Danes to lead by example: slash 2/5 of carbon emissions by 2020


What you see here are what I consider the two most important ‘mile-stone’ kind of climate news stories that came out of 6 August 2013.

The photo of the dead polar bear speaks for itself — just like the photos from Ethiopia did when they first came up on the world’s tv screens back in 1984. Could this photo become the same kind of wake-up call photo in terms of raising climate awareness?

The other story came from northern Europe where the Danish government is about to launch a new, ambitious climate plan: “We want a 40 percent carbon reduction by 2020 compared to our emissions in 1990,” wrote the Danish minister of climate and energy, Martin Lidegaard, in a chronicle on 6 August 2013, and more importantly, he then introduced a kind of draft for a strategy to how this can be achieved: by involving the entire population in this project, and by coming to terms with the growth paradigm.

The photo of the minister which was chosen for his chronicle is unusual. This is not the standard smiling minister portrait which signals that “everything is under control, and we’re now happily trying to promote this new plan of ours…” It rather looks as if the photographer caught Martin Lidegaard on the bedside as he is waking up, or worrying about something that kept him awake all night.

Reading the chronicle, you realise that it is a good choice of photograph, because the writings of the minister are similarly personal, honest and without fake promotion-pretending that everything is easy and good. Climate change is a very serious question, as the matter of fact: the most serious one humanity has ever faced, and I believe the minister does manage to provide a range of serious answers, which for so long have been missed in the polical arena, not just in Denmark, but all over the world. So this is unusual, and worth pay attention.

Lead by example
The key to a solution, according to Lidegaard, is found in the expression “lead by example”. When you take the first bold steps, others will quickly follow. So even the steps of a mouse can have an effect on all the elephants out there, if only they are bold enough to be noticed. That’s the foundation for his plan.

“Our climate plan will initiate Danish action in all areas where we can take action: both as a nation to lead by example and through active European climate policy that can bring the EU at the forefront internationally,” wrote the Danish climate and energy minister in the national newspaper Politiken where he lists three steps that the Danes will need to take:

“The first step of the doctrine is simply to look the animal in the eyes. We have a climate problem, and we must act now if it is to be solved. The taboo must be broken.

The second step of the doctrine is just as simple: Start with solving the problem where you can. In an ideal world we would aim for a global climate agreement with, for example, the introduction of a global CO2 tax, and all countries would undertake their relative CO2 reduction based on the scientific recommendations. In an ideal world one could also imagine — as many green advocates have suggested — that the United Nations or initially just the Danish government sat down with the best economists and invented a new form of green growth, which could subsequently be implemented in the real world.

But the ideal world does not exist. Changes in society of this caliber and in this speed are not possible to carry out through central political planning.

It happens through a step-by-step development driven in a combination of government regulation, private investment in technology and innovation as well as citizens and consumers daily choices and preferences. Therefore, we can not wait for the grand transformation either at global or national level.

Instead, each of us must act where we can. This applies both in our professional lives and our personal consumption. This applies as citizens and as a country. Each step helps because the many small steps together change both the market and the political thinking.

We cannot individually change the world on our own, but the world will be changed without us. Of course, we politicians have a special and a greater responsibility because we can make it easier for citizens, consumers and businesses to make the right choices, as are the leaders in the private and civil sector.

But everyone can make a difference, and in Denmark we can make a really big difference together. Already the eyes of the world have a positive outlook on the Danish green energy policy which gives respect, and which in these years are being copied in many countries, because we have proven that green energy and healthy economy can be reconciled and even create jobs. An aggressive climate policy will be able to do this too.

The third and perhaps most important step in the new climate doctrine goes: Create ownership of the green transition. Ownership among citizens and ownership among companies.

For forty years, the environmental movement has been warning of the massive problems we are facing, and it has attempted to change the world’s economic policy by correctly pointing out that it was necessary to change it. But with no luck. The Law of Necessity and various doomsday scenarios have not worked either, or not been enough. I think because the vast majority of citizens and politicians have felt that they had to choose between welfare and economic development on the one hand, and the climate and environment on the other. In the end, they — we — selected prosperity and growth.

