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6 Reasons why EU & Nordic collaboration matter in the battle against climate change
- by Mikkel Bruun
The European Green Deal is a new path and strategy for sustainable change to mitigate climate change. Introduced in December 2019 by the European Commission, the goal is to set EU’s greenhouse gas emission reductions target for 2030 to at least 50%, compared with 1990 levels. The plan is to review existing laws on its climate merits, and also introduce new legislation on circular economy, building renovation, biodiversity, farming and innovation. This reduction target has recently been elevated to at least 55%
According to Ursula Ven Der Leyen, President of the European Commission, one trillion euros will be spend on the transition towards zero pollution, affordable energy, smart transport and quality food, amounting to a Climate Neutral EU by 2050.
The Nordic countries are a key EU partner in this transition. But how and in which areas do we collaborate? And how do we align the Nordic policies and activities with EU goals, to prevail in the fight against climate change? Here are 6 bids from a Danish workshop.
Virtual meeting about tangible challenges.
November 5th, 2020, Samso Energy Academy – a Living Green Laboratory on the island in the middle of Denmark – was the venue for a workshop about the Green Deal and its impact on the Nordic countries. Moderator was Mr. Soren Hermansen, Director of the Energy Academy.
Speakers included Chair of the Danish European Movement, Ms. Stine Bosse, and Mr. Steen Gade, Board Member and co-founder of the organization Nyt Europa.
Also present at the (virtual) meeting were Mr. Gunnar Olesen from Inforse Europa in the role as a “critical observer” as well as Ms. Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen, Secretary General for the Danish Folk High Schools plus a dozen active private participants.
Soren Hermansen opened the discussion with the open question of how we get politics to work for the climate and the green transition. He stressed the need for local co-ownership and the dynamics of EU being a driver for green transition, including the recent citizen energy communities (CECs) and also he put topics like local action, clean energy and legislation on the table.
1.We are on the right path.
Stine Bosse stressed that we do have a common challenge in transitioning from short-sighted (personal) issues, to long term solutions to a common problem, but also, that we are moving in the right direction with the Paris agreement and specifically with the Danish Climate Agreement. “EU has been instrumental in demanding green solutions in return for economic aid to the southern regions, where we can gain much in terms of reducing the carbon footprint for less money, by the way. The Nordic countries should contribute to this” she said.
Steen Gade stressed the need to embrace the European values, also in the context of climate change. In a Nordic context, he referred to the work with climate legislation, where everybody, including Iceland and Norway, have committed to common goals. He sees the Nordic countries as a possible incubator for climate mitigation. And he sees the European Green Deal as an opportunity for the Nordic countries to co-create with the EU a “legislation-mix”, which is a way to implement new instruments, that will abide to laws, but also help create systemic change in technology, economy, education and other areas. “We have a number of opportunities, which we have not had before”, he said.
2. EU provides continuity
Gunnar Olesen related that although Inforse originally was quite sceptical when it came to EU and how they tackled climate change, they have realized that EU represents a certain continuity, when it comes to legislations and demands for green solutions on a national level. He stressed how EU has played a major role in keeping member states on track when it comes to eco-design, energy efficiency and green labelling. In the Nordic countries we see a need to collaborate more on climate policies like taxes, road pricing and clean energy. If more countries in an area moves towards greener solutions, it can create a common pay-off. Examples include transportation, fuels and production of commodities like car batteries, which could be produced locally, using sustainable energy sources, in stead of coal, as they do in China. “The Nordic countries should collaborate more on climate solutions, also in a more visible and public way”, he said.
3. We need to find common grounds and align the Green Transition
Stine Bosse: “We need to overcome obstacles like national hesitation to embrace EU and even myths about how we in Denmark and in the Nordic countries are way ahead in many areas. I would argue that Germany certainly is more of a leader in the green transition”.
Steen: “We need to collaborate more on the EU legislation in the Nordics, which also applies to Norway and Iceland. I believe that the Nordic countries have to think out of the box and face a larger agenda. To do this we have to align our green transition and we do have each our national strengths: Sweden with biofuel, Finland with waste management, Norway with electricity and Denmark with, well Cycling. But now, with the Green Deal, we have to establish 1/3 of the charging stations, needed to support the transition to electric cars by 2025. So EU will be instrumental in this transition”.
4. EU can drive Green Equality
Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen raised the question of how the green transition could affect the social equality across Europe, so the poorer countries have to pay. This include taxes on CO2 emissions and taxes on (green) work. Peggy Friis asked about best cases and catalogues for a common European approach to reach CO2 reductions.
Soren: “This speaks to the question of what works; systemic tax reforms, taxes on emissions or economic incentives for innovation and developments. There is an ongoing discussion about who should pay for pollution and how do we ensure long-lasting change”?
Gunnar: “There are instruments in place, like the “Green Check” that compensates the poorer, so the polluter ends up paying. If we introduce a flat co2 tax, while reducing income taxes, it would reduce inequality. Right now, it is way to cheap to fly and we should look to Sweden that succeeded with reducing air travel in 2018/19. We should move to trains for transportation within Europe”, he said.
Stine: We have the opportunity to do good by prioritizing the southern regions of Europe. We have to disclose failures, as well as successes, so we can improve our joint efforts. I think it would be timely if politicians could be pushed to address also the problematic areas. An Energy Union where we pool funds and allocate investments where they matter, makes sense.”
