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Five reasons why Denmark is no frontrunner in the battle against climate change

With its bicycles, its wind power and its ambitious emissions goal, Denmark claims itself as one of the global leaders when it comes to the environment. Here are five reasons why the country is no climate saint.

Five reasons why Denmark is no frontrunner in the battle against climate change
Aalborg Portland cement is Denmark's heaviest user of coal. Photo: Aalborg Cement

Denmark’s goal of reducing emissions 70 percent by 2030 is arguably the most ambitious in the world.

In December, it became one of the first oil-producing countries to stop issuing new exploration licences, and it is now launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance to encourage others to do the same. 

Denmark has the highest proportion of wind energy in its electricity mix of any country in the world, with wind and solar in 2020 providing more than 50 percent of electricity.  

But as the country’s prime minister Mette Frederiksen and her climate minister Dan Jørgensen prepare to strut their stuff at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow in November, here’s a reminder of why the country still has a lot of work to do. 

1) If you include consumption, Danes are among the 10 highest emitters in the world 

According to a study by the Danish climate think tank Concito, if you look at the carbon emissions produced by the consumer goods Danes buy and their international travel, as well as what is generated domestically, they are among the ten highest emitters in the world, generating some 17 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. That is not too far from the 25 tonnes generated by the average person in the US. It’s three times as much as the average person in China, and 17 times as much as the average person in India. 

2) Denmark is on course to blow its carbon budget within 14 years 

Even if Denmark does cut domestic emissions 70 percent by 2030 and 54 percent by 2025, it will still be emitting far more than it has allotted to it in the so-called “carbon budget” of what each country can afford to emit if the world is to have a 66 percent chance of limited global temperature rise to 1.5C.

According to a new calculation by Tarjei Haaland, Climate and energy advisor at Greenpeace Nordic, even if Denmark meets its targets, it will exhaust its carbon budget by 2036, 14 years before it hopes to become carbon neutral.

If emissions carry on at 2021 levels, the budget will be exhausted by 2031. 

3) Denmark is on track to miss both its 2025 and 2030 emissions reduction targets

In its first annual status report, the Danish Council on Climate Change in February judged the emissions reductions policies brought in by the Danish government “insufficient” to meet the 70 percent target in 2030, and indeed would only reduce emissions by about 54 percent by that date. 

Denmark is also on track to miss its current interim target of a 54 percent reduction in emissions by 2025, with the country currently likely to only reduce emissions by 47 percent by this date. 

It’s also worth pointing out that the 2025 and 2030 goals to not include the emissions embedded in the goods Danes consume. 

4) A political agreement to reduce emissions from agriculture has been delayed by a year 

One of the keys to Denmark reaching its 2025 and 2030 goals is an ambitious deal to reduce emissions from agriculture. Negotiations between Denmark’s political parties were supposed to happen in the second half of 2020, but were delayed after the government’s decision to cull the country’s entire herd of minks, which led to the resignation of agriculture minister Mogens Jensen. The government made its own, rather unambitious, proposal on agriculture in April, but so far negotiations with other parties have yet to begin. 

5) Only about 12 percent of Denmark’s energy is truly renewable

The majority of Denmark’s energy still comes from oil and biomass, with only 11 percent to 12 percent coming from wind and solar. Denmark’s only cement producer, Aalborg Portland, is responsible for about two percent of Denmark’s emissions, and also almost single-handedly makes the country a fairly heavy consumer of coal. Denmark ranks 35th worldwide and 12th in the European Union in terms of coal consumption, with Danes consuming more of the black stuff per head than the UK, Sweden, Norway, or France. 

Member comments

  1. I am very negative surprised by the fact there are no paper bags in supermarkets. Not even biodegradable ones. In Sweden for example in all supermarkets you can find paper bags at the cashier. And even for vegetables and fruits they added paper bags on the shelf. Here, in Denmark, hot only that everything is wrapped in plastic, those bags are not even biodegradable which you can see now everywhere in Europe. It’s very difficult for me to understand why they don’t change this.

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‘We still have a chance’: Danish minister’s relief after Glasgow climate deal

Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen has expressed relief that a meaningful climate change deal was struck in Glasgow last night, after a last minute move by India and China nearly knocked it off course.

'We still have a chance': Danish minister's relief after Glasgow climate deal
Denmark's climate minister Dan Jørgensen speaks at the announcement of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance in Glasgow on Tuesday. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

“For the first time ever, coal and fossil fuel subsidies have been mentioned. I’m very, very happy about that,” he told Denmark’s Politiken newspaper. “But I am also very disappointed that the stronger formulations were removed at the last minute.” 

Late on Saturday, the world’s countries agreed the Glasgow Climate Pact, after negotiations dragged on while governments haggled over phasing out coal. 

Denmark is one of the countries leading the phase out of fossil fuels, formally launching the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA) with ten other countries and states at the Glasgow summit on Tuesday, announcing an end to oil exploration last December, and committing to phase out coal by 2030 back in 2017. 

Jørgensen conceded that the deal struck on Saturday was nowhere near far-reaching enough to keep global temperature rises below 1.5C, which scientists have estimated is critical to limiting the impacts of climate change, but he said the decision to hold another summit in Egypt next year meant that this goal could still be reached. 

“The big, good news is that we could have closed the door today. If we had followed the rules, we would only have had to update the climate plans in 2025, and the updates would only apply from 2030,” he said, adding that this would be too late. “Now we can fight on as early as next year. This is very rare under the auspices of the UN.” 

Limiting temperature rises to 1.5C was still possible, he said. 

“We have a chance. The framework is in place to make the right decisions. There was a risk that that framework would not be there.” 

Jørgensen said that he had come close to tears when India launched a last-minute bid to water down the language when it came to coal, putting the entire deal at risk. 

“It was all really about to fall to the ground,” he said. “The assessment was that either the Indians got that concession or there was no agreement.” 

Sebastian Mernild, a climate researcher at the University of Southern Denmark, said he was disappointed by the lack of binding targets and global deadlines in the plan, but said it was nonetheless “a step in the right direction”, particularly the requirement that signatories to the Paris Agreement must tighten their 2030 emissions reduction targets by the end of 2022.

“It’s good that this thing with fossil fuels has got in,” he added. “It’s a pity that you don’t have to phase them out, but only reduce.”

He said the test of whether the Glasgow meeting is a success or failure would not come until the various aspects of the plan are approved and implemented by members states.