Building a green economy

Denmark’s climate and energy minister, Connie Hedegaard, thinks the financial crisis can help to refocus international efforts on fighting climate change. Sun Xiaohua reports.

Connie Hedegaard, Denmark’s minister for climate and energy, is calling on the international community to act with a sense of urgency at the climate-change negotiation table, even in the face of market turbulence.  In fact, Hedegaard has less of a bleak outlook on the financial crisis than many observers. She said she sees something “encouraging” in the sense of pressing necessity shown by world leaders attempting to bail out the world economy.

“After the breakdown of World Trade Organisation negotiations this summer, there was some worry that the international [community] could not figure out how to cope with big challenges,” Hedegaard said. “However, in September when the financial crisis broke out, you can see that suddenly a lot of forces came together. I think if the sense of urgency comes to the issue of fighting climate change, it is possible for the world to come together to find a solution.”  

Some environmentalists worry that the new economic climate will give politicians an excuse for inaction in addressing global warming. Hedegaard agreed that this is a risk. “Right now, a lot of political attention is put into how to address the current crisis.” But she also believes the financial crisis can provide an opportunity to rebuild a more environmentally sustainable financial system.  

“When the world looks at how to handle the financial crisis, it has to look for more sustainable growth patterns,” Hedegaard said. “Investments in energy-efficient solutions and other green technologies are the investments that will pay off very fast. And it will also create large employment opportunity. It is a win-win solution.”  

She is not alone in her point of view. United Nations secretary general Ban Ki-Moon, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia, Donald Tusk, prime minister of Poland, and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, prime minister of Denmark, recently co-authored an article in the International Herald Tribune, saying: “The answer is to find common solutions to the grave challenges facing us. When it comes to two of the most serious — the financial crisis and climate change — that answer is the green economy.” The article cites the UN Environment Program, which estimates that global investment in zero-carbon energy generation will reach US$1.9 trillion by 2020 — a significant portion of global GDP. Nearly two million people around the world are employed in renewable energy industries, half of them in China. In Germany, green technology is expected to account for 16% of manufacturing output by 2030, employing more people than the automobile industry. 

Next month the Polish city of Poznan will play host to a meeting of environment ministers seeking to chart a long-term vision of cooperative action on climate change after 2012, when the Kyoto Protocol expires. The Poznan meeting aims to set the stage for a grand bargain in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December 2009.    

“What is at stake for a successful deal to be made in Copenhagen next year is a question of whether the world will be able to handle the climate change in due time, or will we miss this opportunity,” Hedegaard said. “Science tells the world that it has only 10 to 15 years left to stabilise global emissions. So time is running out. That is why the deadline is set to Copenhagen in 2009. The window of opportunity is open, but very short. We must grab it. Otherwise, the poorest people and countries will be most affected by climate change.”  

With this in mind, Hedegaard wants to see the negotiations and final agreement guided by scientific necessity, though she admitted this will be “extremely complicated” and will take huge political courage from nations, especially China, India, Brazil, South Africa , Japan, Russia and the United States.  

In the case of the US, she said that despite president-elect Barack Obama’s commitment to new international engagement on climate change, there are still many obstacles. “I am not so naive as to believe it will be easy when it comes to the US,” Hedegaard said. In 1997, Al Gore, then vice president, agreed to the Kyoto Protocol; it was the Senate that rejected the treaty. "Having a new administration does not mean the White House will change everything. It also depends on their Congress, their Senate. The Senate has not been changed that much. Obama will still be dependent on whether he can have American legislation on climate passing through Congress.” 

Hedegaard is also committed to working with another large greenhouse-gas emitter that does not have binding emissions reduction targets — China. This is the reason behind her recent visit to the country, where she attended a climate-change conference, jointly organised by the Chinese government and the UN. There she met with senior Chinese officials and the business community, as well as promoting Danish green technologies. One outcome of her meetings was that Li Xiaolin, chief executive officer at China Power International Development, agreed to head a senior Chinese delegation of business leaders from different sectors of the nation’s industries to attend the World Business Summit on Climate Change in Copenhagen in May 2009. 

Another success was in Zhejiang, a wealthy province in eastern China, which will consider importing green technologies from Denmark, including wind and biomass power generation equipment and energy efficient building technology. “Zhejiang wants to address some of its energy issues, which can fit well with Danish priorities,” Hedegaard said.


Sun Xiaohua is a senior journalist at China Daily, China’s only national English-language newspaper. She has reported environmental issues for many years, including attending several conferences of parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and travelling to the Arctic and Tibet to report on climate-change issues. 

Homepage photo by NN-