Steen: Equality is an integral part of the EU policy. For example, we need to compensate former coal-workers in Poland, as their power plants are being replaced by green technology. We have seen that in Denmark in transitions from one industry to another, like the ship building industry to the windmill industry.
5. EU can help us involve communities
Participant Malene Lunden raised the issue of communicating the Green Deal, so the voters and citizens of the Nordic countries can appreciate their role in the transition.
Steen: “Some of our green taxes have to be used in a visible way so new taxes and policies make sense to people. There are low-hanging fruits like renovation of houses and buildings, green transport, agriculture, but we need to collaborate with the grass roots, locally and internationally.
Soren:” The Energy Academy is working on a Nordic pilot for sustainable education and we are also working with the Danish Folk High Schools on their role in climate change mitigation and also we now see the “Citizen energy communities” being introduced as directives for the member states. The young people are demanding action now, not later. There is a basic need for clear actions and messaging, that are not clouded by the immediate agendas, but has a long-term vision. Right now we are experiencing a conflict of community-driven projects and governmental projects, like the wind energy projects near the island of Bornholm, where local investors absurdly cannot get permission to establish a small wind farm, because the Danish State want’s to establish a bigger wind farm at a later stage”.
Stine: “EU depends on dialogue. And actually, we are working on introducing an international “Folkemøde” – Festival of Europe – in the municipality of Mariager in Denmark in 2022. And we in the Nordic countries have a joint responsibility to reach out to EU, when it comes to addressing common needs. The future of Europe is a current discussion where we as Danes and Nordic people can play an important part”.
Steen: “We need the NGOs to work closer together. The pressure from the people is what politicians need to change the system. If you can introduce green legislation on an EU level, the national politicians have to adjust their politics to this”.
Gunnar: “The idea of shared communities (Andelsforeninger) has gained foothold in large parts of Europe in the last 10 years, including Holland, Belgium, Scotland, France and Germany. This has prompted EU to write new directives for this, including the CECs. In Denmark, the energy companies are not overly ambitious in this connection, but we are pushing for the CECs”.
Elsebeth: “It is remarkable that it is EU that is pushing for community ownership, as we in Denmark has a long tradition for developing energy and production in alignment with overall education. Our ambition as folk high schools is to be building blocks for a new green agenda, where our 73 schools can be living labs for not only technology, but also hope and dreams. And we can do this in collaboration with the communities, and we are open for new partnerships.
6. We are in this together
Participant Kim Hyttel asked about we can ensure that we adhere more to the progressive projects, that EU is introducing, without ending up discussion national agendas, but in stead work together, also through NGOs and other organisations.
Steen: We need the hard-core infrastructure development as part of the green transition. We can include this with the public engagement, we also need. I suggest we develop a “Nordic Mix” of green initiatives that can be an active part of the management of the overall green transition in EU – which can also include the folk high school and other parties.
And speaking of education, I am an advocate for using climate change as a big part of the learning plans of our primary school, including the technical aspects.”
Elsebeth:” We need to integrate our work; we have done that before, for instance with wind-mills in Denmark. There is an international dimension as well, in the EU but also in developing countries. We can not survive in our own small idyllic pond”.
Gunnar. “I am encouraged about having the folk high schools onboard. But the green transition is also a personal transition. We have to get used to save energy, transport ourselves differently than today and perhaps eat less meat. Also, I am following the European Citizen Deal, which is a new initiative in the making”.
Steen: “I want to end by stressing the importance of the Big Economy. For instance, we need to change the so-called “EU Semester”, which today is merely a revision of the national financial plans. This could be expanded to include climate and UN goals for sustainability as guidelines. Most of what is in the Green Deal, we are already working on in the Nordic countries. But the EU is actually more ambitious overall, than us. So, we should get together and allocate assignments to those, who are best at what they do, in order to gain the most”.
Stine:” We need to focus on EU, especially when it comes to a modern green infrastructure, which can help the transition more efficient than many small initiatives. This is the structural change we need. It is costly, but it also creates workplaces and lasting and sustainable change. And it is also an international issue, so we can share results with the world – so what’s not to like”?
The workshop was supported by the Danish EU Informative Organisation, Europa Nævnet.
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The Danish European Movement is a pro-Europe organisation that is non-political and works for more EU in Denmark.
Nyt Europa is a Danish organisation founded in 1998 with the overall objective to promote civic engagement on a Danish and European level. We work for a more sustainable, progressive and democratic Europe and believe that the European institutions play a pivotal role in solving the challenges, we face in Europe today. The organization is a small NGO with a political board and volunteers.
INFORSE- Europe is one of the 7 regions of the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE), which is a worldwide NGO network formed at the Global Forum in Rio in 1992.
INFORSE works for implementation of sustainable energy solutions by exchange of information, awareness creation, formulation and implementation of strategies, and lobbying of international forums.
The Danish Folk High Schools is an organization of about 70 entities, throughout Denmark, with the purpose of providing life enlightenment, public enlightenment and democratic education. A folk high school is a non-formal residential school offering learning opportunities in almost any subject. Most students are between 18 and 24 years old and the length of a typical stay is 4 months.