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Post Kyoto: the state of Denmark

The Danish liberal-conservative government hosts the 2009 Conference of the Parties for The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with the hope of negotiating a successor to the Kyoto protocol. After having dressed for 7 years mainly in environmental and climate garments from the office of the former social democratic government, the Danish government now faces a hard time keeping up with domestic and international expectations.

Denmark prides itself of some small contribution to life after peak oil. After all, we fostered early development of renewable energy during the 70s and 80s. The 1992 Earth Summit in Rio further persuaded Danes to create the world’s probably most powerful Ministry of Environment with also energy supply as its jurisdiction. As a result, we introduced ”green” energy taxes, discouraged the import and use of big and inefficient cars, nurtured wind farming and research into renewable energy, and finally checked transport related pollution. This is the reason that gasoline in Denmark is now 8 US$ a gallon and some 30% of our electricity supply comes from renewable sources, mainly wind turbines. Danish wind industry as a whole must now be thankful that they gross some 6 billion US$ yearly.

The year 2001 brought an end to this, however. The new liberal-conservative government formed separate ministries for transport/energy and environment once again, 3 sea-based wind turbine parks were ditched, land based renewable energy was put in the freezer, energy research and development had their funding cut to almost zilch, and 800 people were made redundant in public environmental administration. On top of this, the Environmental Assessment Institute was formed in 2002 with the controversial Bjørn Lomborg serving as its first director, making the official Danish policy on climate change actually one of denial. A lament from Svend Auken, the former Danish Ministry of Environment and Energy, testifies to this.

But with the November 2007 election, environmental policy has once again been put in forward gear. The liberal-conservative government lost its majority together with the nationalist Danish Peoples Party (remember the controversy over Mohammad cartoons?) and now must negotiate its way across the political board. As a consequence, a new comprehensive policy has been formulated in order to create a broader political consensus.

Some of the environment and energy highlights of this policy are the following:

- The Danish use of renewable energy must be doubled to at least 30 % of all energy consumption in the year 2025.

- The total Danish energy consumption must be reduced 1.4 % a year (average) in the period 2010-2025 by way of a more efficient use of energy.

- The public funding of energy research is doubled, totaling 200 million US$ a year from 2010.

- A new climate research centre will be formed.

- A climate commission with international participation will study the options for liberating Denmark totally from its reliance on fossil fuels.

A governmental novelty is a new Ministry of Climate. It will be responsible, amongst others, for implementing this strategy across the board and – in the short term as the government’s climate policy flagship – for arranging the 15th conference on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The explicit hope of the new Danish government is to create a successor to the Kyoto protocol, formed during the third meeting in Japan, 1997.

The reaction from the Danish public and from the opposition has been mixed.

On the positive side, the government is lauded for its late recognition that climate change is real and manmade, and that energy policy must be put under scrutiny.

On the negative side, targets are criticized for being much too modest. If renewable energy will be 30% in 2025, the logical question is what will constitute the remaining 70%? The government is here firmly locked in a policy of continued economic growth and with energy forecasts following the IEA. Peak oil is only an issue on the Danish political fringe, the majority hiding itself conveniently behind the vail of climate change.

During the recent election campaign, the newspaper Ingeniøren (“The Engineer”) published a proposal to create a “super Ministry”, responsible for infrastructure like energy, environment, housing, traffic and climate. The proposal was written by Jørgen Rosted, former head of department for the Ministry of Business, Leo Larsen, former head of department for the Ministry of Environment, and Lars Goldschmidt, CEO of the Danish Association of Consulting Engineers.

Their criticism now is that a new climate ministry will be unable to connect the dots and to implement change, because its jurisdiction is too narrow and its power too small.

But the die is cast: The Danish government will have 2 years to prove to the international community and to its own citizens, that its current shift from denial towards recognition is more than a lip service in order to remain in power. In 2009, the international scene is set for the final exam. Will the emperor still be wearing - nothing?

Editorial Notes: Contributor Poul Holm Andreasen writes: Much has been spent. Let´s salvage the rest ...

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