14.05.2019  |  Klima, miljø og energi

Interview: At the Danish Parliament, Mogens Lykketoft speaks up about the important role of government & industry in meeting climate targets and SDGs

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Leading up to the general election that will be taking place in Denmark on June 5th, 2019, a handful of primary issues are now in hot debate in the political arena. One of these primary issues is climate change and sustainability. The big question is: What will it take? What will it take for politicians, businesses and the general public to ramp-up the changes necessary to achieve Global Goals for sustainability that include meeting climate targets and drastically reducing social inequalities? These are the issues that were addressed when Heather Louise Madsen, DEM, and Ole Busck, Aalborg Universitet, sat down with Mogens Lykketoft, Member of Parliament for the Danish Social Democrats, at the Danish Parliament on December 13th, 2018.

Mogens Lykketoft: There is no doubt that if Denmark really decides to put itself in the forefront and set high ambitions and requirements for sustainability, then we will have more overall export, more jobs, better jobs and more long-term jobs.”

Question: Do you see major progress being made globally since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) in 2015? In the political arena and in the industry?

Mogens Lykketoft: With relation to political activity, action plans for the Sustainable Development Goals are still much too weak, and this is true everywhere. This is also true in Denmark. The Danish administration’s action plan right now is only a summary of what we are already good at. And we won’t continue to excel in these areas if we don’t become more ambitious.

What has been positive over the last three years is the engagement from those who will, in actual fact, have to do a large amount of the work, namely the cities and companies. There are a large number of municipalities that have taken the SDGs onboard, also very concretely with relation to investing sustainably, building sustainably, buying sustainably. Action plans have been made in various municipalities.  I have actually never before, in Denmark, experienced an international agenda that has led to so much concrete action at the local level, by organizations, or by education institutions.”

Question: What are Danish companies doing to make themselves stand out with relation to sustainability?

Mogens Lykketoft: We have a pattern with the companies in Denmark where some of the biggest, and many of the small and medium sized businesses are actually in the industry called sustainability – they are already quite advanced… We have a sea of companies that can deliver different pieces. I have been out talking with many of these businesses, and it is them - many of whom have also become members of The Confederation of Danish Industry – who have become the most influential group in expecting politicians to create regulations that move in the right direction.

And here we have a problematique that is similar to the one with taxes – there is no doubt that if Denmark really decides to put itself in the forefront and set high ambitions and requirements for sustainability, then we will get more overall export, more jobs, better and more long-term jobs than we otherwise would have. But it is clear that everything has a price, and it would also mean that some other jobs would more quickly become redundant. And there would always be a political question in that. And here you can say that this just underlines - also for those who have been out degrading Denmark’s system of unemployment benefits (dagpenge), among other things in recent years – one point that is extremely important. The high level of safety that was the social welfare’s unique trait, including proper benefits and benefits that were available for a long time – was not a part of the problem, it was a part of the solution. This system helps people that are in businesses that are on their way out to see that change can benefit everyone. 

And something that has gone completely and utterly wrong in the American society and contributed to the election of Trump is precisely that they have not taken care of those who were excluded from the job market, and were not given the option to up-qualify and find something else. If you lived next to a closed coal mine in West Virginia for 30 years where nothing happens, then it is clear that you will be opposed, and think it’s globalization that there is something wrong with. It is the government that is not ensuring that people can find something else. “ 

Question: What can be done with regard to political goals and regulations to achieve this agenda by 2030? 

 Mogens Lykketoft: There are two things that are very easily attainable. The first is something that many municipalities are already doing with their procurement policies, namely systematizing this process to a much larger degree. And if municipalities evaluate that it is not possible to choose the right solutions with extremely tight budgets, then also to give a bit more to the municipal budgets so that they can solve these issues. But there are many municipalities that believe that they can solve these issues today, and that the right, sustainable, green solutions are not necessarily more expensive, and particularly not if you make a lifecycle analysis (LCA) calculation and investment. If you take the billions of kroner that the public sector expends in procurement and investment, and ensure that procurement policies are targeted all the way around – at the state, municipal and regional level – this is something that would promote green growth tremendously.  

The second is called “from ABC to PhD”. There should not be any child that goes through child care, primary school, high school, technical school and higher education without being presented with and learned about the Sustainable Development Goals. There are also many who are doing this locally. There is The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Architecture, and the Danish Technical University (DTU) who are examples of incorporating the SDGs in higher education, there are a number of primary schools also doing this. But this is also something that could be done systematically, as a requirement in the curriculum that the SDGs are addressed.

Something that has not yet begun, because it is very politically sensitive, but Connie Hedegaard is correct in saying that if we want to promote sustainable development, then it is not enough to appeal to peoples and companies understanding and private prioritization of their buying patterns. It is necessary to do something so that sustainable behavior becomes cheaper, and unsustainable behavior becomes more expensive. This means that we need to look at the tax system not only as a source of financing social welfare, finance infrastructure, but as an instrument to shape behavior. “

Question: What role does Circular Economy play within companies, and if companies are not all ready to fully incorporate Circular Economy into their businesses, can we achieve the 2030 Agenda?

Mogens Lykketoft: Circular economy – what is that? Put simply, it is an economy where we have stopped using fossil fuels, and where we do not generate waste. Everything is re-used in one way or another. It is that simple – and that difficult.

And with relation to the 2030 agenda, I certainly hope we can achieve it… there is a large chance that the planet will become an impossible place to live if we do not reach these goals. But it does not help anything to go around saying “we will never make it”. We need to say that we need to put a maximum effort in so that we can reach the goals. And to answer the question: “isn’t it unimportant what Denmark does? Can’t we just relax? Denmark is doing very well anyway”. The answer is no, it is not unimportant, because Danes have a footprint on the earth that is up to 30 times as big as it is in for example Tanzania per capita. That is one thing. The other is that Danes have a unique opportunity to get good jobs out of it if they put themselves in the forefront.”

Question: Do you have the support of your party in what you are saying here, or are they your observations?

Mogens Lykketoft: The Social Democrats are also in agreement with this agenda now. There is nothing that I am saying now that is not a Social Democratic understanding. We made a large green proposal - that I also contributed to preparing - In the spring. There is no doubt that the green and sustainable agenda can be the glue that can form a majority with the Social Democrats. There is no doubt about this, and this is a political agenda that is extremely important.”

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