic Behaviour: Evidence from Sweden” by Marcel Garz (Jönköping University) and Maiting Zhuang (SITE, Stockholm School of Economics) sheds light on this question. We show that news coverage of the pandemic could have played an important role in shaping public opinion, social norms and ultimately individuals’ health-related actions in Sweden. In this brief, we summarise our approach and findings, and discuss important policy insights.

Data

We collect close to 200,000 newspaper articles about Covid-19 from Swedish newspapers during 2020, which represents almost all newspaper coverage of the pandemic during that year in Sweden. Newspapers remain a major source of information in Sweden, where close to two thirds of the population are regular newspaper readers. We analyse the full texts of articles to identify which aspects of news coverage have the largest impact on behaviour. Figure 1 shows Covid-19 coverage in Swedish newspapers in 2020.

Figure 1. Newspaper coverage of Covid-19

Source: Retriever and authors’ calculations. This graph shows the number of articles including “coronavirus* OR covid*” on a given day, weighted by newspaper circulation. The grey solid lines are local polynomial smooths with 95 percent confidence intervals.

As our main outcome variable, we use Google Community Mobility Report data – anonymous data on the number (or duration) of visits to different types of locations (such as retail and recreation, workplaces, or residential) within a municipality.

Figure 2. Workplace and residential mobility

Source: Google and authors’ calculations. These graphs show the daily percentage change in mobility compared to median values between January 3 to February 6, 2020. The grey solid lines are local polynomial smooths with 95 percent confidence intervals.

Method

We want to study whether reading news concerning Covid-19 affected people’s decisions to reduce their own mobility in Sweden. However, determining the effect of the media on behaviour is difficult for several reasons. First, people choose what media to consume and most often tend towards media outlets that confirm their existing views. Second, there could be factors that determine both media coverage and behaviour.

In our paper, we address the first concern by carefully choosing our data. If we found that people who read more about Covid-19 in newspapers are also more likely to reduce their mobility, this could be driven by many different individual factors, such as how worried a person is about the pandemic. Instead, we measure exposure to Covid-19 news using data on the number of subscriptions every newspaper sells in each municipality. As newspaper subscriptions are annual and were decided before the pandemic, this measure of Covid-19 news exposure should not be correlated with individuals’ beliefs about the pandemic.

The second concern is more relevant, as it is likely that media coverage and individual mobility are both driven by the spread of the pandemic. To alleviate this concern, we adopt several strategies. The first is that we take into account local pandemic severity using a range of different measures, including excess deaths, infections, Covid-19 deaths at different geographic units and with different time lags.

Our second strategy relies on the fact that Swedish newspapers typically circulate in multiple municipalities, but are more likely to respond to events in municipalities where more of their subscribers live. We use an instrumental variable (IV) approach where we use the circulation-weighted excess mortality in a newspaper’s distribution area as the IV. This IV is a strong predictor for the amount of Covid-19 coverage by that newspaper but should not affect mobility in a target municipality – conditional   on the pandemic severity in the municipality itself. We also show that our results hold in a sample of “peripheral” municipalities, that is municipalities that only form a small percentage of any newspaper’s subscriber base, but where these newspapers are nonetheless major sources of information.

Results

We find evidence that media coverage of the pandemic increases compliance with the main public health recommendation to work from home in Sweden. More newspaper articles about Covid-19 on a given day and in a given municipality is associated with increased residential mobility and lower workplace mobility (Table 1), as well as fewer visits to retail areas and recreational facilities. This pattern remains even when controlling for the severity of the pandemic at the local level. The results are robust using different methods and data.

Table 1. Effect of Covid-19 coverage on workplace and residential mobility

Source: Retriever, Google, SMHI, MPRT and authors’ calculations. Observations are at the municipality-day level. The dependent variables are percentage changes in Google mobility for workplaces (columns 1 and 3) and residential areas (columns 2 and 4) relative to the baseline. The main regressor is the circulation-weighted number of Covid-19 articles. Columns 3 and 4 show IV results using the interaction between weighted excess deaths across a newspaper’s circulation area and newspaper exposure as the IV. Local pandemic severity is the latest available excess deaths figure in the municipality at the time of newspaper publication. All regressions control for municipality and day fixed effects. Standard errors in parentheses are clustered by municipality. Significance at the 1%, 5% and 10% is denoted by ***, ** and *, respectively.

