Denmark's U.S. Ambassador Taksoe-Jensen discusses goals of country's E.U. presidency

With Denmark holding the presidency of the European Union this year, how will energy and environment issues play into the country's leadership agenda? During today's OnPoint, Peter Taksoe-Jensen, Denmark's ambassador to the United States, discusses his country's energy and climate goals and explains why he believes Europe's economic downturn will have little impact on Denmark's agenda.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint, I'm Monica Trauzzi and with me today is Ambassador Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the Danish ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for coming on the show.

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: Thank you for inviting me.

Monica Trauzzi: Mr. Ambassador as of January, Denmark has taken over the presidency of the European Union and your country has often led the charge on energy and environment initiatives in the EU. So how will those issues fit into Denmark's agenda for the presidency?

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: We have been planning for our presidency for some time and we have four priorities: a responsible Europe, a dynamic Europe, a green Europe and a safe Europe. And one of these, of course, about energy and climate change and what can be done there. And here we are going to focus on different areas in order to continue moving the European Union forward when it comes to addressing some of the concerns in the energy sector, but also in the climate change sector. We are going to look at trying to use our example in the European Union and push for negotiation of what is called the energy efficiency directive, a directive whereby we have as a goal to improve the efficiency of energy by 2020 by 20 percent all over the European Union. We're going to look at the infrastructure in the EU -- the energy infrastructure -- and see if we can improve the grid and this -- by doing this make energy security better, but also to be able to exploit renewables in a much better way than we have done so far. We are going to look at how can we take this issue of energy security, energy independence, climate change and mainstream that into all of our other policies of the European Union, for instance agriculture. When we look at subsidies in the agriculture sector going forward, can we use that as an incentive to green the agricultural sector when it comes to the structural reforms that the EU is using? Can we use incentives for that, in order to ensure that that will also be taking into account the green agenda, and taking into account when looking at infrastructure projects and so forth?

Monica Trauzzi: But with credit ratings for many EU countries dropping and economies faltering, how do you sell these sometimes expensive initiatives to your counterparts in the European Union?

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: Well it's true we are having some issues and troubles in the European Union at the moment. We are in a time of austerity, of budget consolidation and so forth, but I think everybody agrees that there needs to be two sides of that. You can't not only cut back, you also need to focus on where we can create growth and improve the competitiveness of Europe and here I think the green area is one where we already have a lot of advantages in Europe and where we think that if we go down this road it will be a little bit more costly in the beginning, but it will be a very, very clever investment for the future. For instance, if we implement the energy efficiency directive by 2020, this implementation according to the commission we've been calculating is going to create two million jobs in Europe. So there's a lot of jobs in this if you go the right way. So I think it's a question, of course, of convincing those who are looking at how do we spend our money now and convince them that yes, it will be a little bit more expensive now, but it will be a very, very good investment in the future for Europe.

Monica Trauzzi: Are there concerns that some of the existing green projects might suffer as a result of the economic downslide?

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: Of course there's always concerns; there's also a lot of challenges. As you know, nuclear is going to be different in Europe going forward. How we going to ensure that we have sufficient energy going forward with the new political challenges that we have. I don't see any sort of turning back to the old agenda in Europe. I think everybody there wants to continue for Europe to be a leader in this area and we have already invested a lot, so no we're not going back. The question now is how fast can we go forward.

Monica Trauzzi: So Denmark's story is an interesting one. How has your country been able to make the shift to a green economy?

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: We have been doing -- we have been working on this for many, many years. We started, actually, back in 1974 when the first oil crisis hit us. We had a smaller open economy so when things like energy prices go up it really hurts our economy. At the time, prices went up and when they went back the politicians decided well maybe we should start working on this agenda to be more independent and so forth. We were 98 percent dependent on foreign energy and coming to that market now we are almost independent. We have invested over this many years now in many different things. We are the most energy-efficient country in the EU. We have been able to, over the period for instance from '80 til now, to keep energy consumption flat. In the same period, we actually managed to have economic growth of about 80 percent, so you can have economic growth and we have proven that and at the same time keep energy consumption flat and actually lower our carbon or CO2 print as well. We have invested a lot in renewables by -- I think by now we are having about 28 percent of all our electric fuel consumptions coming from wind power. We are moving forward in order to move further down this road and by 2020 we expect that number to be 50 percent. So we are investing a lot in this direction. How can we do this -- because there is a consensus in the political environment in Denmark that this is necessary both because it makes a lot of sense for our economy to be sort of have -- not be dependent off oil prices going up and down, but also it's a very good investment for Danish industry and so forth. Now 13 percent of our exports is actually clean tech and green jobs that has been created on that account. We now have the ambition to go forward and are mapping out the road map on how to become totally carbon free by 2050. And legislation is now being put in place now to meet that goal.

Monica Trauzzi: And is Denmark sort of sheltered from the economic downturn that we're seeing in Europe because of all these green initiatives that you have in place?

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: It's always difficult to say how bad would it have been if they would not have that situation, but I'm sure that one of the reasons why we are in a little bit of a better shape economically than other parts of Europe is because we already made some of these investments. We already changed our manufacturing to these new areas where we can export a lot of goods and so far everybody in Europe, when the financial crisis came from the U.S. to Europe, everybody suffered and our economy also suffered. We were running a surplus and had a very healthy economy before the crisis and we are now having a deficit as well, but we still have economic growth of more than one percent so we are among the more positive stories in Europe. And one part of that story is, of course, also that we have invested a lot already in going down the road of not being dependent on the oil demand going up and so forth. So yes, I think you can say we have prepared ourselves already.

Monica Trauzzi: Working here in the United States, I'm curious to hear your perspective on the American approach to energy and environment issues and how you've seen that shift over the last couple of years.

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: For us, we have been pushing in Denmark for an international solution to what we still think is the reality of climate change and if something needs to be done with this. Europe is emitting about 11 percent, so we can't save the world. The world's largest emitter is the U.S. and it has been a little bit disappointing to see what has actually been done by the U.S. in order to step forward in this. The unfortunate thing as I see it is that you can say that energy efficiency, energy security, climate change -- whatever you phrase it -- has sort of been put into the political ballgame and it's one of these issues that has become hostage to the fight between the two parties in this country. This means that even though it would make a lot of sense for the U.S. to have a long-term and viable and strongly-supported energy policy, that has really not been possible. So what you see is not the necessary, in my view, political incentive to also start greening the American economy, you have a lot to do with your buildings; for instance, if you look at the consumption of energy on the roads every day and so forth, but that has not been possible. There's some possible elements going up -- they're popping up from the bottom up instead of top down, and of course then that's the way to work and we're trying to help those who do that, but over all I think my assessment would be well, you're pushing a bill in front of you and at some stage you'll have to pay that bill because otherwise the temperature will rise to six degrees centigrade by 2050. It will be much more costly to pay that bill later on than starting investing now, and you are pushing that in front of you.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Mr. Ambassador, we're going to end it right there. I thank you for coming on the show and giving us your perspectives.

Amb. Taksoe-Jensen: Thank you for letting me come.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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