Was it only last week we wrote about the Dogger Bank Wind Farm and how it will transform the fossil fuel industry in the North Sea? Here it is only a few days later and Denmark has just announced an end to all oil and gas exploration in the North Sea. According to the Washington Post, the Danish Parliament voted on December 3 to end offshore gas and oil extraction, which had started in 1972 and made the country the largest producer in the European Union. The Danish government says it is “now putting an end to the fossil fuel era.”
All that glitters is not gold and there are aspects of the announcement that clean energy advocates will find unpleasant. For instance, Denmark’s timeline for ending all oil and gas activities in the area is 2050. That’s far too long by any analysis, but there is good news. The country has cancelled the latest scheduled round of new leases in the North Sea, so there will be no new wells drilled in Danish waters. In October, Total withdrew from the latest bidding round, which left only one company interested in new leasing rights — Ardent Oil. Given the rapidly falling cost of renewables, it is likely the existing wells will simply prove unprofitable and be abandoned long before 2050 rolls around.
Greenpeace called the announcement “a landmark decision toward the necessary phase-out of fossil fuels.” Helene Hagel of Greenpeace Denmark added, “This is a huge victory for the climate movement.” She went on to say that wealthy Denmark has “a moral obligation to end the search for new oil to send a clear signal that the world can and must act to meet the Paris Agreement and mitigate the climate crisis.”
The new government policy has the backing of several Danish political parties, including those on the left and the center-right opposition, which suggests it is unlikely to be reversed by politicians in the future. “It is incredibly important that we now have a broad majority behind the agreement, so that there is no longer any doubt about the possibilities and conditions in the North Sea,” said Climate Minister Dan Joergensen, a Social Democrat.
According to official figures, the new policy will lead to an estimated economic loss for Denmark of 13 billion kroner ($2.1 billion). The fossil fuel industry has earned more than $81.5 billion for the country’s economy over the past 5 decades. But money isn’t everything. In June, the Danish Council on Climate Change, an independent body that advises the government, recommended ending any future exploration in the North Sea. It said at that time that a continuation of exploration would hurt the country’s position as a leader in the quest to address climate change and adhere to the commitments it made to the other nations of the world in Paris in 2015.
So file this under “half a loaf is better than none.” Political action usually trails well behind market forces and public sentiment. If the Danish government is now ready to take global warming seriously, that is a benefit for us all and an indication of how swiftly the transition away from fossil fuels is happening.
[As an aside, Netflix now offers a fictional look inside the Danish government and what it takes to form and maintain ruling coalitions in a series entitled Borgen. Worth watching if you are seeking new viewing options during the long dark winter ahead.]