The type of coverage matters. Behaviour responds the most to personally relevant news that is easy to understand and visible. In particular, Covid-19 articles which explicitly mention the affected municipality have a larger impact on mobility than, for instance, articles that only relate to developments abroad. There are larger impacts of more factual compared to more subjective reporting. Articles that contain direct and explicit public health advice have a large impact on individual behaviour. In contrast, articles that mention medical experts have a smaller impact on individual behaviour – likely due to the complexity of the language used.

We also find a greater impact on individual behaviour in response to more visible Covid-19 stories, such as articles on the front page or articles whose headlines mention the pandemic. These results are consistent with media coverage not just increasing the salience of the pandemic and reminding individuals to follow official guidelines, but also providing relevant information. Despite fears that the large amount of press coverage could lead to individuals avoiding news about the pandemic, we find little evidence for media fatigue except at very high levels of coverage.

Conclusion

In Garz and Zhuang (2022), we study the effects of media coverage on individual behaviour during a public health crisis. We focus on Sweden, a country that did not impose any lockdowns or curfews during the Covid-19 pandemic and where newspapers remain an important source of information. Using close to the universe of all Swedish newspaper articles about Covid-19 in 2020, we find that media coverage of the pandemic encouraged people to stay at home. The effect is largest when news stories are of local relevance and contain explicit public health advice. These results have important implications for the design of future public communication strategies that aim to foster behavioural change.

We also find little evidence of media fatigue or a preference of opinion pieces relative to factual reporting when it comes to Covid-19 in Sweden. While there has been much discussion about misinformation and media bias during the pandemic, our paper shows a positive effect of the local news media in terms of encouraging voluntary adherence to public health measures.

More broadly, our study adds an important dimension to the policy discussion about the decline of local news, beyond local political accountability and community participation. We find that local news remains an important source of local information, and that personally relevant information is more important for behavioural change. A lack of trusted local media could adversely affect compliance with government recommendations during a crisis, as well as a range of other campaigns, such as those encouraging the take-up of vaccines or adoption of more environmentally friendly behaviours.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

How to Sustain Support for Ukraine and Overcome Financial and Political Challenges | SITE Development Day 2022

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The Russian war on Ukraine has turmoiled Europe into its first war in decades and while the effects of the war are harshly felt in Ukraine with lives lost and damages amounting, Europe and the rest of the world are also being severely affected. This policy brief shortly summarizes the presentations and discussions at the SITE Development Day Conference, held on December 6, 2022. The main focus of the conference was how to maintain and organize support for Ukraine in the short and long run, with the current situation in Belarus and the region and the ongoing energy crisis in Europe, also being addressed. 

War in Ukraine, Oppression in Belarus

Starting off the conference, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the Belarusian Democratic Forces, delivered a powerful speech on the necessity of understanding the role of Belarus in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Tsikhanouskaya argued that Putin’s war on Ukraine was partly a result of the failed Belarusian revolution of 2020. The following oppression, torture, and mass arrestations of Belarusians is a consequence of Lukashenka’s and Putin’s fear of a free Belarus, a Belarus that is no longer in the hands of Putin – who sees not only Belarus but also Ukraine as colonies in his Russian empire. Amidst the fight for Ukraine, we must also fight for a free Belarus, Tsikhanouskaya added. Not only Belarusians fighting alongside Ukrainians against Russia in Ukraine, but also other parts of the Belarusian opposition need support from the free and democratic world and the EU. The massive crackdowns on opponents of the Belarusian regime today and the war on Ukraine are not only acts of violence, but they are also acts against democracy and freedom. The world must therefore continue to give support to those fighting in both Belarus and Ukraine. Ukraine will never be free unless Belarus is free, Tsikhanouskaya concluded.

Johan Forssell, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation continued Tsikhanouskaya’s words on how the Russian attack must be seen and treated as a war on democracy and the free world. Belarus, Moldova and especially Ukraine will receive further support from Sweden, Forssell continued, adding that the Swedish support to Ukraine has more than doubled since the invasion in February 2022. Support must however not be given only in economic terms and consequently Sweden fully supports Ukraine on its path to EU-membership, which will be especially emphasized during Sweden’s upcoming EU-presidency.  Support for the rule of law, democracy and freedom will continue to be essential and, in the forthcoming reconstruction of Ukraine, these aspects – alongside long term sustainable and green solutions – must be integrated, Forssell continued. Forssell also mentioned the importance of reducing the global spillover effects from the war. In particular, Forssell mentioned how the war has struck countries on the African continent, already hit with drought, especially hard with increased food prices and increased inflation, displaying the vital role Ukrainian grain exports play.

