Denmark’s climate policy: a model to emulate?

Several thousand young Danes have been participating in the global Fridays for Future climate school strikes. These are a coordinated series of protests that demand action on climate policy. 

Inspired by their Swedish neighbour, climate activist Greta Thunberg, participants have weekly taken to the streets, city halls and the Parliament to call upon leaders to take action. These voters of tomorrow want climate policy to be elevated in the agenda of the world’s countries. Indeed, recent polls show that 46 per cent of Danish voters rank climate change as their top concern. This is especially true for young voters. A climate surcharge to air tickets, for example, became a Danish election issue in the European Parliamentary elections last May.

Denmark’s policies on mitigation of global heating hinge on international climate obligations from the European Union and United Nations, as well as on Danish national targets. Thus, an energy policy report is submitted by the government, and then new national targets are taken into account every year. Moreover, an independent and academically-based institution, the Council on Climate Change, gives its own recommendations to the government, contributing in a big way to the discussion on Danish climate efforts.

Thanks to all of this, Denmark is the EU front runner in the enforcement of regulations supporting sustainability. For example, in October 2018, some proposals have been discussed to create labels on food that rate their impact on the environment and climate. Along the same lines, the country has worked with the EU to develop climate labels that will provide each product’s climate effects and level of nutrition for the past 10 years.

Even though it is ranked one of those countries best-prepared to face climate change, Denmark is also one of the richest countries, and among those with the highest carbon footprint. The average Danish household has the fifth-highest footprint among EU countries — behind Luxembourg, the UK, Ireland and Finland. Furthermore, its highest emissions come from food, manufactured products (such as furniture), and fuel for transport. Even with lower emissions in urban areas like Copenhagen, where biking reduces emissions and consumption, 70 per cent of the city’s footprint is still associated with food.

Another issue to consider. There is a common misconception that Nordic countries are less exposed to extreme weather events. On the contrary, they are already suffering the negative impacts of climate change, with increased risk of forest fires and coastal flooding. 

There is a high degree of similarity between the Nordic countries’ climate policy, even if they have different trajectories of energy production and different geographical and geological conditions.Sweden, for example, has the most ambitious climate policy in the world: the country aims to reach net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2045. It was the first country with an environmental agency (1967) and is now one of the most innovative countries in environment-related technology. Norway, for its part, aims to be carbon neutral by 2030 and is already a pioneer in wind power energy. Over there, electric car ownership makes economic sense and there are plans for 100 per cent of electric vehicles by 2025. What’s more, Finland’s focus is more on its enormous tracts of forestland and stores of renewable biomass, and its support for innovation in the clean technology sector.

Scandinavian countries have taken the lead in reducing vehicle pollution by choosing the bike over the car. Their success is due to the implementation of strict and ambitious climate policies from proactive governments, cutting-edge technologies, and regional cooperation for knowledge-sharing. Collaboration between Nordic countries plays a key role in their achievements — through organisations such as the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Nordic Council of Ministers.

While these countries have reduced their climate vulnerabilities, thanks to their adaptive capacity and teamwork, we do not forget that they have financial capabilities and opportunities that less-wealthy countries do not. Nevertheless, we should remember that their teamwork in tackling climate change has shown itself to be a better approach than isolated, individual action.

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