Tuesday

27th Feb 2024

Interview

Many problems to solve in Dubai — honesty about them is good

  • "We have honesty in the approach towards climate change and a lot to show", Karen Ellemann told EUobserver before departing. (Photo: Andreas Omvik/norden.org)
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COP28's official list claims more than 97,000 participants are attending the climate summit in Dubai in person.

One of them is Karen Ellemann, Secretary General of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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This weekend she will jet to Dubai for talks about climate impact from food production in the Nordic Pavilion, where her organisation hosts over 70 events during the two week climate summit.

"We have honesty in our approach towards climate change – and a lot to show", she told EUobserver before departing.

Nordic CO2 emissions have been reduced by 26 percent since 1990, according to her organisation's recent climate report, titled Nordic Stocktake — Pathways to Climate Neutrality.

"We have mainly shown progress on energy supply and consumption as those have been the focus of lots of reports, lots of investment in research and development and lots of innovations. This is a huge Nordic success, thanks to an insistence on delivering in cooperation," she says, adding that also "there are so many other areas where we have not acted yet".

"The report shows that agriculture is one such area, where the Nordics can improve", Ellemann says. She also mentions transport and forestry as industries with room for improvement.

"These are the things that are not so good. But being honest about that is good", she adds.

Food on the agenda

Her own climate awakening started at COP10 in Nagoya, Japan in 2010, which focused on biodiversity.

"I was talking to biologists and scientists who explained the red-list of threatened species. That seriously started affecting my way of working in the political field", she recalls.

At the time she was Denmark's minister of environment representing the liberal party, Venstre, which traditionally defends the interests of farmers and fishermen.

"My own food consumption has definitely changed. I haven't become 100 percent vegetarian, but my intake of meat and especially processed meat has plummeted", she says.

Earlier this year, the sixth update of the Nordic Nutrition Recommendations (NNR) was published, recommending to eat less meat for the sake of health and environment.

"To minimise environmental impact, meat consumption should be replaced by increased consumption of plant foods, such as legumes and fish from sustainably managed stocks," the 391-page scientific report advises.

The recommendations form the basis of the Nordic and Baltic state's dietary advice for schools, hospitals and elderly care. It is up to the individual Nordic governments how to implement — or ignore — the advice, but the recommendations are normally widely implemented.

"That's also why I am travelling to Dubai, where we have food on the agenda this weekend. The Nordic nutrition recommendations are not only affecting Nordic kitchens, but hopefully the whole world", Ellemann says.

"One thing that I am not as proud of is my carbon footprint from travelling. I am head of an international organisation and meetings are not done online all the time. This year Iceland has the presidency [of the Nordic Council of ministers] so I travel back and forth to Reykjavik two or three times per month. That's a heavy footprint", Ellemann says.

But other things have changed in the Nordic headquarter in the centre of Copenhagen.

"When we organise a conference or event, we set up targets and demand eco-labelled or swan-labelled services as a higher standard. So yes, we are changing but we are not there yet. But change also starts with awareness, reflection and discussion," Ellemann says.

Cooling business

While the Nordic area has focused on saving energy in heating homes, many other parts of the world face the opposite problem and need cooling.

The Global Cooling Watch report launched in Dubai on 5 December, showing demand for cooling is on course to triple by 2050.

This will lead emissions from cooling to surge to 6.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) in 2050, equivalent to more than 10 percent of global projected emissions that year.

This rapid increase in cooling will strain power grids in many countries, presenting a major hurdle to the ongoing transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, according to the report. It will however also provide business opportunities.

The cooling report has Nordic fingerprints all over, stating that financial support came from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), CONCITO, a Danish think tank, and the Clean Cooling Collaborative. It also incorporates industry voices, such as from the Danish refrigeration multinational Danfoss.

"Danfoss has the potential, the knowledge, and the ability to be on the scene. I wouldn't say it is just a Nordic brand, but we are always very keen on having close cooperation with the businesses, with the research, science and the political level. Business is really helping drive the agenda here and Danfoss is a beautiful example of that", Ellemann commented.

Nordic paper tiger

When Karen Ellemann was appointed secretary general of the Nordic cooperation in 2022, the media quickly plucked a 10-year old newspaper op-ed from their archives.

In the article Ellemann proposed to close the Nordic Council and the Nordic Council of Ministers and bid farewell to the Nordic "paper tiger number one".

"The total price for the two Nordic coffee clubs is just under 1 billion krone. That's a lot of tax-krone", she wrote in Berlingske Tidende on 25 October 2013.

How does she see things today, heading up the same organisation that she once proposed to shut down?

"When they decided to offer me this position, the ministers of Nordic cooperation naturally knew about my position back then. Read closely, my article praised Nordic cooperation as too important to accept too much moving of papers — the many recommendations moving back and forth between the Nordic council's parliamentarians and the Nordic council of ministers."

"I am not heading a meeting machine here. I am in charge of a think tank. A think tank that can deliver political suggestions to our governments to ensure that we are delivering the best available knowledge and the best suggestions on basically all political things, whether it is environment, gender equality, education, culture or other societal issues".

"I still think you need to exercise the Nordic muscle and not drown it in paper processes".

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