Andrij Plachotnjuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden, further talked about the need for rebuilding a better Ukraine, emphasizing the importance of involvement from Kiyv School of Economics (KSE) and other intellectuals and businesses in this process. Plachotnjuk also pinpointed what many others would come to repeat during the day; that resources, time and efforts devoted to supporting Ukraine must be maintained and persevered in the longer perspective.

Economic Impacts From the War and How the EU and Sweden Can Provide Support

During the first half of the conference, the Ukrainian economy and how it can be supported by the European Union was also discussed. On link from Kiyv, Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics, shared the experiences of the University during wartime and presented the work KSE has undertaken so far – and how this contributes to an understanding of the damages and associated costs. Since the invasion, KSE has supported the government in three key areas; 1) Monitoring the Russian economy, 2) Analyzing what sanctions are relevant and effective, and 3) Estimating the cost of damages from the war. For the latter, KSE is collaborating with the World Bank using established methods of damage assessment including crowd sourced information on damages complemented with images taken by satellites and drones. According to Mylovanov, the damage assessment is crucial in order to counter Russia’s claims of a small conflict and to remind the international community of the high price Ukraine is paying to hold off Russia.

The economic impact from the war was further accentuated during the presentation by Yulia Markuts, Head of the Centre of Public Finance and Governance Analysis at the Kyiv School of Economics. Markuts explained how the Ukrainian national budget as of today is a “wartime budget”. Since February 2022, the budget has been reoriented with defense and security spending having increased 9 times compared to 2021, whereas only the most pressing social expenditures have been implemented. This in a situation where the Ukrainian GDP has simultaneously decreased by 30 percent. Although there has been a substantial inflow of foreign aid, in the form of grants and loans, the Ukrainian budget deficit for 2023 is estimated to 21 percent. Part of the uncertainty surrounding the Ukrainian budget stems from the fact that the inflow from the donor community is irregular, prompting the government to cover budget deficits through the National Bank which fuels inflation and undermines the exchange rate. Apart from the large budget posts concerning military spending, major infrastructural damages are putting further pressure on the Ukrainian budget in the year to come, Markuts continued. As of November 2022, the damages caused by Russia to infrastructure in Ukraine amounted to 135,9 billion US Dollars, with the largest damages having occurred in the Kiyv and Donetsk regions, as depicted in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Ukrainian regions most affected by war damages, as of November 2022.

Source: Kiyv School of Economics

The infrastructural damages constitute a large part of the estimated needed recovery support for Ukraine, together with losses to the state and businesses amounting to over one trillion US Dollars. However, such estimates do not cover the suffering the Ukrainian people have encountered from the war.

The large need for steady support was discussed by Fredrik Löjdquist, Centre Director of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS), who argued the money needs to be seen as an investment rather than a cost, and that we at all times need to keep in mind what the consequences would be if the support for Ukraine were to fizzle out. Löjdquist, together with Cecilia Thorfinn, Team leader of the Communications Unit at the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden, also emphasized how the reconstruction should be tailored to fit the standards within the European Union, given Ukraine’s candidacy status. Thorfinn further stressed that the reconstruction must be a collective effort from the international community, although led by Ukraine. The EU is today to a large extent providing their financial support to Ukraine through the European Investment Bank (EIB). Jean-Erik de Zagon, Head of the Representation to Ukraine at the EIB, briefly presented their efforts thus far in Ukraine, efforts that have mainly been aimed at rebuilding key infrastructure. Since the war, the EIB has deployed an emergency package of 668 million Euro and 1,59 billion for the infrastructure financing gap. While all member states need to come together to ensure continued support for Ukraine, the EIB is ready to continue playing a key role in the rebuilding of Ukraine and to provide technical assistance in the upcoming reconstruction, de Zagon said. This can be especially fruitful as the EIB already has ample knowledge on how to carry out projects in Ukraine.

During a panel discussion on how Swedish support has, can and should continuously be deployed, Jan Ruth, Deputy Head of the Unit for Europe and Latin America at Sida, explained Sida’s engagement in Ukraine and the agency’s ambition to implement a solid waste management project. The project, in line with the need for a green and environmentally friendly rebuild, is today especially urgent given the massive destructions to Ukrainian buildings which has generated large amounts of construction waste. Karin Kronhöffer, Director of Strategy and Communication at Swedfund, also accentuated the need for sustainability in the rebuild. Swedfund invests within the three sectors of energy and climate, financial inclusion, and sustainable enterprises, and hash previously invested within the energy sector in Ukraine. Swedfund is also currently engaged in a pre-feasibility study in Ukraine which would allow for a national emergency response mechanism. Representing the business side, Andreas Flodström, CEO and founder of Beetroot, shared some experiences from founding and operating a tech company in Ukraine for the last 10 years. According to Flodström there will, apart from a huge need in investments in infrastructure, also be a large need for technical skills in the rebuild. Keeping this in mind, bootcamp style educations are a necessity as they provide Ukrainians with essential skills to rebuild their country.

