Link between growth and pollution broken -- Denmark's wind turbines cut CO2 emissions as economy expands

Denmark saw a significant drop in CO2 emissions last year thanks to nearly 2300 MW of wind power. At the same time, the country experienced growth in the economy, breaking the vicious circle between economic growth and increased CO2 emissions. Danish energy and environment minister Svend Auken points out that it is possible, even though the belief that it could not be done led US President George Bush to backtrack on a campaign promise on emissions reductions.

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Denmark's nearly 2300 MW of wind power contributed significantly to a further fall in the country's carbon dioxide emissions last year, putting Denmark well on track to meeting its international greenhouse gas reduction commitments. At the same time the country demonstrated that the link between economic growth and increased C02 emissions can be broken through the use of wind energy, which last year provided 13% of the country's electricity.

News of the continuing decrease in Danish emissions of C02 was released last month by the Danish Energy Agency. Even though the economy grew by 2.4%, energy use dropped from 841 peta-joules (PJ) in 1999 to 812 PJ in 2000, a decrease of 3.5%. Carbon dioxide emissions, however, dropped twice as much: four million tonnes was cut off the 56.7 million measured in 1999 compared with 52.7 million last year, equal to a reduction of 7%. Denmark's wind turbines accounted for 3.7 million tonnes of CO2 savings, pollution that would have occurred if the electricity had come from coal fired plant.

Danish energy and environment minister Svend Auken, who has adopted a leading role in the global climate change arena, welcomes the figures. He points out that Denmark has broken the vicious circle between economic growth and increased CO2 emissions, even though the belief that it could not be done caused US President George Bush to backtrack on a campaign promise on emissions reductions, saying it "would cause serious harm" to the US economy (page 36).

"It's a good result. It now looks as if we can reach our climate target for 2005, one of the most ambitious in the world," says Auken. Last month he was among the "deeply concerned" European leaders behind an urgent EU request made directly to Bush for a dialogue on successfully completing the Kyoto climate change accord.

Auken gives the 150,000 Danish families -- 5% of the population -- with investment in wind turbines made over the past 25 years a pat on the shoulders for their contribution to reducing emissions. He stresses that the turnaround is a result of long term political commitment.

Climate overview

The Danish Energy Agency's report is supplemented by a climate prognosis which forms the basis for the country's forthcoming ratification of the Kyoto protocol. It confirms that Denmark is well on the way to achieving its target of a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions in 2005 compared with the level of emissions in 1988. "Among the noticeable achievements behind this result is the development of wind turbines and the operational start of the Avedør II power station based on natural gas and biomass," states the prognosis.

It warns, however, that efforts to increase energy efficiency and the use of renewables must continue. The forthcoming offshore wind farms receive special mention as playing a crucial role, along with energy saving and reduction of industrial greenhouse (GHG) gases, in reaching the long term target of sustainable development. Alongside its Kyoto commitment to reducing the six GHG gases Denmark is also committed to producing 50% of its electricity from wind energy by 2030.

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