When I chose to study abroad in Copenhagen, I made my decision primarily because I have heard others frame Denmark as an international leader in sustainability. In obvious ways, Copenhagen is known for its biking culture; according to the Cycling Embassy of Denmark, there are 5 times more bikes than cars in Copenhagen. In terms of the built environment, one can see the sustainable culture of Denmark’s infrastructure through its omnipresent biking lanes and abundant green space. Through public culture, Denmark has promoted sustainable food choices; according to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Fisheries of Denmark, in 2012, roughly 8 percent of all of Denmark’s food were organically cultivated, making Denmark the leader in market share of organic foods worldwide. In 2014, Denmark was named the European Green Capital, particularly because of its ambitious goal to become completely carbon-neutral by 2025, and in 2018, the model for the “Soul of Nørrebro” won the Nordic Built Cities Challenge for its design that addresses climate adaptation by collecting excess rainwater.
However, in less obvious ways, Denmark is also a leader in sustainability, particularly through energy. A district heating system allows a single boiler to provide heat to many homes, giving the system better efficiency than if every home had its own boiler. One of Denmark’s coastal islands, Samsø, produces more energy through renewables than its inhabitants use, making it a carbon-positive island.
I have known for a long time that renewable energy has many positive environmental implications, but it was when I attended COP23 that I better realized the potential it has to alleviate the current climate crisis. It’s no secret that renewable energy and climate go hand in hand; “Affordable and Clean Energy” and “Climate Action” are both part of the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. By using renewable energy in place of fossil fuels, we can limit carbon emissions, thus mitigating climate change.
Copenhagen Cyclists / Tony Webster / Creative Commons
If, on the other hand, we fail to stop climate change before it progresses any further, we will begin to lose access to our renewable energy resources. According to the 2008 Summary of the Environment & Energy Report, with a growing population and a shift towards people living in larger homes, there has been a rise in household energy consumption by 0.4% each year. Climate can even further heighten this growing demand because temperature increases may lead to a demand for cooling in Europe and the Mediterranean. Additionally, energy production can decrease because of changes in the environment; for example, droughts and shifts in river flow will lower the opportunity to harness hydropower.
Besides climate stabilization, renewable energy can provide political and social liberation for many developing countries and have positive economic effects worldwide. However, for this to happen, we must shift the temporal scale of our mindsets; while fossil fuels may seem more appealing in the short-term, the costs of developing new renewable energy technology can have huge payoffs in the future.
I’ve had the chance to see Denmark’s clean energy efforts firsthand during my time abroad. I heard Danish architect and urban designer Jan Gehl talk about sustainability and urban livability. I also had the unique opportunity to climb one of Copenhagen’s wind turbines to learn how planners strategically constructed and placed them in order to best meet the country’s energy needs. A few weeks later, I played “Changing the Game,” a simulation activity created by Energy Crossroads. My team and I played the role of southern Europe, made up of countries such as Spain, Italy, and Greece. Considering the abundant solar rays available to this region, we used Lego blocks to model a plan for an energy system given financial and geographical constraints. In addition, I’ve experienced Copenhagen’s biking culture; urban planning and infrastructure can provide individuals with the opportunity to choose alternative methods of transportation, which have fewer or no carbon emissions. Through this website, I hope to share my experiences and what I have learned while abroad to support clean energy efforts.
Energy and the COP:
When I attended and observed COP23, I quickly realized that energy is a huge topic of dispute in climate change policy. COP23 took place just months after President Trump pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement, and members of his administration engaged in a controversial panel entitled “The Role of Cleaner and More Efficient Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power in Climate Mitigation.”
White House Special Assistant David Banks was one of the panelists in attendance, and he asserted that the U.S. government supports energy access through fossil fuels because although “climate mitigation is an important goal… economic prosperity and energy access are higher priorities.” Holly Krutka, the Vice President of Coal Generation and Emissions Technology at Peabody Energy, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, was also in attendance and agreed with Banks’ statements.This was a surprising argument to me because if applied properly, renewable energy can also provide high economic prosperity and energy access.
Contrastly, the following day at COP23, U.S. state leaders argued in favor of clean energy as part of the “America’s Pledge” movement. Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington was eager to show support for renewables:
“Here’s the fundamental reason why I came to [COP23 in Bonn]: to join with other governors in saying that Donald Trump cannot stop us… from putting a cap [on carbon emissions] like I’ve done in my state… He can’t stop us from having a renewable portfolio standard… We need to tell other states and the rest of the world that if you want to grow your economy, you need to get on the clean energy transportation system.”
In July 2017, IRENA, the International Renewable Energy Agency found that with possible technological innovations and international collaboration, renewable energy has the potential to reduce energy-related carbon emissions by 90% of what is needed to meet the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals. Almost a year later, IRENA led Renewable Energy Day at COP23 to share success stories regarding how international energy integration and new technologies can play a role in climate action.
You can read more about my experiences at the U.S. COP23 panel and watch my video of the protests here.
Want to know more about why Copenhagen was named the EU’s 2014 Green Capital? Watch this video from the EGC Secretariat to learn more!:
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Danish Energy Agency (2015). Energy and Climate Policies beyond 2020 in Europe. 1-50.
Danish Energy Agency (2017). Regulation and Planning of District Heating in Denmark. 1-27.
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Inslee, J. (2017, November 14). Climate and Clean Energy Policy in the U.S.: State Leaders Speak Out. COP23.
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