A recurring theme in both panel discussions was how the reconstruction requires both public and private foreign investments. Early on, as the war continues, public investments will play the dominant part, but when the situation becomes more stable, initiatives to encourage private investments will be important. The potential of using public resources to facilitate private investments through credit guarantees and other risk mitigation strategies was brought up both at the European and the Swedish level, something which has also been emphasized by the new Swedish government.

Impacts From the War Outside of Ukraine – Energy Crisis and Other Consequences in the Region

The conference also covered the effects of the war outside of Ukraine, initially keying in on the consequences from the war on energy supply and prices in Europe. Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University Paris-Pantheon-Assas (CRED) & SITE, gave a presentation of the current situation and the short- and long-term implications. Le Coq explained that while the energy market is in fact functioning – displaying price increases in times of scarcity – the high prices might lead to some consumers being unable to pay while some energy producers are making unprecedented profits. The EU has successfully undertaken measures such as filling its gas storage to about 95 percent (goal of 80 percent), reducing electricity usage in its member countries, and by capping market revenues and introducing a windfall tax. While the EU is thus appearing to fare well in the short run, the reality is that EU has increased its coal dependency and paid eight times more in 2022 to fill its gas storage (primarily due to the imports of more costly Liquified Natural Gas, LNG). In the long run, these trends are concerning given the negative environmental externalities from coal usage and the market uncertainty when it comes to the accessibility and pricing of LNG. Uncertainties and new regulation also hinder investments signals into new low-carbon technologies, Le Coq concluded. Bringing an industrial perspective to the topic, Pär Hermerèn, Senior advisor at Jernkontoret, highlighted how the energy crisis is amplified by the increased electricity demand due to the green transition. Given the double or triple upcoming demand for electricity, Hermerèn, referred back to the investment signals, saying Sweden might run the risk of losing market shares or even seeing investment opportunities leave Sweden. This aspect was also highlighted by Lars Andersson, Senior advisor at Swedenergy, who, like Hermerèn, also saw the Swedish government’s shift towards nuclear energy solutions. Andersson stated the short-term solution, from a Swedish perspective, to be investments into wind power, urging policy makers to be clear on their intentions in the wind power market.

Other major impacts from the war relate to migration, a deteriorating Belarusian economy and security concerns in Georgia. Regarding the latter, Yaroslava Babych, Lead economist at ISET Policy Institute, Georgia, shared the major developments in Georgia post the invasion. While the Georgian economic growth is very strong at 12 percent, it is mainly driven by the influx of Russian money following the migration of about 80 000 Russians to Georgia. This has led to a surge in living costs and an appreciation of the local currency (the Lari) of 12,6 percent which may negatively affect Georgian exports. Additionally, it may trigger tensions given the recent history between the countries and the generally negative attitudes towards Russians in Georgia. Michal Myck, Director at CenEa, Poland, also presented migration as a key challenge. While the in- and outflow of Ukrainian refugees to Poland is today balanced, the majority of those seeking refuge in Poland are women and children and typically not included in the workforce. To ensure successful integration and to avoid massive human capital losses for Ukraine, Myck argued education is key, pointing to the lower school enrollment rates among refugee children living closer to the Ukrainian border. Apart from the challenges posed by the large influx of Ukrainian in the last year, the Polish economy is also hit by high energy prices, fuel shortages and increasing inflation. Lev Lvovskiy, Research fellow at BEROC, Belarus, painted a similar but grimmer picture of the current economic situation in Belarus. Following the invasion, all trade with Ukraine has been cut off, while trade with Russia has increased. Belarus is facing sanctions not only following the war, but also from 2020, and the country is in recession with GDP levels dropping every month since the invasion. Given the political and economic situation, the IT sector has shrunk, companies oriented towards the EU has left the country and real salaries have decreased by 5 percent. At the same time, the policy response is to introduce price controls and press banknotes.

