Climate change is happening.
A major contributor to climate change is the emission of Green House Gases (GHG) due to the burning of fossil fuels. An overhaul to our current power generation and fuel infrastructure is a major hurdle in reducing our GHG emissions, and by extension, our dependence on fossil fuels.
As a nation, what can we do? I know that I have been providing ideas with my previous blogs. But are there any examples of countries that we as Canadians can use as a model?
Here are some stats to think about (All energy usage stats are annual per person approximations).
Canada ranks 4th at 16000 kWh
US ranks 11th at 12700 kWh
Japan ranks 23rd at 7700 kWh
Russia ranks 31st at 7000 kWh
Denmark ranks 39th at 6300 kWh
Interesting to note… Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Sweden are commonly called Scandinavia. All 4 countries have a common historical heritage, and because of it have similar cultures. As well, these countries have similar climates and population sizes.
Norway ranks 2nd at 27700 kWh
Finland ranks 3rd at 16600 kWh
Sweden ranks 7th at 15000 kWh
Why is Denmark so special?
Before I answer that, there are a couple things that need to be taken into account when comparing Denmark to a larger and more populous country. First, Denmark is a small nation geographically – roughly the size of New Brunswick – with a population of about 6 million. Still, the Danes’ accomplishments are startling.
How it all began:
In 1973, the organization of Arab oil producing countries began the infamous “oil embargo” – any country that supported Israel in the war would stop receiving shipments of oil. This meant North America, Japan and most of Europe received less oil.
The effect was devastating – soaring oil prices set off a worldwide recession. Most of the effected countries quickly initiated plans to conserve energy: The US lowered the speed limit and started programs like “turn off the lights at night”.
But when the crisis ended, most nations dropped the energy saving programs and went back to their old fuel burning ways.
Denmark was different: being more than 90% (some sources claim as high as 99%) dependent on foreign oil, it was particularly badly hurt by the oil embargo. Determined to never again be at the mercy of their oil suppliers, the Danes kept conserving and worked to produce their own energy.
In 1976 the Danish public got behind an ambitious (and expensive) program to become entirely energy-independent, and, with the development of new, clean energy systems, to get out of the foreign oil business completely. Some of the steps taken:
- strict energy-efficiency standards were placed on all buildings; resulting new homes are twice as energy-efficient as their pre-embargo counterparts.
- gas and automobiles were heavily taxed (today new cars are taxed at more than 105% of the cost of the car). Today a third of commuters travel by bike, using an extensive network of well-marked bike lanes.
- “district heating systems” were implemented throughout the country, reusing normally wasted heat produced by biomass power plants by piping it directly into homes and offices. This implementation improved energy efficiency by 40% – 90%. Today more than 60% of Danish homes are heated this way.
- the government invested heavily in clean and renewable energy systems, especially wind power. Today 21% of Denmark’s energy production comes from wind farms. On top of that, they lead the world in wind power technology – Danish companies manufacture 40% of the world’s supply of wind turbines, having had extensive research programs for decades. The industry has created approximately 25 thousand jobs, employing 1% of Denmark’s workforce.
- Recycling rates are extremely high in Denmark, compared to the United States and Canada. About 5% of garbage winds up in landfills in Denmark compared to 54% in the US and 73% in Canada (one site on Canadian figures claimed as high as 85%).
- Rebate campaigns helped people buy more energy efficient- and therefore more expensive- home appliances. Today more than 95% of new appliances bought in Denmark have an “A” efficiency rating
- Denmark started drilling for – and finding- more oil and natural gas within their own waters in the north sea (these efforts have long been opposed by environmentalists.
- in 2005 the government committed 1billion dollars to develop and integrate better solar, tidal, and fuel cell technology.
Remember that in 1973 Denmark was approximately 90% dependant on foreign oil?
Today Denmark produces more oil than it uses, and has become an oil exporter. They also produce enough energy to cover all their own needs and sell the extra to other countries, the only European nation to do so.
Their energy conservation programs have been so successful that over the last 40 years even with extensive modernization and an increase in population, their annual energy budget has remained virtually unchanged (1% growth per year on average).
Although Denmark has one of the highest taxes in the world, it also has one of the highest standards of living. AND Danish polls show that a majority of Danes would pay even higher taxes to remain sufficient and live free of fossil fuel dependence
Denmark hopes to provide 52% of energy needs by 2020, and 75% of their energy needs with wind farms by 2025.
“We aim to make Denmark independent of oil, gas, and coal in the long term, and strengthen our position as a world leader in clean energy” – Former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen
“It need not be dull, it need not to be boring, and we don’t have to give up our lifestyle, we just have to be smarter about how we live” – Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister of climate and energy.
I feel that Denmark has provided an excellent example of how a developed nation, with the support of the people, can make positive changes to lessen the impact of climate change. I feel that Denmark also shows that we cannot be thinking of short term fixes to the climate change issue. The Danish system took nearly 20 years to overhaul, but the people are committed to being carbon negative.
It is for the above reasons and changes Denmark has made that I feel it is special.
Let’s strive to be more like Denmark!