In the new climate doctrine we must therefore deliver solutions that can convince people and companies that it is in everyone’s interest to implement these changes, and that sustainable development is not in opposition to our welfare. On the contrary. To solve the climate problem is a prerequisite for our continued prosperity, and we can deliver solutions that make it possible for us to live the same or a better life than today.”

I am taking the liberty to translate such a long quote from Martin Lidegaards chronicle because I believe the world needs to hear this kind of talk from a minister, now. Not in two months time when an official translation is produced, if ever. I believe thse are strong words in the climate field, because they come from a politician, a minister, not from a climate activist. And I believe positive notes like that can become a national turning point and have far-reaching consequences internationally. That is, if the Danish ministry eventually remembers to translate its policies to English, and other languages as well.

Because ‘leading by example’ is key. The polar bear is dead, and the bad things with the climate are happening all around us. We don’t need to hear more about that. What we all need is to get up on the positive horse now and find faith in the success of this project — the project which in all its immense impossibility is called to save the Earth from a devastating climate catastrophe.

The Earth is a magnificent place that we must cherish, so that we can look our children in the eye with a clear conscience, and although there will be expenses, investments and constraints in order to reverse the trend and turn the ship, it will be worth the ride. Once the contrete possibilities for action become more clear to us all, it will not be difficult to achieve the ‘critical mass’ which is needed in order to achieve the goals we set.

Involve everyone around you
I wonder, Martin Lidegaard: Have you taken your Prime Minister in on this plan at a serious level? Your minister colleagues? If the government is to lead by example, it will first of all require the Prime Minister to be just as committed as you are. What about talking with the Queen about this as well? Ask your church minister to involve the country’s religious leaders?

You need to discuss with the business minister how to get the Federation of Danish Industries (which is lobbying for cutting the carbon tax, and similar ridiculously short-sighted policies which they say are about protecting or creating jobs but which in reality is only about profit-making) back on the right path. You need to involve and engage every leader you have in your phone’s contact book. There are a few Danish companies who are with you on this, like Danfoss, Grundfos, Vestas and DONG Energy and those who have signed the American Climate Declaration — you’ll need to hold a new meeting with these kind of allies now about how to mobilise the rest of the Danish business world at a serious level. Check or concult Richard Branson’s B Team as well, for inspiration or advice.

Stop drilling for more fossil fuels
As with Obama’s significant climate speech in June, much of what has been said and written now depends on what actions you will follow up with in the coming months, along the lines of the ‘leading by example’ philosophy. Will we, for example, as a consequence of the things you have stated now see policies that put a ban to the insane plans about starting shale gas extraction in Denmark? What consequences will this have for the government’s new North Sea oil adventure?

What will the government specifically do about raising the price of polluting the atmosphere to a decent level so that emissions can be limited and more money can be obtained for the development and deployment of new sustainable forms of energy? The EU carbon quota system has ended up like a sad joke. Removing a tonne of carbon from the atmosphere currently has a price tag of between 42 and 63 euros — the EU charges around five euros per tonne.

Will Denmark — i.e. the government — also have the courage to find and show new ways of doing things politically in this field? Will the Danes at an individual level inspired, taught and be made so much a part in this project that they are willing to pay the price that it costs to do something effective for the climate?

Involve public funded broadcasters
Will the two state-funded public service media houses DR and TV2 become involved in this mega-ambitious project? I will turn that question around and say, that unless you manage to get at least the public service media with you on this 40-percent-CO2-reduction project, it will be an up-hill battle to reach the goal. You must speak about this with your colleague in the government, the Minister of Culture, who makes the decisions in the public service field. Maybe she should have an initial chat with the General Secretaries of DR and TV2 about the new climate plan, its goals and its consequences?