Consequences of War: An Academic Perspective

The later part of the afternoon was kicked off by a brief overview of the FREE Network’s research initiatives on the links between war and certain development indicators. Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at SITE, presented current knowledge on the connection between war and gender, with a focus on gender-based violence. Sexual violence is highly prevalent in armed conflict and has been reported from both sides in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014 and during the ongoing war, with nearly only Russian soldiers as perpetrators. Apart from the direct threats of sexual violence during ongoing conflict and fleeing women and children risking falling victims to trafficking, intimate partner violence (IPV) has been found to increase post conflict, following increased levels of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While Ukrainian policy reforms have so far strengthened the response to domestic violence there is still a need for more effective criminalization of domestic violence, as the current limit for prosecution is 6 months from the date crime is committed. An effective transitional justice system and expertise on how to support victims of sexual violence in conflict, alongside economic safety measures undertaken to support women and children fleeing, are key policy concepts Campa argued. Coming back to the broader topic of gender and war, Campa highlighted the need for involvement of women in peace talks and negotiations, something research suggests matter for both equality, representativeness, and efficiency.

Providing insights into the relationship between the environment and war, Julius Andersson, Assistant Professor at SITE, initially summarized how climate change may cause conflict along four channels: political instability and crime rates increasing as a consequence of higher temperatures, scarcity of natural resources and environmental migration. Conflict might however also cause environmental degradation in the form of loss of biodiversity, pollution and making land uninhabitable. As for the negative impact from the war in Ukraine, Andersson highlighted how fires from the war has caused deforestation affecting the ecosystems, that rivers in conflict struck areas in Ukraine and the Sea of Azov are being polluted from wrecked industries (including the Azovstal steelworks) and lastly that there is a real threat of radiation given the four major nuclear plants in Ukraine being targeted by Russian forces. Coming back to a topic mentioned earlier during the day, Andersson also emphasized potential conflict spillovers into other parts of the world due to the war’s impact on food and fertilizer prices.

Concluding the session, Jonathan Lehne, Assistant Professor at SITE, reviewed how war and democracy is tied to one another, highlighting that while studies have found that democracies per se are not necessarily less conflict prone, it is still the case that democratic countries almost never fight each other. As for the microlevel takeaways from previous research, it appears as if individuals and communities having experienced violence and casualties actually reap a democratic dividend in some respects, such as greater voting participation. On the other hand, while areas with a large refugee influx also experience an increased voter turnout, voting for right-wing parties also increase with politicians exploiting this in their communication.

Book Launch – Reconstruction of Ukraine: Principles and Policies

The Development Day was also guested by Ilona Sologoub, Scientific Editor at VoxUkraine, Tatyana Deryugina, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Torbjörn Becker, Director of SITE, who presented their newly released book “Reconstruction of Ukraine: Principles and policies”. Sologoub started off by giving an overview of the mainly economic topics covered in the book and pointing out that the main purpose of the book is to inform policy makers about the present situation and to suggest needed reforms and investments. Becker outlined the four key principles recommended to stem corruption during reconstruction; 1) Remove opportunities for corruption and rent extraction, 2) Focus on transparency and monitoring of the whole reconstruction effort, 3) Make information and education an integral part of the anti-corruption effort, and 4) Set up legal institutions that are trusted when corruption does occur. Deryugina focused on the energy sector and related back to what had previously been discussed throughout the day, the need to “build-back-better”. Deryugina mentioned that Ukraine, previously heavily reliant on coal and gas imports from Russia, now have the opportunity to steer away from low energy efficiency and bottleneck issues, towards becoming a European natural gas hub. The book is available for free here. There will also be a book launch on the 11th of January 2023 at Handelshögskolan.

Concluding Remarks

Via link from Kiyv, Nataliia Shapoval, Head of KSE Institute and Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics closed the conference by emphasizing the urgency of continued education of Ukrainians in Ukraine and elsewhere to avoid loss of Ukrainian human capital. Shapoval also stressed how universities can act as thinktanks, support policy makers in Ukraine and Europe to come up with effective sanctions against Russia and provide a deeper understanding of the current situation – a situation which will linger and in which Ukraine needs continued full support.

This year’s SITE Development Day conference gave an opportunity to discuss the need for continued support for Ukraine and the implications from the war in a global, European, and Swedish perspective. Representatives from the political, public, private and academic sectors contributed with their insights into the challenges and possibilities at hand, providing greater understanding of how the support can be sustained, with the goal of a soon end to the war and a successful rebuild of Ukraine.

