Every year, Yale University ranks countries based on their environmental health and ecosystem vitality. 2020’s winner is (drumroll) Denmark! So, how does a nation traditionally dependent on fossil fuels become world leaders in sustainability?
Denmark is a relatively small country full of tall people, the average height of men being 182 cm or just under 6 feet. It is the southernmost country in Scandinavia, a collection of islands poking out into the North Sea from continental Europe.
Its geographical location has led to a strong trading economy, dating back to when the Vikings strained at their oars. Denmark has given the world Lego, Handball and Google Maps.
However, great as these inventions are, Denmark’s recent achievement as a sustainability champion is what makes many modern Danes most proud. So how did this happen? Let’s take a closer look.
Something’s Windy in the State of Denmark
When one thinks of Denmark you conjure images of colourful harbours, busy cycle lanes, Mads Mikkelsen and comfy jumpers. You probably don’t think of sunshine, hammocks and palm trees, and for good reason.
Denmark built its first offshore wind farm in 1991, a world first.
So, not being blessed with ample sunshine, the Danes chose a renewable energy source they do have in abundance. Channelling the Viking spirit, they headed out to sea, where no-one had gone before, and built offshore wind farms. Lots of them.
Denmark built its first offshore wind farm in 1991, a world first. In their quest to find an alternative energy source to replace unstable (in terms of cost) and polluting oil, like many countries it considered nuclear power. However, this didn’t sit well with the Danish people who began building small, locally owned wind turbines as an alternative.
‘Det blæser en halv pelikan’ meaning ‘blowing half a pelikan’, is a famous Danish expression. Needless to say, it's a windy country.
The Danish government took notice and, feeling which way the wind was blowing (sorry couldn’t help it), started to directly subsidise the production of wind turbines and ensure competitive prices for renewable electricity. This put wind in the industry’s sails and is the reason why Denmark is now a world leader in wind power technologies.
Since 1991, Denmark has built 558 offshore wind turbines of increasing size and efficiency. Add them to the 5,500 or so onshore wind turbines and wind supplies close to 50% of Denmark’s electricity per year, the highest proportion in the world!
Denmark is also helping other countries with their wind energy projects, notably Britain, and odds are if you see a wind turbine anywhere it was made by Vestas—a Danish company. Soon they’re planning another world first, an artificial energy island that could eventually be capable of supplying energy to 10 million homes.
Denmark tops the Yale ranking in no small part thanks to its clean energy transition. But it's worth noting that it also scores highly in areas such as sustainable agriculture, marine protection, air quality and water cleanliness.
For example, the harbour in central Copenhagen is clean enough to swim in and has no less than four swimming pools—unheard of in a metropolis of 1.2 million people!
A farewell to oil
Something that you might have been waiting to share with us upon finishing this article, and that no doubt plays on the minds of Danes, is that they’re currently Europe’s second-largest exporter of oil and natural gas.
Well, soon this will be ending. Last year Denmark announced that it will cancel all future licensing rounds for new oil and gas exploration and end existing production by 2050. It’s the largest oil-producing nation to make such a commitment, a “watershed moment’ according to Greenpeace Denmark.
The move will have repercussions across the Danish economy, least of all 4,000 jobs. Again, renewables to the rescue as it's planned that this will create jobs to replace those lost in oil.
What can we learn from Denmark?
As mentioned, Denmark has a lot to offer the world when it comes to wind power. As we’ve talked about before, Copenhagen is also considered a world-class sustainable city and is no doubt where you get the bicycle mental image from. But what’s also interesting is how Denmark got its break: business and research institutions with government backing.
It’s a drum we beat on a lot, but political support is vitally important to give green projects and industries that initial boost. That’s why it’s important to vote and support ‘green’ politicians as well as all the good stuff you do as an individual.
Our biggest hats off to Denmark for making big strides toward going green. Of course, it's not the only country making changes to become more sustainable.
Have you got an interesting story to tell about your country or community? We'd love to hear it! Drop us a line to Emilia Cullborg at firstname.lastname@example.org.