The Danish Presidency of the European Union has begun. With it, it brings fresh ideas and approaches to push forward a green growth economy for Europe. Denmark itself already has a head start on the majority of EU countries, as it has been working towards a green energy sector since the oil crisis of 1979 and the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in 1988. This commitment has stood it in good stead as climate change has become an increasingly important issue.
Denmark is as different a European country as is possible from Poland, who has just completed its six month rotation. Poland’s reliance on coal fired power plants, its increasing exploration for shale gas, and its opposition to stronger emission cuts was to the detriment of Europe’s environmental interests and it is hoped that Denmark can set the EU back on track with binding targets on resource efficiency and emissions reductions.
Danish Environment Minister Ida Auken (who spoke at the European Parliament Water Group meeting) and Energy and European Affairs Ministers Martin Lindegaard and Nikolai Wammen (who spoke at European Policy Centre (EPC) events), have been busy promoting the greening of the economy to support renewables and energy efficiency. The ministers emphasised resource efficiency as an inclusive concept, including water, steel and land along with energy to create a more comprehensive idea of efficiency which they called “eco-efficiency”.
Through combining resource efficiency and water efficiency with energy efficiency, the Ministers looked at ways of combating the ‘three crises: economic, resource, and energy.’ The three can be worked out together so long as one is not separated out from the other, they insisted. “We need growth, so why not make it green?” Lindegaard, speaking at an EPC Breakfast Policy Briefing, highlighted that, “failure to take the right decisions now will prove very costly in the long term.”
Another theme of the Danish Ministers was innovation. Lindegaard highlighted that this was simply not possible if only advocated by the public sector, stating that a considerably larger proportion of the money circulating in the world was private, not public. Wammen, speaking at another EPC Conference on a recent publication – ‘Green Revolution: making eco-efficiency a driver for growth’, said that if investment came from Private Public Partnerships (PPPs) ‘dreams can become a reality’. Wammen also highlighted the need to create and keep jobs and innovation in Europe and help combat the currently overwhelming Chinese market, which has recently overtaken Germany to become the biggest global supplier of solar panels worldwide. An incredible 1.5 million jobs could be created through the 2050 Energy Roadmap, and another 2 million through the Energy Efficiency Directive, said Wammen. What possible excuse does the EU have not to follow these employment opportunities through?
Simply following the initiatives already laid out by the Commission may not be enough to cement a resource efficient, high employment future. The Chair of the Parliament’s Environment Committee, Jo Leinen, MEP, urged the Commission to draw up legislation on resource efficiency, stating that “… it won’t be done without targets.”
Support for water:Ida Auken, Danish Minster for the Environment, began her speech saying that ‘Water may be the new oil.’ It may well be, but unlike oil, we cannot exist without it. Continuing the theme of innovation, Auken emphasised that a 40 per cent reduction in wasted water can be achieved through the use of new technology alone. Of the same mind was Henry Saint Bris, Senior Vice President of Strategy at Suez Environment, who focused attention on water’s role within efficiency. Both stressed that this precious resource was running out; in 2030, global water requirements will be 40 per cent greater than current supply.
Auken spoke of the external factors impacting water security, as well as the internal EU partnerships to help drive technology and innovation. For example, water conservation is a key determinant of economic success and human well-being within the EU, and is integral to Europe’s sustainability strategy. Given its obvious importance, it is not surprising that water is also part of China’s next five year plan, and Auken stated that the EU was looking towards China with the EU Water Initiative to provide a boost to existing technology.
The water sector is the fastest growing sector in the world, according to a Danish water company representative, when asked where the money should come from to promote innovation. Saint Bris informed us that the smart water sector is growing by 10 per cent each year, surely something Europe’s leaders need to embrace.
Water has been overlooked for a long time, but perhaps the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune might in fact turn out to be the Danish Presidency, and unlike for Hamlet, bring us good luck. If the Danes manage to promote green growth as a way out of the crises, and include the promotion of a sustainable water policy at the same time, we will all reap the benefits. As the Danes know only too well, this needs to be accomplished now, and these initiatives need to have strong, binding targets that ensure action by Member States. Let us hope that the Danish influence triumphs.