List of Participants in Order of Appearance

  • Anders Olofsgård, Deputy Director at SITE
  • Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Leader of the Belarusian Democratic Forces
  • Johan Forssell, Minister of Foreign Trade and International Development Cooperation
  • Andrij Plachotnjuk, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Ukraine to the Kingdom of Sweden
  • Tymofiy Mylovanov, President of the Kyiv School of Economics (on link from Kyiv)
  • Yuliya Markuts, Head of the Centre of Public Finance and Governance Analysis, Kyiv School of Economics
  • Jean-Erik de Zagon, Head of the Representation to Ukraine at the European Investment Bank
  • Cecilia Thorfinn, Team leader of the Communications Unit at the Representation of the European Commission in Sweden
  • Fredrik Löjdquist, Centre Director of the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies (SCEEUS)
  • Jan Ruth, Deputy Head of the Unit for Europe and Latin America at Sida
  • Karin Kronhöffer, Director of Strategy and Communication at Swedfund
  • Andreas Flodström, CEO and founder of Beetroot
  • Chloé Le Coq, Professor of Economics, University Paris-Pantheon-Assas (CRED) & SITE
  • Lars Andersson, Senior advisor at Swedenergy
  • Pär Hermerèn, Senior advisor at Jernkontoret
  • Ilona Sologoub, VoxUkraine scientific editor (on link)
  • Tatyana Deryugina, Associate Professor of Finance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (on link)
  • Torbjörn Becker, Director at SITE
  • Michal Myck, Director at CenEa, Poland
  • Yaroslava Babych, Lead economist at ISET Policy Institute, Georgia
  • Lev Lvovskiy, Research fellow at BEROC, Belarus
  • Pamela Campa, Associate Professor at SITE
  • Julius Andersson, Assistant Professor at SITE
  • Jonathan Lehne, Assistant Professor at SITE
  • Nataliia Shapoval, Head of KSE Institute and Vice President for Policy Research at Kyiv School of Economics (on link)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Who Benefitted from the Gasoline Tax Cut in Sweden?

20220902 Who Benefitted from the Gasoline Tax Image 01

Against the background of fast rising gasoline and diesel prices in 2022, a number of European countries have reduced fuel tax rates, often in the form of temporary “gas tax holidays”. Sweden reduced its fuel tax rate by 1.81 SEK (€0.17) per litre on May 1st 2022, of which 1.31 SEK is a temporary reduction set to expire at the end of September. When the tax holiday was announced, Finance Minister Mikael Damberg commented “I am pragmatic, for me it is important that we can compensate households” (Davidsson and Nilsson, 2022). However, just one month after implementation, the pump price for gasoline rose to a new high, which gives rise to the question of how much of the tax cut has actually been passed through to the consumers. In this policy brief, we analyse the tax incidence by comparing the gasoline price development in Sweden to that in Denmark, where the fuel tax rate remained unchanged. We find that the tax reduction was fully reflected in consumer prices, with a pass-through rate of around 100 percent. Nevertheless, we argue that spill-over effects pushing up gasoline prices outside of Sweden are likely biasing our estimate. Based on economic theory, we conclude that our estimate of the pass-through rate needs to be corrected downwards, meaning that only a part of the tax cut benefit was passed along to Swedish consumers.

Introduction to Tax Incidence

In standard economic theory, the pass-through rate to consumers from a change in gasoline tax rates is determined by the equation:

20220902 Equation

where p is the tax inclusive price, t is the tax, and η and ε are the price elasticities of supply and demand, respectively. The price elasticities give us the percentage change in quantity when the price changes by one percent. It follows from this equation that the relatively inelastic side of the market bears most of the tax burden from a tax increase – or most of the benefit from a tax reduction. Under normal circumstances, short-run demand for gasoline is highly inelastic in Sweden, with ε close to zero (Gren and Tirkaso, 2020; Dahl, 2012). In contrast, short-run supply is considered relatively elastic due to the competitive nature of the industry. Thus, changes in gasoline tax rates in Sweden are usually passed through fully to the consumers (Andersson, 2019). This implies that consumers bear the entire burden in the case of a tax increase but reap all the benefits in the case of a tax reduction.

Using Denmark as a Counterfactual

The problem is that existing price elasticity estimates – computed using historical price data – do not capture the temporary supply restrictions in the context of the war in Ukraine or the supply and demand shocks from the Covid-19 pandemic. In the lack of reliable estimates of current price elasticities, we revert to analysing the tax incidence using a quasi-experimental and empirical approach. This requires a counterfactual – a comparison unit that captures the evolution of gasoline prices in Sweden had the tax cut never been implemented. Denmark is well suited for this purpose given that it is geographically close, socio-economically comparable, and has similar levels of gasoline tax rates as Sweden. More importantly, Denmark has not made any recent fuel tax rates changes.

Figure 1. Gasoline pump price in 2022

Figure 1. Gasoline pump price in 2022

Source: Gasoline prices in Sweden and Denmark are provided by CirkleK (2022). Daily exchange rates are provided by Riksbanken (2022).

