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Danish EU Presidency and the Environment

Submitted by on 10 Mar 2012 – 12:34

Sir Graham Watson MEPBy Sir Graham Watson MEP, Editor, Government Gazette

The first half of this year promises to be a real window of opportunity for the European Union’s green-minded policy makers who want to see the EU take bolder action on climate change and the environment.

The Danish presidency has pledged to make greening Europe one of its top priorities, and together with the boost the European Commission got from its success in Durban last December, 2012 could rival 2008 in terms ambitious European action on climate.

The ‘Great Danes’ are not ones to shy away from big ideas. The new Danish government has published a plan for 100% of Denmark’s total energy supply – so not just electricity, but transport, industry and heating too – to be from renewable sources by 2050.

They also want to make the presidency do business in a more environmentally friendly way. They are going to serve tap water instead of bottled mineral water in meetings, use public transport and joint bus transportation as much as they can, stay in environmentally certified hotels and serve low-carbon food.

Denmark is keen to promote resource efficiency in all policy areas. They want agreement on the draft energy efficiency directive within their term in office, improved recycling rates, reduced water usage and to prevent food and agricultural waste. They have also stated that they want to tighten up on air pollution and the regulation of harmful chemicals.

 

But the transition to a low-carbon society is not just about greenie planet-saving. With the impending recession and rising unemployment, it’s also an economic imperative. The fact is that energy-efficient and zero carbon technology is going to have to be the way forward, and if we don’t build it then the Chinese will.

The Danes understand this. Martin Lidegaard, the Danish climate and energy minister, said recently that “every euro spent on energy efficiency will go to ensuring European jobs. Every euro spent on oil imports will go out of Europe”. And it couldn’t have been made more clear to them when just last month Danish wind giant Vestas, the biggest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, announced it would cut over 2000 jobs to become more competitive with Chinese manufacturers. Some even speculated these jobs would go to China.

 

There is particular reason to hope for an all-important boost to Europe’s renewable energy capacity and an updating of its grid infrastructure. The presidency has said it wants to push the expansion of European energy infrastructure in order to better integrate renewables and secure investment for clean energy.

If we can use EU money to leverage private investment and build an array of long-distance high voltage electricity cables – ‘electricity highways’ as the European Commission likes to call them – then we can link up remote renewable sources of electricity across Europe into a stable supply of energy for all. We can link the wind power in Northern Europe to solar power from Spain, and biomass from Eastern Europe to the hydro in Norway and the Alps.

When the wind stops blowing in Scotland, chances are the sun is shining in Sicily. When the skies cloud over in Greece, the biomass incinerators in Poland, or the dams in Austria, can be fired up.

And if we link up the European grid to solar power from the Sahara, the sky is the limit. In just six hours, the world’s deserts receive enough energy from the sun to power the global population for a year. If even a tiny fraction of this energy could be harnessed, an area of the Saharan desert the size of a small country like Wales could, in theory, power the whole of Europe.

 

Here presents a real opportunity for the EU to demonstrate its worth to European citizens and let’s face it — the European project is not in the best place at the moment. In energy policy, the EU can create green jobs, save money on expensive and insecure fossil fuel imports and help to create a sustainable low-carbon economy all in one go.

I hope that this can be reflected in the conclusions on energy expected at the European Council meeting in March.

Denmark will end its presidency with the Rio +20 conference on sustainable development, the green economy and poverty eradication. This will be another chance for the EU to shine by acting as one, like it did at the climate negotiations in Durban. Let us grab these opportunities to enact lasting change and make Europe once and for all a leader in the low-carbon revolution.