The Rule Of Climate Law — Denmark Shows How It’s Done

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Binding climate legislation is now agreed upon among the vast majority of the Danish parliament. An astounding 167 seats out of 179 total are in agreement that any sitting government in the country is now obliged to work actively towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 70% in 2030 against the 1990 benchmark, and to ultimately reach net zero in 2050.

The sun rises on a country that puts climate first, on paper…

Historic Deal

Sitting minister of climate Dan Jørgensen (Socialdemokratiet) tweeted a photo of all involved parties shortly after the deal was a reality:

“We got a deal!” he states, and there is good reason for him to be thrilled about this. According to, Dan Jørgensen says:

“I am, of course, extremely happy and proud that we have succeeded in creating a climate law. It is a broad law. 167 of the parliamentary mandates are behind it. And I would like to take this opportunity to say thank you to all parties.”

And he reaffirms:

“This has been difficult negotiations. This means that future governments will also be tied to the 70% target in 2030.”

The climate act itself will have binding targets,and the issue of sub-targets has been a contentious issue in the negotiations. The minister states that there will be follow-ups every year to ensure that the emission curbing is on track. A sub-target for 2025 will be set, and Dan Jørgensen adds:

“We have all agreed to listen to what the Climate Council recommend. Against this background, a majority in the parliament must decide where a sub-target should be.”

In fact, from now on, any sitting government will be audited once a year on whether actual GHG emission reduction actions are effective. If not so, the law has a duty of action clause that obliges immediate action. This is, to my knowledge, a first in any democratic form of government.

The Climate Council has been very thorough in its recommendations over the years, but sometimes they have been utterly ignored, like when it suggested the radical means to promote electrification of the transport sector by stating that a minimum of 500,000 EVs had to be rolling on Danish roads by 2030 to get anywhere near an emission-free society by 2050. Well, in order to not risking to break the new climate law, I guess politicians better start listening to the experts.

Legislation Intentions

The main points of the law are as follows:

  • The law states that Denmark will deliver a 70% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2030. This sets out the climate ambition.
  • To ensure that the goal is achieved, a sub-target must be set by 2025. This has been a key requirement of several parties in the last part of the negotiations.
  • The 2025 target will be a proposal of the Danish Climate Council and it will set off a climate action plan that the government will negotiate in parliament spring 2020.
  • The law introduces an annual follow-up from the Climate Council on whether the government sitting at all times is on the right track with the policy.
  • The law introduces a principle that one must not set a lower target than what has already been achieved.
  • Reductions in GHG emissions must take place in Danish domain. Reduction methods must refrain from using CO2 quotas as a way to reach the goal.
  • In case the reductions should be a few points short in reaching the 70% target in the end, the parties have introduced a last resort clause that opens the possibility of the parties to meet again and find alternative solutions — such as CO2 quotas — if necessary to achieve the goal.

Small Country With Huge Ambitions

Yes I know, Denmark is such a small country (with just under 6 million citizens) that all this could seem equivalent to a major American city going net zero on emissions. Even a single Chinese executive order could make a multi-million citizen city go net zero in a few months without anybody noticing. But that’s not the point. The point is that a self-sustained democracy with all its bureaucracy and inherent flaws has internally agreed to end the age of fossil fuels. Not by buying quotas abroad, but by actually changing everything in the system itself.

Think about it. All sectors will come into play now. I may be naive, but I sincerely believe that when something like a national climate law is in effect, regional quarrels about who should do what just stops, and is replaced by cooperation about who does what and when. Like any other national law. We don’t quarrel about speed limits regionally, or VAT, or general taxes, or health care, or… and the list goes on, now including GHG emissions. This is huge.

If for nothing else, no matter if it’s all too late or not, this legislation will stop the wasting of time. I can’t wait to see the first proposal from the Climate Council, and the international communities reactions to it. First of all, I’m sure Dan Jørgensen will be proud to announce this move at the COP25 in Madrid.

Featured photos by the author.

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Jesper Berggreen

Jesper had his perspective on the world expanded vastly after having attended primary school in rural Africa in the early 1980s. And while educated a computer programmer and laboratory technician, working with computers and lab-robots at the institute of forensic medicine in Aarhus, Denmark, he never forgets what life is like having nothing. Thus it became obvious for him that technological advancement is necessary for the prosperity of all humankind, sharing this one vessel we call planet earth. However, technology has to be smart, clean, sustainable, widely accessible, and democratic in order to change the world for the better. Writing about clean energy, electric transportation, energy poverty, and related issues, he gets the message through to anyone who wants to know better. Jesper is founder of and a long-term investor in Tesla, Ørsted, and Vestas.

Jesper Berggreen has 237 posts and counting. See all posts by Jesper Berggreen