Considering the importance and caliber of this task, would it be too much to ask for them to establish a new ‘transition channel’ with loads of positive news stories, action-oriented advice, in-depth climate reports, creating a feeling that the nation is increasingly in control and ahead when it comes to these questions. “Houston, we have a plan…”

I speak of experience here: The executives of the Danish so-called “public service” broadcasters are not ready to do what ought to be required of them — “public service” understood as mobilising the country to start the transition because this is a security-matter for the whole population of the 2080s and onwards — unless they get a few strong hints, or even some specified regulations, from their superior, you, the government.

icon_small-arrow_RIGHT Here you can see a list of ideas we provided for them in June.

Fundamentally: I would like to thank you warm-heartedly, Martin Lidegaard, for stepping into character now and show both accountability, political courage and stalwart common sense. It has been extremely and mysteriously short in supply in politics and journalism over the past years, both in Denmark and internationally.

With an article like this and with a speech like Barack Obama’s (if you missed it, see it on youtube or read here), we all of sudden can glimpse a little light at the end of what has been a very dark political tunnel ever since the global Copenhagen Climate Flop in December 2009.

It is great news for Denmark, which is already on top of the Top Ten Wind Power Countries Per Capita, according to data from Internet World Stats and wind power capacity data from The Global Wind Energy Council. Time is up to take the most important step of them all: to involve citizens and business world at a broad level and get as many as possible to join the transition with loads of positive energy and a desire to stay in front in the coming years.

icon_small-arrow_DOWN Here is a link to the 93-pages ‘climate action catalogue’ with 78 suggestions from the Danish government:
Virkemiddel-katalog. Potentialer og omkostninger for klimatiltag’ (in Danish language)

icon_small-arrow_RIGHT To stay in the optimistic mood, you could continue reading on this page which I have compiled with various examples of good news

“If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.”

Paul Hawken
Author, journalist, and entrepreneur


oilrig in Legoland
Legoland in Billund, Denmark. Photo by Mik Aidt

A window of opportunity for the Danes

Danish Climate and Energy Minister Martin Lidegaard’s and his government’s new ‘Climate Plan’ is pioneering policy making at an international level. Assuming that Lidegaard has sworn in his governmental colleagues on the project, the full team of ministers including the prime minister, and that they will also strongly support it in the coming months and years, then it is bound to have a magnificent impact on small Denmark, also business-wise in this green tech sector where the country is already relatively strong.

In Australia, where the country’s top politicians are campaigning and almost stepping on each other’s toes to be the first to dismantle the country’s carbon tax and renewable energy funding, Denmark is being looked upon now with great admiration and almost envy among the groups of citizens who desperately are campaigning against the thriving shale gas and coal-madness which parts of the country is witnessing at the moment, financed primarily by powerful Chinese firms.

It means so lot when you can see and hear about someone who are doing what in many places around the world still appears to be the impossible: that a country’s government takes courage to spearhead a movement that everyone around the world eventually will also need to join, sooner or later — which is to come to their senses and put a full stop to the pollution of the atmosphere.

It gives renewed energy to continue the struggle and it delivers new hope that the efforts will one day bear fruit. “If the Danes can, so can we,” I heard an encouraged Australians say here today.

Aging and selfcentered noisemakers
Denmark could even revert to being that nation which the Danes used to take pride in, before their international self-image was thoroughly battered in the days of the Mohammed cartoon crisis. The potential of entering that category of nations where the citizens decided to make a difference at a time when mankind as a whole was facing its biggest challenge ever: having to make a effort for something that we (still) can barely see or feel. Something which will not even benefit ourselves all that much, except of course from some positive health aspects when we get rid of some air pollution. Something which first and foremost is about the long-term perspective — about our morality in relation to our children and future generations — about allowing them to live and live well on the same Earth that we had the privilege to live.

There will always be greedy and self-centered noisy-heads from an aging generation who don’t understand a clue of what Lidegaard and the entire sector of climate scientists around the globe are talking about. Allow them to exhibit their lack of insight, their greed and self-centeredness. Meanwhile the rest of us will be pulling up our sleeves and plunge into this vast common transition-project in a completely new mood of optimism, enthusiasm and ‘yes-we-can’ courage, because we know we have the political top with us and behind us.

