Denmark’s opposition parties call out empty biodiversity promises

Denmark’s government promised a nature and biodiversity law almost two years ago, but has still presented no measures in this area. Now, EU targets are outstripping Denmark’s once pioneering promises.

Photo: Malene Thyssen

Six parties have backed a proposal that the government ensures 10 percent of Denmark’s land area is designated as strictly protected nature.

“The problem is that today we have no strictly protected nature, and the government has no ambitions to achieve this,” chairman of supporting party SF, Pia Olsen Dyhr, told Ritzau on Thursday. The proposal is also backed by Liberal Alliance, Konservative, Radikale, Enhedslisten og Alternativet.

In 2022, research by the Biodiversity Council found that just 2.3 percent of Danish land area was designated as protected, and none as strictly protected.

Protected areas benefit the overall health of the environment, and can serve many different purposes, such as protecting wild game resources or preserving natural beauty. In strictly protected areas, natural processes must be left essentially undisturbed to safeguard biodiversity and ecosystems.

The average protected land area per EU state is 18 percent, according to the EU’s Natura 2000 guidelines.

But in 2021, the EU announced its Biodiversity Strategy, setting down a target to expand those areas to 30 percent of the EU’s land and sea, and put a third of these areas, 10 percent of the total, under strict protection.

The strategy requires all EU member states, including Denmark, to register pledges to achieve these, and other, environmental goals.

When the current Danish government was elected in 2022, its founding mandate promised a “comprehensive law” for nature and biodiversity.

In April 2023, Denmark registered for the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy, pledging – among other things – to plant 250,000 hectares of new forested land, more than four times the total land area of Bornholm.

But in 2024, the government still has no active or future policies in place to increase protected nature areas. 

“No measures have been presented in this area,” says Dyhr.

Meanwhile, 60.1 percent of Denmark’s land area is cultivated agricultural land – far above the EU average where, across the whole bloc, 37.8 percent of the land area is agricultural. 

By contrast, in neighbouring Norway it’s just 3.5 percent, according to Danmarks Statistik.

This week, Climate Minister Lars Aagard suggested that the 250,000 hectares of new woodland could “kill two birds with one stone” – cut the agricultural sector’s emissions, while absorbing excess fertiliser from the soil – if it was planted on farmland.

SF also suggests that Denmark could hit its 30 and 10 percent targets if farmland took up a little less space, and state-owned forests were designated as strictly protected nature.

“In Denmark, we have a lot of cultivated land for agricultural production, and there we must have an honest discussion about the fact that if you take something out of operation and use it for nature, it can also benefit the climate,” said Dyr.

The leader of Radikale Martin Lidegaard likewise sees the rewilding of farmland as a solution.

“Our nature must be set free now – and this especially requires a rethinking of the way we arrange our agriculture and agricultural support,” he said.

While the Environment Minister Magnus Heunicke welcomed the proposal from the six parties, he suggested that the government is already on the case.

Pointing to the government-led ‘green tripartite’, which is currently negotiating new taxation rules for the agriculture sector, he said: “We have asked [them] to come up with recommendations for what a future law on nature and biodiversity might look like.”

He also dredged up the government’s pledge from 2022: “In addition, we also stated in the government foundation that five more areas can be designated where nature national parks can be established.”

The leader of Alternativet Franciska Rosenkilde is unconvinced, but believes pressuring the government can yield results.

“The government is extremely hesitant when it comes to securing climate, environment and nature, so it is therefore important that we can push it together,” she said.