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

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
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.

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. 


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  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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