– Project activities –

Project description

The environmental goal of a rich diversity of plant and animal life is considered unlikely to be achieved by 2020. According to the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s (SEPA) report, half of the species and three quarters of the habitat types that Sweden is obligated to protect by the Habitats Directive do not have favourable conservation status. Similarly, several additional goals related to the protection of biological diversity such as flourishing lakes and streams, thriving wetlands, and a balanced marine environment, flourishing coastal areas and archipelagos are not thought to be achievable by 2020 without substantial changes to policies or their implementation. Policy instruments such as laws and regulations aim to meet these obligations, but have thus far failed to do so. Possible reasons for this failure may be that the environmental laws themselves are insufficient to protect biological diversity, that these goals are not adequately considered in relation to economic interests in decision making, or that they are not adequately enforced.

The Environmental Code requires that its provisions on permitting, planning, nature protection and everything else be applied in such a way that natural environments and biodiversity are preserved. Chapter 2 contains general rules of consideration that are to be used when applying the Code, including provisions on dispensation. Some of these general rules of consideration important to the protection of biodiversity are the precautionary principle and the requirement that locations chosen for development or other activities should have the least negative effect on the environment while remaining appropriate for their purpose. These provisions seem to offer strong protection for biodiversity. Nevertheless, activities that are potentially harmful to nature or species may be allowed under special circumstances. Our project will examine how these strong environmental protections and exceptions have been interpreted and applied by county boards in granting dispensation from protectives measures. Its overarching purpose is to improve the application of the Environmental Code’s dispensation provisions in order to facilitate the achievement of Sweden’s environmental objectives, particularly “rich diversity of plant and animal life,” “flourishing lakes and streams”, “thriving wetlands”, “sustainable forests” and “a balanced marine environment, flourishing coastal areas and archipelagos.”

This project has four intermediate goals that will contribute to the fulfilment of this main purpose. These intermediate goals include:

  • Evaluate the environmental effectiveness and legal certainty of the Environmental Code’s rules on dispensation.
  • Discover and highlight general factors that promote or hinder the effectiveness and legal certainty of the dispensation process.
  • Provide concrete recommendations for how the application of the rules on dispensation can be improved in order to achieve Sweden’s environmental quality goals.
  • Provide concrete recommendations for promoting legal certainty through a more uniform application of the rules on dispensation.

In order to meet these goals and reach our conclusions about how to improve the application of the dispensation process, several research questions will be addressed.

The first of our research questions is how the general rules of consideration in chapter 2 of the Environmental Code have been applied in deciding whether to allow dispensation from species and biotope protection and nature reserves. In particular, we will analyze how county boards, and municipalities when applicable, have applied the Chapter 2 requirements that persons who pursue an activity or take a measure under the Environmental Code take protective and precautionary measures, and that the choice of location for the activity or measure is appropriate considering that the goal of the activity or measure should be accomplished with the least damage to human health and the environment. Failure to properly apply these rules is thought to be one of the most significant reasons that the Environmental Code has not lived up to its potential to protect the environment.

A second research question we seek to answer is how determinations of appropriateness (rimlighetsavvägning) in applying the general rules of consideration under section 2:7 of the Environmental code have been applied to dispensation from biotope and species protection and nature reserves. There is currently limited guidance from the courts as to how this weighing of costs and benefits of environmental activities and measures should be applied. Because of this, activities that cause serious environmental damage may be allowed to proceed if it can be shown that prevention would be expensive. Our study would clarify the extent of this problem by mapping how these provisions are currently being applied by county decision makers.

Our third research question is how the term “special circumstances” (särskilda skäl) is interpreted in the context of dispensation from biotope protection and nature reserves. This term is used throughout the Environmental Code and related legislation, and allows decision makers to make exceptions from environmental protection. We will explicate how county boards have interpreted this term in weighing environmental interests against other interests or values. We will then analyze whether the county boards’ application of this term is consistent with the legislature’s intent. We will perform a similar analysis regarding dispensation from species protection. The term “special circumstances” is not used in the Species Protection Regulation, whose provisions on dispensation mirror those in the EU Habitat Directive. Instead we will analyze how county boards have interpreted unclear terms such as “strängt kontrollerade förhållanden” (strictly controlled circumstances), “selektivt och i liten omfattning” (selective and limited extent) and “liten mängd” (small amount).

