Climate change is back on the global political agenda. On September 23rd, world leaders from government, finance, business and civil society will convene for the New York Climate Summit hosted by United Nations’ Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. They are there to ‘catalyse global action on climate change’.
Catalysing is certainly needed. With governments’ and businesses’ current level of inaction, we are heading for a climate catastrophe.
As the world’s leaders prepare for another round of eloquent speeches, our question to them is simple: Exactly how and when is your country going to phase out fossil fuels? Please, may we see your plan?
The reality is that very few countries have such a plan. Which is incredible, given the current state of climate affairs. Denmark is one rare exception. The country has a plan, which outlines a transition to 100% renewable energy within a relatively short period of time. Ambitious? Yes. Unrealistic? Not at all. Here is how:
Hello clean energy
Denmark’s Climate Plan provides a recipe for the fast-paced transformation of the country’s entire energy system. Goodbye fossil fuels, hello 100% clean, renewable energy.
In just five years from now, half of Denmark’s electricity will be produced from wind and by 2030 coal will be phased out entirely. By 2035 all of Denmark’s energy demands in terms of electricity and heating will be met by renewable energy – and by 2050, at the latest, all of Denmark’s energy will be clean, green and renewable.
Denmark will also reduce its domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2020 relative to 1990 levels. Without the use of carbon credits. That’s ten years ahead of the proposed EU target.
Powered by the people
A dedicated commitment to renewable energy is the key ingredient in what has become known as ‘The Danish Model’. And, for the Danes, the model is no sacrifice. The transition to clean energy is boosting employment, increasing exports, reducing fuel import expenses and reducing dependence on volatile fossil fuel prices.
Denmark’s ambitious targets are, in part, the result of a decade-long, hugely successful people-led movement against nuclear power and in favour of renewable energy. The Climate Plan enjoys broad public support, and, in some respects, reducing greenhouse gas emissions is viewed as a matter of civic duty and national pride.
The Danes are not just passive consumers of energy, but active producers and owners too. Ordinary citizens own three quarters of Denmark’s wind turbines.
No climate sceptics here
In Denmark, climate change is overwhelmingly perceived as a fact, so transitioning to renewable energy makes sense both morally and economically. As a result, the political debate between the Danish ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ has not been about if the country should transition to 100% renewable energy, but how fast. There were some minor skirmish about whether to include carbon capture and storage (CCS) or even nuclear. The latter suggestion, supported by only one political party, appears almost extremist in a country where nuclear power has been banned since 1985.
Greening and growing
Importantly, Denmark’s emissions reductions have not affected the economy negatively. Since 1980, the Danish energy consumption has remained relatively stable. Yet, over the same period, the Danish economy has grown by 78%. One reason for this is that Danish companies are subsidised for using renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency, which in turn increases their creativity and prompts energy savings.
Job creation is an explicit objective of the Danish Climate Plan, and because Denmark has invested heavily in the research and promotion of renewable energy, energy-efficient technologies and renewable heat supply systems. Every year, the sector is responsible for creating around 6,000-8,000 new jobs in a country of 5.5 million people.
And they are really happy too
Acting on climate change is often perceived as too hard and too costly, but the Danish example proves the opposite. It hasn’t collapsed the economy, killed jobs or made people miserable. In fact, Denmark boasts the world’s most liveable city (Copenhagen) and the world’s happiest people (according to some surveys). Why on Earth would anyone not want to copy that?
Kat Skeie is a Communications officer and Tarjei Haaland is a Climate campaigner at Greenpeace Nordic.
Denmark’s long-term climate and energy targets include:
– 100% renewable energy by 2050
– 100% renewable energy in electricity and heating by 2035
– A complete phase-out of coal by 2030
– 40% reduction of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, relative to 1990 levels, by 2020
– 50% of electricity demands met by wind by 2020 (During December 2013, wind power provided no less than 55% of Denmark’s electricity, a record high)
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