Danes outline environmental goals for EU presidency

Denmark’s environment and energy ministers vowed recently to make sustainability and resource efficiency priorities during the country’s upcoming EU presidency, despite pressure across Europe to prioritise short-term crisis-fighting measures.

Environment Minister Ida Auken called for making energy efficiency legally binding, dismissing concerns that weak economies and the eurozone debt crisis would trump the environment in EU policy debates in the months ahead.

“It’s not enough to be focusing on the financial crisis right now, and then not look at just as important or just as severe a crisis – namely the environmental crisis,” she said at a briefing 12 days before the country’s EU presidency begins. “We have all possibilities to keep the environment on the agenda despite the hard times on the economic front.”

Auken said there are economic opportunities in resource efficiency.

“The businesses that are able to get more out of less, that can produce less use of energy and raw materials will be the most competitive in just of few years,” she said, calling resource productivity the “cornerstone” of European policy.

Challenges ahead

Denmark takes over the presidency from Poland on 1 January in a Europe dominated by its euro and sovereign debt troubles, and signs of weakening economic health.

The Danish agenda is likely to face opposition from some fronts opposed to creating legally binding standards when competitiveness and growth are key concerns.

EurActiv has reported that costs are at centre stage in opposition to making efficiency measures obligatory, rather than voluntary targets, in the EU’s plans for reducing dependence on fossil fuels.

Martin Lidegaard, Denmark’s climate and energy minister, said renewable energy and energy efficiency would help the economy rather than hurt it.

Without endorsing five scenarios contained in the European Commission’s energy roadmap for 2050 – unveiled on 15 December – Lidegaard said there were no alternatives to better resource use and alternative energy.

“None of the scenarios which has been put forward by the Commission would go without a major effort to ensure energy efficiency and major effort to ensure more renewables,” Lidegaard said.

“That is a must no matter which way we go,” he said.

Some renewable energy advocates see the EU executive’s plan as too tame, for example by not setting obligatory 2030 targets for emissions reductions and renewable energy use – as now exist for 2020.

The road to Rio

Besides challenges over stronger commitments to renewables and efficiency, the Danes will preside at a time of anticipated battles over reviews of the Common Agricultural Policy, lingering concerns about genetically modified crops, and an overhaul of the European chemicals law, or REACH, amid calls by some countries to make it more flexible.

The Danish presidency is to include a strong conservation agenda focusing on sustainable growth. It wants to integrate energy efficiency and sustainable development into the EU’s transport and agricultural policies.

Denmark also will lead the Council during the United Nations’ Conference for Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June. The Danes expect to use the international platform to press EU policies on sustainable development, Auken said.

But Europe’s recent performances at international environmental gatherings have failed to impress some conservationists. The EU was sidetracked by the United States and emerging economies at the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 and had mixed results at the recent UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa, despite promises to take a leading role on combatting climate change.

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