A majority in the Danish Parliament – all parties but Liberal Alliance and Nye Borgerlige – agreed on adopting a new climate law on 6 December 2019. The agreement resulted in a bill, which was introduced in the Danish Parliament on 26 February 2020. Due to COVID-19, the legislative process in the Danish Parliament was delayed, but on 18 June 2020, Denmark’s first climate law with legally binding climate targets was adopted. This newsletter concerns the implications hereof.
The climate law implies that Denmark’s climate objectives become legally binding. The law contains two binding climate targets with various time frames. In the short term, Denmark’s emission of greenhouse gases is reduced by 70 percent in 2030 compared to the level of 1990 (excluding international shipping and air traffic industries). This target is supplemented by a long-term national climate neutrality target by 2050 – and by the Paris Agreement’s objective to keep the increase in global average temperature to 1.5 °C.
In addition, the law contains a mechanism implying that the Government in office from time to time is committed to propose a climate sub-target with a 10-year perspective every fifth year. The proposed climate target will subsequently be up for negotiations with the parties of the Danish Parliament. The target for a 70 % reduction in 2030, which has become a statutory requirement, is directly laid down in section 1 of the act, whereas the sub-target for 2035 will be determined in 2025 and so forth.
To ensure action by 2030, an indicative target for 2025 must be set in 2020, in connection with the Government’s next climate action plan, after the Danish Council on Climate Change – an advisory body of experts, rendering advice, for instance, to the Danish minister for climate, energy and utilities – has contributed with its recommendation for an indicative sub-target for 2025.
The Danish Council on Climate Change’s Report ”Known paths and new tracks to 70 per cent reduction – Direction and measures for the next 10 years climate action in Denmark”, which was published on 9 March 2020, contains a recommendation for a sub-target for a reduction between 50 and 54 per cent in 2025.
To ensure a progressive development in the climate objective, it is provided by law that a changed climate target may not be less ambitious than the most recently set target. This reflects the ”no backsliding” principle of the Paris Agreement. The continuing adjustments of the climate sub-targets will be incorporated in the climate act through amendments.
The Government in office from time to time is obliged, at least every fifth year, and as a minimum in connection with the setting of the sub-targets, to draw up a climate action plan with a 10-year perspective containing specific initiatives. The climate action plan will contain sector strategies and indicators for core sectors such as agriculture, transportation, energy, construction and industry.
The climate act defines a systematic annual wheel with the purpose of contributing to a continuing monitoring of and follow-up on the climate efforts and the climate targets.
Every year in February, the Danish Council on Climate Change will provide its recommendations and make an assessment of whether in the Councils’ opinion, the Government is on the right track. This assessment will be based on the policy report submitted by the Minister the preceding year, see below The Danish Council on Climate Change will furthermore assess whether the minister in the Council’s opinion needs to take further action and present additional initiatives. In other words, whether the duty to act, as described below, should take effect.
Every year in September – prior to the budget discussions – the minister for climate, energy and utilities is obliged to submit a climate policy plan to the Danish Parliament. The climate policy plan must for instance include (i) a status on the fulfilment of the national climate targets and the minister’s assessment of whether the targets/sub-targets are achievable, (ii) a report on the planned short-term and long-term climate initiatives and measures and expected effects hereof, (iii) a report on the Danish Council on Climate Change’s recommendations and the minister’s opinion on whether they are being complied with and (iv) a status on research and development of new climate initiatives.
If the minister for climate, energy and utilities is unable to demonstrate that the objectives of the climate law of 70 per cent reduction in 2030, climate neutrality in 2050 or the sub-targets are met, the minister is obliged to present additional initiatives with short term and the long term reduction effects, which will ensure the fulfilment of the targets. The minister for climate, energy and utilities thereby has a duty to act in case of a risk that the targets cannot be met based on the specific initiatives laid down in the climate action plan in force from time to time.
Every year in December, the minister is obliged to present an annual policy report to the Danish Parliament describing the effects of the Government’s climate efforts. In this connection, the Danish Parliament are given the opportunity to assess whether the efforts proposed by the minister are sufficient to meet the targets of the climate law and whether the duty to act is complied with. A majority of the Danish Parliament may require additional efforts made in addition to those proposed by the minister. In the last resort, a majority of the Danish Parliament may move a vote of no confidence to the minister.
The climate policy plan will, together with the annual policy report to the Danish Parliament on the effects of the Government’s climate policy, replace the current climate policy report.
The climate targets of the climate law are all relating to Denmark’s greenhouse emissions. The law therefore establishes that the reductions must be made on Danish soil. Buying carbon offsets, for instance, to meet the targets is thereby not feasible.
The 70 per cent target will be calculated as an average target over a three-year period – for the period from 2029 to 2031 – in order to minimise fluctuations in one particular year.
Should Denmark by the end of the 2020s be short of a few percentages to meet the 70 per cent target in 2030, the parties behind the climate law have however introduced a last resort clause. In that case, the parties will meet again and find other solutions – for instance carbon offsets – if necessary to meet the target.
The climate law implies that Denmark’s climate objectives – both in the short term and the long term – become legally binding. The same applies to the no backsliding principle. The core principle ensures that a new sub-target may not be less ambitious than the most recently set target. From the bill, which was sent out for consultation, this principle solely appeared from the explanatory notes, but was incorporated into the actual wording of the act before it was introduced in the Danish Parliament and thereby became legally binding.
The negotiations between the parties of the Danish Parliament concerning the indicative sub-targets for 2025 and the first climate action plan are still pending and expected to be completed by Q3 2020. Which initiatives will contribute to the realisation of the specific targets have therefore still not been clarified (this does not apply to the waste area as an agreement was made by a political majority on 16 June 2020). Parts of the Government’s initiative for a climate action plan has however been published, including the proposal for two energy islands – one in the North Sea of 2 GW, with a capacity of at least 10 GW in the long term, and one in the Baltic Sea of 2 GW.
The political agreement on the climate law is available at her.
The climate act is available at her.