Denmark To Address Carbon Emissions With New Universal Fees — Final Negotiations This Fall Could Be Historic

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Finally something is getting real in the big plan of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Denmark by 70% by 2030. The Danish national media outlet reports this week that a majority coalition of the parties in parliament has agreed to introduce a tax on emissions of greenhouse gases for all sectors.

Graph from the Climate Council report showing total GHG emissions in Denmark since 1990
Graph from the Climate Council report showing total GHG emissions in Denmark since 1990

The first major step to reach this point was taken on what I believe will be a historic date in Danish climate politics: On December 6th, 2019, all parties but one agreed on a Climate Law that would force measures to introduce legislation that by 2050 must result in a carbon emission-free country. An astounding 167 parliament seats out of 179 total agreed that any sitting government in the country hence forward will be 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. This is in fact one of the most ambitious climate change targets in the world.

The Danish Climate Council presented a plan in March of this year containing a number of recommendations aimed at achieving the 70% reduction of greenhouse gases by 2030. It made clear that the transition requires both rapid implementations of known clean technologies as well as a long-term strategic effort, like a carbon tax, and that it was going to be hard, very hard. For a full two days, this was all over the news, but then the country closed down due to a certain virus, and nobody talked about it for a very long time.

Photo credit: Jesper Berggreen

The new negotiations that ended late Sunday June 21st took place with Finance Minister Nicolai Wammen, and he was happy to announce, “When this government was elected a year ago, we promised the Danes that we would prioritize the climate and get back into the lead on green policies. We are delivering on that promise today.”

It is now agreed to reduce a portion of Denmark’s carbon emissions by 3.4 million tonnes and the government will negotiate a simplified green tax reform later this year, making all companies pay a tax on the amount of carbon dioxide they emit. The current rules on emissions are painfully outdated.

In recent weeks there were broad talks about a CO2 tax being the most logical way forward, but the government was hesitant, and with good reason. The fear for the loss of domestic jobs, and that companies would move their activities abroad if they felt unfair competition induced by the new tax, was understandable, but eventually the government came around, because, let’s be honest, there simply is no other way.

The 3.4 million tonnes of CO2 emission reduction in a first phase is actually quite a bit more than the 2 million tonnes the government had suggested earlier. To achieve the 70% reduction by 2030 a total of 20 million tonnes must be achieved. One very ambitious way of doing this is to establish two artificial so-called Energy Islands, which will have a staggering wind power capacity of up to 4 gigawatts combined (approximately the same as the country’s current total on- and off-shore capacity), as well as novel energy storage solutions. One will be established off the west coast, and one far east off the coast of the island Bornholm.

Climate minister Dan Jørgensen notes, “With the establishment of the world’s first two energy islands and the world’s largest investment in biofuels, Denmark is taking global climate leadership seriously again.”

The new agreement contains a number of other elements, such as plans to phase out residential as well as industrial oil and gas boilers and replace them with heat pumps and green district heating, combining electricity and solar heating. Get this: at the end of 2017, 296 solar heating plants operated throughout the world, 111 of which were located in Denmark.

Industry as a whole must go through transformative energy efficiency improvements, as well as a complete switch to consumption of energy from renewable sources only. And of course more charging stations for electric cars must be established.

On Sunday evening, two parties left the negotiation for very different reasons. The conservative Nye Borgerlige party left and state on its website, “It will be very expensive for the Danes and it will make no difference to the climate globally.” The new party Frie Grønne left because they believe the deal was not ambitious enough. Sikandar Siddique stated on Twitter, “Frie Grønne refuse to green stamp a government that has clearly not understood the urgent seriousness of the climate crisis. That is why we are leaving the climate negotiations. A slow victory is a defeat.”

Photo credit: Jesper Berggreen

Yes, progress is slow. Yes, it might be too slow. Yes, Denmark is too small. But we must not forget that these are actual real life negotiations between conscientious people. In all the uncertainty of climate disaster, maybe there is a glimmer of hope. Let’s applaud that someone actually wants to solve this problem. Let them lead by example.

However, I have said this many times before, there is no excuse for being late to this party. There is nothing in these plans that we could not have initiated a decade or two ago. So, while it is indeed a good thing that the ball is starting to roll, I would have had more respect for any politician who would have had the guts to push that ball even before the turn of the millennia. Too much time has been wasted already.

Good luck to current politicians, and indeed all of us, on turning this Titanic of a planet around, but let’s not lose our heads and call out heroes prematurely. If we succeed, we should all just pat ourselves on the back and draw a big sigh of relief, and tell our children and grandchildren how bloody close we got to the edge.

Cartoon credit: Olivia Berggreen

Anyway, this fall will in essence be a tough fight between “Team Nicolai” and “Team Dan,” with finances in one corner and climate in the other. Who will win? Both, if they do their homework and listen to their critics.

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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 243 posts and counting. See all posts by Jesper Berggreen