Figure 1 shows that the gasoline price in Sweden and Denmark track each other closely, displaying parallel trends in the time period leading up to the announcement of the tax cut on March 14. This reassures us that Denmark is a credible comparison unit for Sweden. Gasoline prices start diverging in the interim period of around 7 weeks between the announcement and the implementation of the policy. The fact that the gasoline price in Sweden is slightly higher during this period than in Denmark provides some speculative evidence that suppliers in Sweden intentionally raised prices in anticipation of the tax cut, allowing them to capture parts of the benefit. As soon as the tax cut enters into effect, the gasoline price is notably lower in Sweden compared to Denmark, although prices continue to rise until June.

Figure 2. Gap plot of price difference

Figure 2. Gap plot of price difference

Note: The figure plots the difference between the Swedish and Danish gasoline prices from Figure 1.

It can be observed graphically from the gap plot in Figure 2 that most of the tax cut of 1.81 SEK was immediately passed through to Swedish consumers on May 1. Furthermore, there are no obvious signs of the effect wearing off over time; the pass-through rate remains fairly constant over the three months following the tax cut.

In order to obtain estimates of the pass-through rate, we run a simple difference-in-differences regression – comparing the average difference in gasoline price between Sweden and Denmark both before and after the tax cut. The price reduction after the introduction of the tax holiday is estimated at -1.89 SEK per litre compared to the price level before the introduction. This estimate is statistically significant and indicates a pass-through rate slightly above 100 percent. But since the price development in the interim period raises concerns about strategic price setting, it appears more appropriate to use the price level before the announcement as a baseline. By doing that, we find a relative reduction in the Swedish gasoline price of -1.82 SEK per litre, matching the size of the tax cut almost exactly, with a pass-through rate of 101 percent.

The Estimated Pass-through Rate Is Biased

Our finding is in line with recent work on the German counterpart – known as the “Tankrabatt“. On June 1st 2022, the German Government lowered taxes on fuels for a duration of three months, amounting to a total tax relief of around 35 cent for gasoline and 17 cent for diesel, respectively. A number of studies find a full or close to full pass-through rate from the Tankrabatt, with estimates ranging between 85 and 102 percent (Fuest et al., 2022; Dovern et al., 2022; Montag and Schnitzer, 2022). Analogous to our approach, these studies rely on a comparison with a counterfactual unit, either France or a weighted average of Germany’s neighbouring countries.

Yet, by focusing on the pass-through rate at the national level only, we risk not capturing the full tax incidence. The supply of gasoline is more inelastic at the EU level than at the national level. As Sweden cuts the tax on gasoline, the after-tax price falls and this leads to an increase in demand; supply adjusts as more gasoline comes in from neighbouring countries. At the aggregate level however, supply is more constrained, so the tax cut in Sweden results in a marginal increase in gasoline prices across countries in the EU. This marginal increase in prices amplifies as more countries implement their own tax cuts. Indeed, Sweden and Germany are not the only countries to have implemented tax cuts in response to increasing oil prices, but are part of a larger group of countries to have done so, including Belgium, Italy and Poland (Sgaravatti, Tagliapietra, and Zachmann, 2022).

The spill-over effect from the tax cuts onto gasoline prices in “untreated” countries has two important implications for our analysis. First, our estimated pass-through rate to consumers in Sweden is biased upwards. The gasoline price development in Denmark can only act as a credible counterfactual for that in Sweden in the absence of the tax cut provided that it is not affected by the tax cut itself. But this condition is not fulfilled as the tax cuts employed in Sweden and elsewhere can be suspected to have led the gasoline price in Denmark to increase more than it would have otherwise. Estimates of pass-through rates near 100 percent thus appear overstated and consumers likely benefit less from the tax relief in reality. Second, the benefit to consumers in countries that implement gasoline tax cuts comes at the expense of consumers in countries without such measures in place. An analysis of tax incidence at the national level may find that most of the benefit from the tax cut is captured by consumers, whereas an analysis at the EU level as a whole would instead find that a much larger share of the benefit is actually captured by the supply side – in and outside of Sweden. This demonstrates that the national incidence of the tax cut is different from an international one.

