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Denmark turns to green transport in runup to climate summit

Denmark is a leader in climate policy, but the Danes are also among the highest per capita users of energy in the world. The government in Copenhagen is now trying to change that.

A man charges up an electric car in California

In the future, charging electric cars should be as fast as filling a gas tank

When Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen came to power in 2001, he didn't seem at all interested in the environment and climate protection.

But with every Dane pumping out 5 tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, Copenhagen could find itself in a tricky position as the host of a giant climate summit at the end of this year, when delegates from all over the world get together to set new global targets on emissions ahead of the 2012 expiry of the Kyoto agreement.

That's why today a different message is heard coming from Copenhagen and the vision of green economic growth is sprinkled throughout just about every speech Rasmussen gives.

The prime minister is now openly advocating "a society in which we are completely independent from fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas" and a future in which renewable wind, solar and biomass energy sources will make it possible to live in "houses that produce more energy than they use."

A few milestones

Offshore windfarm in Denmark

Denmark is a leader in offshore wind energy

Denmark has, indeed, reached a few important milestones over the past decades. Back in the 1980s, it decided against building nuclear reactors, and today it gets almost 30 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. The nation's power plants are also leaders in terms of energy efficiency.

And while Denmark has made great strides in developing alternative energy resources, its transportation sector is still a major problem.

"Our Achilles Heel is the transportation sector, which continues to grow and grow," said Climate and Energy Minister Connie Hedegaard.

The Danish government has recently put forward an ambitious action to use green taxes to help out companies developing electric cars and bio fuels. It has also decided to put two thirds of all state investments in the transport sector into public transportations.

"That's a real step the Danish government is taking to sustainably reduce the CO2 levels of the transportation sector," Hedegaard said.

Electric cars

power plant near copenhagen

Danish power plants are taking energy efficiency to a new level

Currently there are only about 200 climate-friendly autos on the nation's streets, but that should grow to 100,000 within two years.

The Danish energy corporation DONG and the American company Better Place are planning to invest 100 million euros ($135 million) to build up infrastructure in the country for electric cars. The idea is to make it just as fast to charge up a battery as it is to fill up a tank of gas.

The head of the Danish electric auto association, Per Moeller, is very pleased with that plan, and confident that Denmark can become a pioneer in this sector.

"We have really good conditions for it here: no extreme climate changes and a flat landscape," he said. "Denmark is certainly one of the countries in which it would be the easiest to introduce electric cars."

The batteries to run these cars of the future have another advantage. They can be charged during the night when energy from wind turbines is available but isn't being used much, essentially turning them into important energy storage devices.

"I don't think we can leave it to the politicians to solve the problems with climate change," said Jens Moberg, CEO of the Danish branch of Better Place. "Consumers and companies need to take an active role in the process."

Author: Marc-Christoph Wagner/Mark Mattox

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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