Opinion | Green opportunities in disguise

They say that a crisis is nothing but an opportunity in disguise. If thatÂ’s true, then weÂ’ve never had a better opportunity to make EuropeÂ’s economy green than we do right now. The prospect of a global climate policy vacuum until 2020 and the EUÂ’s economic crisis makes it more relevant than ever for Denmark and the EU to step up their efforts to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

The good news out of last yearÂ’s Durban climate conference was that the EU, Norway and Switzerland agreed to extend the deadline for the Kyoto protocol, and China, India and the US accepted a timeline for entering into a global, legally binding commitment to reduce atmospheric greenhouse gases. The bad news was that the timeline gives the worldÂ’s biggest polluters another nine years to agree on how much they should each cut their greenhouse gas emissions. Given the rapid pace of climate change, that is far too much time.


Global CO2 emissions have never been at a higher level than they are right now, and they continue to increase at an accelerating rate. The International Energy Agency warns that if we don’t break the emissions curve before 2017, the continued reliance on existing fossil fuel technology will rob us of any chance we have to keep global temperature increases under 2° C. This is significant since it means it will probably push us past what climate experts call the ‘tipping point’, resulting in self-perpetuating climate change that would spell the end for any hopes we have of being able to limit global warming.


At the same time as the EU’s leaders are grappling with a spiralling climate crisis, they also must deal with rising unemployment, impending national bankruptcies and the potential that the Eurozone could come apart. With global prices of energy and natural resources expected to continue their rise – due in part to expanding middle classes, especially in Asia, hungry for the same consumer opportunities we in the West enjoy – decision makers can no longer solve our economic woes with fiscal discipline or by stimulating private consumption.


EuropeÂ’s economic motor needs a complete overhaul and restart using new types of fuel. The climate crisis and the economic crisis must be addressed together by turning them into green opportunities through ambitious climate policies at the European, national, regional and local level, and through altered behaviour by businesses and consumers.


One of the biggest challenges for Denmark during its term as EU president will be to get ambitious and comprehensive European climate efforts on track. Not because it would ensure a significant reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions, but because we need to show ourselves and the world that a green revolution is more than just possible – it is, in fact, the recipe for creating permanent economic progress and employment, as well as improving the quality of life for Europeans.


The governmentÂ’s proposed energy plan is a good start. It aims to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 35 percent in 2020 (compared with 1990 levels) by increasing the renewablesÂ’ share of total energy use to 36 percent. The next step is to secure the broadest possible majority in parliament. Unfortunately, the opposition parties Venstre and Konservative have chosen to focus on the cost of the investment rather than the planÂ’s potential benefits to the climate, commerce and employment.


Also on the government’s agenda this year is a climate law that – inspired by similar laws in Britain – would obligate the state to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 and to mandate annual evaluations of initiatives to limit climate change. The biggest challenge here will be to come up with ways that non-quota sectors like housing, outside district heating networks, transport and agriculture can effectively contribute to reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.


Another of the significant challenges facing the government will be to use its position as EU president to get the unionÂ’s emissions trading scheme back on track and to get prices back up to a level that make it worthwhile to cut emissions. In the short term, this can be accomplished by increasing the EUÂ’s reduction targets to 30 percent by 2020, or through political decisions to remove quotas from the system. In the longer term, it will be necessary to adopt a significant reduction of quotas in the system after 2020. Also important is to set ambitious climate goals in areas such as a reformed EU common agricultural policy, the unionÂ’s budget, and its roadmaps for energy production, energy efficiency and resource efficiency.


Denmark and the EU canÂ’t fix the climate alone, but it is critical that the green revolution gets back on track in 2012. The time for seizing the green opportunity is now.


The author is the head of communications for Concito – Denmark’s green think tank