Denmark’s global climate leadership masks weakened national ambitions

The launch of the P4G initiative at the UN last month reasserts Denmark's international leadership in fighting climate change and championing sustainability. But at home, Denmark's climate ambitions are starting to falter

On September 22, US President Donald Trump threatened to annihilate North Korea in a speech at the UN General Assembly. While a menace, North Korea isn’t the greatest risk to humanity – that title can comfortably be taken by climate change. Trump remains unconvinced, however, and has already pulled the US out of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Thankfully, he and the Syrian government are alone in their position on climate change. And elsewhere in the UN headquarters, on the same day as Trump’s bombastic speech, a new initiative was launched to combat climate change – Partnering for Green Growth and the Global Goals 2030 (P4G).

The goal of the initiative is to create partnerships between governments, cities, businesses and the financial sector to drive green growth. So far, members include Denmark, Chile, Ethiopia, Kenya, Korea, Mexico and Vietnam.

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“The P4G will focus on key economic systems that, if transformed, will drive green, inclusive and equitable growth,” the organisation states. “Key economic systems have been identified where opportunities and impacts are greatest such as land-use/agriculture, energy, cities, manufacturing, water and circular economy. Commitments to develop market conditions combined with innovation and new business models will drive the green transition and have a positive impact on the environment.”

Taking the lead
P4G hopes to address the commitments made in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as well as the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. These global goals include ambitions to eradicate poverty and hunger, to reduce inequality and increase gender equality, as well as to tackle climate change and make cities more sustainable.

Speaking to Berlingske newspaper after the announcement, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen argued that there was a need to show leadership following the election of climate-sceptic Trump.

“Trump is missing out on American leadership, for this is also in the interest of the US, since the air we breathe knows no border limits – like climate change at large,” said Rasmussen.

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“And we see a long list of states – like California and Texas – wanting to do something different on the climate issue.”

Despite Trump’s declared intention to exit the Paris agreement, a number of US cities have stated their continued commitment to tackling climate change. New York, San Francisco and Houston are all members of the global C40 network of megacities that are collaborating to tackle climate change and that support P4G. Other cities in the network include Nairobi, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo.

Over the coming months, partner countries and cities will select a number of specific challenges that they want to address. P4G will then facilitate collaborations with businesses or other stakeholders that can help address those challenges.

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A number of big Danish businesses have announced their support, including wind energy giant Vestas and insulation manufacturer Rockwool. They are joined by PensionDanmark, which controls assets worth 224 billion kroner.

“We see a great opportunity for us and for Danish businesses in addressing climate change and the Global Goals,” PensionDanmark CEO Torben Möger Pedersen told Information newspaper.

“Danish businesses are already strong competitors in areas where solutions are in demand, while we as investors can offer financing for projects around the world. That is the economic dimension. But we and other participating Danish businesses also feel a duty to make a contribution toward meeting the goals.”

Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen, sixth from right, at the launch of P4G in New York.

Danish pump manufacturer Grundfos also supports the initiative, and hopes to help countries that face issues with clean water and sanitation.

“We know investments in water infrastructure need to triple to reach the universal goals by 2030,” Grundfos Group President Mads Nipper stated in a press release. “We also know that it is not very likely to happen, so we need to think differently. We must find new, sustainable business models to close the investment gap between investors on one side and water utilities in water-stressed developing countries on the other.”

Devil is in the detail
P4G isn’t the first international organisation to be established to tackle climate change through sustainable and green economic development. In 2011, the Danish government launched the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF), which also brought together national governments – including South Korea and Mexico – and industry to promote green growth.

But while 3GF was a Danish-led initiative, P4G benefits from being co-owned by its different partners, argues Jarl Krausing, international director at Danish green think tank Concito.

“This design carries a lot more legitimacy, and offers reason to believe that when partner countries sign up, they commit themselves, which means you can put pressure on them to prove they are committed,” Krausing explains.

Partnerships like these are vital if the Paris Agreement and the Global Goals are going to be reached.

“You need large innovative partnerships that bring together the coalition of the committed, in order to leverage financing and disseminate the necessary technology and solutions,” Krausing says.

The Danish government has taken the lead on the financing for P4G, donating 25 million kroner a year to incubate and scale the different partnerships that are formed. Early next year, they will also establish a Sustainable Development Goals Fund that is expected to raise around 30 billion kroner in investment capital.

“What we need are structures and platforms that turn ideas and efforts into real activities. There are so many great ideas, but they often fail to take off because they lack the seed financing to lure the right partners. But the devil is in the detail. Can they now make sure that institutional investors, pension funds and the financial sector are sitting at the table and working in partnership so that investment-grade partnerships and projects result? Can they convince the financial sector that this is of sufficient quality?”

Scaled-back ambitions
While co-owned, Denmark’s leadership on P4G cements Denmark’s reputation as a global leader in sustainable development. However, this reputation masks the fact that the right-wing Danish government has quietly weakened Denmark’s own climate ambitions in recent years.

This apparent hypocrisy was not lost on the far left Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten). On Facebook, climate spokesperson MP Maria Gjerding pointed out that Rasmussen’s government lowered Denmark’s ambition for reducing CO2 emissions by 2020 from 40 percent to 37 percent, increased CO2 emissions in agriculture, introduced cuts to rail operator DSB, and struck a deal that will result in increased oil and gas production in the North Sea.

“It’s great to bring together countries and American cities against Trump’s catastrophic direction. But the hypocrisy is obvious,” Gjerding wrote.

“All in all, the Løkke government has been black as coal without a hint of ambition or responsibility for the climate. The consequence will be that Denmark’s CO2 will rise again after many years of reductions.”

Krausing agrees.

“The government is good at telling others internationally what to do, and supporting others in what to do, while taking the foot off the pedal at home. That’s a huge paradox. Ultimately, at Concito we think P4G is a great initiative on a global platform. But we want a similar effort at home – a coalition of Danish leaders that can build a green transition. There is no indication that this will happen,” says Krausing, pointing out that the government’s decision to lower car registration taxes missed an opportunity to incentivise electric cars.

“What has served us well in Denmark is taking an early-mover position, where we decided to subsidise the development of new tech for the future. We did that for 30 years and we are now in a position to reap all the fruits – and we are. So it’s a mystery to many people that the government wouldn’t recognise that this is an opportunity that we can build on further – to build the next generation of technologies. There is a great disparity between what the government is trying to do in the world and its unsatisfactory effort and level of ambition here at home.” M

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By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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