Europe economic crisis a chance to go green-Denmark

Mon Dec 19, 2011 5:17pm GMT

* Danish government aims for country to be greenest ever

* Says carbon price is 'not sustainable', EU remedy unclear

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Denmark said Europe's financial crisis was the chance to transform the region into a much greener economy as it set out priorities on Monday for its forthcoming European Union presidency beginning in January.

"We are facing the worst economic crisis since World War II. We are heading towards a 6 degree increase in temperature. Commodity prices are heading through the roof. We need to do something," Danish Minister for Climate, Energy and Building Martin Lidegaard said on the sidelines of a meeting of environment ministers.

"We think the answer is energy efficiency and also to ensure investment in green growth. Every euro spent on energy efficiency will go to ensuring European jobs. Every euro spent on oil imports will go out of Europe," he said.

One of the means to encourage investment in green energy is a sufficiently high carbon price.

Lidegaard said the price on the EU Emissions Trading Scheme of about 7 euros was "not sustainable".

But when asked about the possibility of intervention to support the market, he said: "It is too early to say what we are going to do."

Denmark has a strong domestic commitment to the environment and has said that by 2050 it will be a fossil fuel-free society. The country is already a world leader in wind energy, which provides it with a fifth of its power.

OUTGOING PRESIDENT

Denmark stands in contrast to Poland, current holder of the EU presidency which relies on carbon-intensive coal.

Poland incurred criticism at the start of its six-month tenure when it blocked a plan to raise the EU's target for cutting carbon emissions to 25 percent by 2020 from an existing goal of 20 percent.

Denmark has already said it will be hard to get through a 30 percent goal for Europe as a whole, which Green politicians have demanded, but it had not given up altogether.

Denmark has set a target to cut its own domestic carbon emissions by 40 percent by 2020 - double the EU-wide goal.

The EU's 20 percent target is one of three 2020 green energy aims set in 2007. Since then, financial and economic crises have knocked the environment down the agenda.

Environmentalists are hoping the EU's recent diplomatic success in pulling climate change talks in Durban, South Africa back from the brink could give its green policy a boost and make business and politicians see the logic of investing in environmentally friendly energy.

Apart from creating jobs, they say, it can reduce the financial burden of the damage wrought by climate change.

Economist Nicholas Stern in an influential 2006 report on the economics of climate change found that failure to act would result in the loss of 5 percent of global gross domestic product each year, now and forever. (editing by Jane Baird)