In return, the government must also deliver: persistence in relation to getting businesses and citizens involved in the project, stability in relation to creating ongoing initiatives with long-term financing, conversion of investment and a consistent phasing out both the search and the drilling for oil, gas and coal.

The population is ready
My assessment is that large parts of both the business and the citizens are much more ready for this than it might seem. Many people I talk to in the business world have well understood that the clock is ticking and time is up. But everyone has been lacking a start signal and some tools.

As soon as we as individuals are better equipped in terms of more accurate HOW-TO knowledge, we can take our stint for a better climate, and as soon as we begin to believe that our individual efforts actually aren’t pointless in the global perspective, (because we are many doing the same, and because it all about as a nation to be showing the power of the ‘leading by example’ principle), then the conversion from oil-gas-coal to renewables will take off like a wildfire.

And innovation and inventor-enthusiasm will run just as fast. In small scale this development already started in many places around the globe where for example a 15-year invents a flashlight that gets its energy from the heat of the palm holding the flashlight &mndash; and where a 17-year-old invents of the world’s fastest battery-charging technology, such as has happened recently.

A brand new, global feeling
The climate crisis and the looming global climate disaster with melting poles, rising sea levels, dying animal and plant species, agricultural crisis, water conflicts, climate refugees and the whole package could still be turned into something that creates groundbreaking different dynamics and consciousness in business world, forming new communities and new cityscapes, new approaches to what is a good life and what we actually need in order to feel that life is good – and perhaps most importantly, a brand new, global feeling of togetherness.

Will Lidegaard and the Danish government’s climate plan receive support of the necessary ‘critical mass’ in the population? Yes, of course, it is.

Aging media dinosaurs
Initially, the only thing that can delay it may be that the media industry also is occupied by aging journalist- and editor-personages from a generation who see themselves and their small newsrooms as nothing less than the centre of the world and therefore won’t just right jump on the tail of a government plan to save that world which exists right outside their newsroom windows and closed circuits, but which they themselves are too self-absorbed to as much as notice.

But these dinosaur media institutions do not hold the same kind of power they used to anymore. People get their news from many other sources too, and in this case it will especially be the spoken word by word of mouth, which is going to make things start moving. In the same way as happened in the run-up to what has later on been termed The Arab Spring, where a million people all of a sudden gathered at the Tahrir Square in Cairo.


ClimateProgress – 26 June 2013:
Possible And Profitable Action On Climate Change: Danish Minister Praises Obama’s New Plan
“Needless to say, US leadership makes a great difference. Denmark is a mouse compared to the US elephant, but our experience proves that the President’s Plan is indeed possible and can be profitable.” By Martin Lidegaard, guest blogger

Berlingske (national Danish newspaper) – 7 August 2013:
Minister about arctic record thawing: This is an emergency (Article in Danish language)
– What it makes clear to me is that it is high time to act, says climate minister Martin lidegaard about a new report about the climate’s condition. By Michala Rask Mikkelsen, Berlingske News Agency

Information (national Danish newspaper) 8 August 2013:
Lidegaard: On Wednesday the climate debate is resurrected (Article in Danish language)
With three quarters of a year’s delay comes finally the climate minister’s catalogue of measures to ensure Denmark’s target of a 40 percent CO2 reduction by 2020. Under the radar initiatives of individuals, municipalities and businesses bubble — now we need politicians, economists and media also to rediscover the biggest challenge we are facing, says Martin Lidegaard. By Jørgen Steen Nielsen

The Guardian – 7 August 2013:
NOAA report says Arctic sea ice is disappearing at unprecedented pace
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration climate study puts 2012 among the 10 warmest years on record. By Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent


Excerpt of an infographic from the World Bank which illustrates the need to put a robust price on carbon.