Copenhagen walks the talk


Regardless of what might be taking shape behind the closed doors of negotiating rooms, a COP 15 is like a trade fair for the lifestyles of the future. You don’t have to wait for the deal, the message is, to get on with a cleaner, greener life.

This time last year the parties were meeting in Poznan, which, like other cities in Poland, depends on coal for its energy. As the COP opened in Poznan, Polish government was arguing in Brussels that it needed to go on burning large quantities of coal. On the subject of a future low carbon life, Poznan was silent.  

Copenhagen is different. Ever since the oil shock in the seventies, the Danish government has taken energy security very seriously. With no Danish oilfields, it took the route of efficiency. conservation and investment in renewables – so successfully that Denmark became a leader in the design and manufacture of wind technologies.

It has had an impact on every aspect of life: an estimate 40 per cent of Copenhagen’s citizens now cycle to work; the public transport system is comprehensive and efficient and only one third of the city dwellers own a car, according to City Hall. The city has put the cyclists to work, powering the municipal Christmas tree.

Danish low carbon life is on show all over town: outside the Bella Conference Centre, a mobile coffee van dispenses excellent coffee,  powered by wind. The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries has produced a climate cookery book – 12 recipes with a detailed discussion of the carbon footprint of each dish and an explanation of how the total is reached. The starting point was a look at Denmark’s favourite dishes: meatballs with potatoes and melted butter – damaging to the atmosphere as well as the waistline. The recipes the chefs came up with had to have a lower carbon footprint than a typical Danish meal. Minestrone comes out best, followed by mussels. The bad news for meat eaters, as we suspected, is that spring lamb comes out worst.It’s not as simple as food miles: vegetables grown naturally in Kenya can have a lover carbon footpint on a Dutch supermarket shelf than their equivalents from local hothouses. And if you drive to a suburban supermarket in your four by four, rather than cycling or taking the bus, you need to factor in your emissions to the calculation of the carbon cost of your meal. Suddenly being a good cook got a lot more complicated.