The Swedish Tax Cut Benefits Producers and Richer Households

The prevalence of spill-over effects makes it difficult to conduct causal inference analysis and estimate the true effect of transport fuel tax cuts empirically. Still, the previously outlined theoretical framework on tax incidence can help provide valuable insights. As discussed, gasoline demand is much more inelastic than supply in normal times, so we could expect the tax cut to be passed through to consumers at fairly high rates. However, gasoline supply today is likely more inelastic than usual in light of the repercussions from the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine: with oil companies unable to ramp up production in the short term because of underinvestment into existing and new fields during the pandemic (Ashraf et al., 2022). In Europe, Russia accounts for more than 20 percent of the oil supply but production in Russia has gone down since the launch of the war in Ukraine. Many European companies had started to engage in self-sanctioning by cutting ties with the Russian energy sector even before the European Council agreed to embargo most oil imports from Russia by the end of the year 2022 (Adolfsen et al., 2022). Furthermore, the refining industry is facing capacity constraints due to shutdowns that took place in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic as well as high prices for gas powering its operations. All of these factors together illustrate why gasoline supply at the EU level has become more inelastic in the past weeks and months. As a consequence, the relative elasticity of gasoline supply and demand is distorted towards benefitting the producers more than usual. Hence, we can infer from economic theory that not all of the benefit from the gasoline tax cut went to Swedish consumers, but that producers in Sweden and abroad captured some of it.

Apart from this, the tax cut does not benefit all households equally. Among the 20 percent of households with the lowest disposable income in Sweden, only about half have a direct expenditure on transport fuel. But among the 20 percent of richest households, around 95 percent have positive transport fuel expenditures (Statistics Sweden, 2020). A cut in transport fuel tax rates therefore disproportionately benefits high-income households in Sweden.

Finally, it is important to keep in mind that the transport fuel tax cuts employed in various countries do not come without a price tag – they represent a cost to the state budget and ultimately its citizens in the form of foregone tax revenues. In the case of Sweden, this amounts to 6.2 billion SEK in 2022, or around $60 per person (Swedish Government, 2022; Ministry of Finance, 2022). A broader evaluation of the welfare effect of the tax cut needs to take into consideration what the tax revenue would have been spent on had the tax cut not been implemented.

Conclusion

In mid-August, a report published by Konjunkturinstitutet (National Institute of Economic Research) stirred up the public debate on the gasoline tax holiday in Sweden. According to their report, considering what they call a notification and a pick-up effect (Konjunkturinstitutet, 2022), only 62 percent of the tax reduction on gasoline was passed on to Swedish consumers. The authors claim that sellers of gasoline exploited their market power through charging higher prices in the weeks leading up to the introduction of the tax reduction – the notification effect – and again shortly after the introduction – the pick-up effect. In this policy brief, we obtain a considerably higher estimate of the pass through rate of around 100 percent. In addition, we only find evidence for a weak notification effect and do not share the view that a pick-up effect has taken place.  Even though our studies have in common that we consider Denmark as a counterfactual, we see several advantages in our empirical methodology that may explain the different results: The data we use for both Sweden and Denmark come from the same gasoline company, which improves the comparability of prices. The time period we study after the tax cut covers three months instead of only one, and our finding is robust to the inclusion of a time trend, whereas the main results in the report by Konjunkturinstitutet (2022) rely heavily on the addition of such variable in their model.

What we would like to emphasise in the present case is that any methodology based on counterfactuals is prone to bias. If you shift the level of analysis from a single country in isolation to the whole of the European Union, it becomes clear that the Swedish gasoline tax cut brings about a marginal increase in gasoline prices outside of Sweden. This is why our estimates are likely biased upwards, revealing a flaw in both this study and the report by Konjunkturinstitutet (2022). In order to pin down the true pass-through rate to a precise number, a more comprehensive analysis is needed, although this may prove difficult. Without reliable empirical results, we should trust economic theory until now. The conclusions we can already draw are the following:

  • Firstly, some of the benefits from the tax reduction is passed through to Swedish consumers but a full pass-through is an overstatement. It is important to note that even if gasoline companies only capture a small percentage of the benefit, this can still amount to large profits in absolute terms.
  • Secondly, the gain from the tax reduction in Sweden produces losses for consumers in countries that have not lowered their tax rates.
  • Thirdly, the policy favours high-income groups as the gains are not distributed equally among consumers within Sweden.
  • Lastly, the corresponding loss in government revenue could potentially reduce welfare where expenditure is cut.

At the bottom line, the above economic reasoning suggests that the pass-through of the gasoline tax reduction to Swedish consumers is limited. And while we arrive at a similar conclusion as the report by Konjunkturinstitutet (2022), we follow a different line of argument. In our view, the reason for the imperfect pass-through to consumers does not necessarily lie exclusively in strategic price setting on the part of gasoline companies, but in the dynamics of the global market.

References

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.