The preceding three research questions investigate how county boards interpreted certain provisions of the Environmental Code. The following questions focus on finding ways to improve the decision making process itself.  Lack of consistency and transparency in the application of the Environmental Code by both regional decision makers and courts has been identified as problems contributing to ineffective use of resources and negative consequences for the environment. Our fourth research question is the extent to which the application of the examined code provisions has been consistent across counties and municipalities (pertaining to dispensation from nature reserves), and across dispensation types. For example, we will examine whether the precautionary principle is given equal weight in dispensations from biotope protection, dispensations from species protection and dispensation from nature reserves. Additionally, we will map whether the dispensation evaluation processes are equally transparent throughout Sweden. Where regional differences in interpretation or procedure are identified, we will analyze why these differences have occurred where they cannot be justified by differences in the social or natural environment.

The answers to our questions about how the Environmental Code’s general rules of consideration are currently applied to dispensation from nature protection and the degree of consistency with which they are applied will enable us to draw conclusions about the factors that promote or impede environmental effectiveness and legal certainty of the decision to grant or deny dispensation. We will analyze the extent to which policy instruments contribute to positive or negative outcomes and whether clarifications are needed in the law, preparatory works, decisions and guidance documents. We will conclude by making recommendations for how these policy instruments can be improved in order to achieve environmental quality objectives.  

Research team
The project involves legal researchers and quantitative ecology bringing a range of comprehensive and complementary skills. Our vision is to conduct a truly interdisciplinary endeavor where both disciplines mutually feed each other with analysis and perspectives to improved applied policy instruments.The research team consists of:

  • Charlotta Zetteberg, is a professor of environmental law at Uppsala University. She is the co-author of one of the leading textbooks on environmental law in Sweden, Den Svenska Miljörätten, and an expert on the Environmental Code and its application.

  • Anna Christiernsson, Jur. Dr., is an associate professor (docent) in environmental law at the Stockholm University faculty of law. In her research, she has examined e.g. biodiversity law, hunting law, fishery law, marine management, water management, water law, waste law and environmental quality norms. The research has included national as well as international and EU law.

  • Yaffa Epstein, Jur. Dr., is a researcher and teacher at Uppsala University faculty of law. Her research interests include biodiversity and species protection law, the intersection of legal and natural science, and environmental issues more broadly in comparative, EU and public international law perspectives.

  • Guillaume Chapron, PhD, is an associate professor at Grimsö Wildlife Research Station, Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. His research interests focus on carnivore quantitative ecology applied to conservation.



Naturskydd och dispenser

Det är inte troligt att miljömål om biologisk mångfald kommer att uppnås till år 2020. Enligt det svenska Naturvårdsverket uppnår hälften av arterna och tre fjärdedelar av de naturtyper som Sverige är skyldig att skydda i enlighet med EU:s livsmiljödirektiv, inte gynnsam bevarandestatus. Olika styrmedel syftar till att uppfylla dessa förpliktelser men har hittills misslyckats. Möjliga orsaker kan vara att miljölagstiftningen är otillräcklig, att målen i sig inte står sig i förhållande till andra intressen i avvägningar eller att genomförandet på andra sätt brister. Den svenska miljöbalken ska tillämpas så att bevarande av biologisk mångfald främjas och sammantaget framstår det som att det här finns ett starkt skydd. Men potentiellt skadliga aktiviteter kan ändå tillåtas under särskilda omständigheter. Syftet med denna studie är att med avseende på måluppfyllelse och rättssäkerhet analysera hur reglerna om biotopskydd, naturreservatet och artskydd tillämpas av länsstyrelser och kommuner vid prövningar av dispenser. Särskild uppmärksamhet får tillämpningen av miljöbalkens regler om skyddsåtgärder och platsval liksom den rimlighetsavvägning som ska ske. Här saknas vägledning från domstolarna vilket riskerar att leda till åtgärder som inte är kostnadseffektiva för att nå miljömål. Tolkningen av olika dispensgrunder som "särskilda skäl" och "strängt kontrollerade förhållanden" analyseras. Vidare huruvida prövningen sker konsistent vid olika länsstyrelser och kommuner och om det finns skillnader t.ex. i fråga om genomslaget för försiktighetsprincipen eller vad gäller transparens. Där regionala skillnader i tolkning och processer konstateras kommer vi att analysera orsaker och i vad mån skillnaderna kan förklaras av samhälleliga och miljömässiga olikheter. Ambitionen är att dra slutsatser om vad som främjar eller hindrar måluppfyllelse och rättssäkerhet i dispensbesluten och att ge rekommendationer om hur styrmedlen kan förbättras. Projektet bygger på miljörättslig teori och metod.


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