Danish government asked us not to criticise: former climate council leader

The government directly asked the Danish Council on Climate Change, an independent panel that advises on climate initiatives and emissions reduction, not to criticise its policies on the area, the council's former chairman has said.

Danish government asked us not to criticise: former climate council leader
Peter Birch Sørensen in 2017. Photo: Sarah Christine Nørgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Last week, Peter Birch Sørensen left his role as chair of the council, the government’s watchdog on climate.

That came after a public disagreement between Sørensen and environment minister Lars Christian Lilleholt. Sørensen called the government’s climate plan “unambitious” with Lilleholt responding by rejecting the criticism as “nonsense”.

Sørensen has now spoken out to say that the disagreement between him and Lilleholt goes deeper and further back than last week.

“We were critical in the first report we gave (the government) back in 2015, and the minister expressed his dissatisfaction with our conclusions then,” Sørensen said in an interview with Politiken.

The problem is reported to have stemmed from a 2014 agreement by the previous centre-left government to reduce Denmark’s CO2 emissions by 40 percent by 2020.

The climate council used that agreement for its first report, but by the time it was completed, Lilleholt’s Liberal (Venstre) party was now in government.

“A discussion occurred between me and the minister,” Sørensen said.

“The minister was of the view that, since we were advisors to the government, we should advise on the targets set by that government, and that it therefore was not relevant for us to make criticisms over the failure to live up to the 40 percent target,” he said.

As an independent organisation, the Danish Council on Climate Change is free to decide what to report on and ministers cannot demand the organisation shelve or take up any particular direction.

Lilleholt told Politiken that he did not agree with Sørensen’s version of events, but admitted he had disagreed with the former climate council head.

“It is correct that the Danish Council on Climate Change in 2015 chose to evaluate the sitting government on whether we were meeting the previous government’s targets. The council is entitled to do that, but I think it would perhaps have been more relevant to be given good advice on future policy – I think that would have served the climate better,” the minister told the newspaper via email.

He stressed that the council should “have full freedom at any time to produce recommendations for the sitting government”.

Michael Gøtze, a professor in administrative law at the University of Copenhagen, said the issue was concerning.

“If what happened is as described [by Sørensen, ed.], the minister has gone a step too far. It is one thing to disagree, but pressure and a direct request to not look at a particular area is a no-go,” Gøtze told Politiken.

“The minister has to respect rules on independence,” he said.

Social Democrat spokesperson for the environment Jens Joel told Ritzau he would call Lilleholt to a parliamentary hearing over the issue.

“We need to know whether the government tried to orchestrate what comes out of the climate council. This seems serious,” Joel said.

READ ALSO: Danish government boosts electric cars, puts out fireplaces in extensive climate plan


Danish parliament gives go ahead to giant artificial island off Copenhagen

Denmark's parliament has given the go-ahead to build Lynetteholm, a giant artificial island that will protect Copenhagen's harbour waters from rising sea levels at the same times as providing homes for 35,000 people.

Danish parliament gives go ahead to giant artificial island off Copenhagen
How the island will look while udner construction. Photo: By og Havn

The bill empowering the government to push ahead with the project passed with a massive majority of 85 in favour and 12 against, opening the way for work to push ahead on the 2.8 square kilometer island early as this autumn.

In a short debate on Friday morning, Thomas Jensen, the Social Democrat MP coordinating the bill, dismissed claims that not enough had been done to assess the environmental consequences of what has been described as the largest construction project in Danish history.

“Of the bills I have helped to implement here in the parliament, this is the one which has been most thoroughly discussed, with expert consultations, technical reviews, and almost 200 questions to the Ministry of Transport, which have been answered by the rapporteurs,” he said. “So in terms of process, it is completely worked out.”


Ahead of the vote protesters from the Stop Lynetteholm Facebook group staged a protest outside the parliament, with many dressed in Sean the Sheep costumes. 

Protesters dressed as sheep staged a demonstration against the Lynetteholm project outside the parliament. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

The parliamentary vote is not the last hurdle.

The project is also being challenged in the European Court of Justice, on the grounds that the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA)  have looked at the impact of constructing the island itself, but not of the roads, metro lines, housing and other developments which will go on it.

Lynetteholm is being built partly as a coastal protection project, with a dam that will protect Copenhagen from future storm surges.

The plan was first announced in 2018 by the then Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, and the then Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen.