23rd Apr 2021


We must have the courage to prioritise green sciences

  • One interesting area of research is new types of feed for cows so they will let out less methane (Photo: Humane Society)

Welcome to 2021. Finally, we are here. It is hard to imagine a year that anyone will miss less than 2020.

2020 will be the year that you will miss exactly as much as a corn on your foot.

Read and decide

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  • Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen: 'We need to move fast because in just one decade we need to lower our emissions as much as we have done in total during the last three decades' (Photo: Social Democratic Party/Denmark)

The New Year marks a transition for the world. A year where we with patience and caution are starting to look forward to the roll out of vaccines, the numbers of Covid-19 cases declining and our lives going back to normal.

So after the hangover of shock and restrictions brought to our lives by Covid-19 has healed, where do we look then?

During the lockdown of our planet, the global emissions have declined by eight percent.

Before we raise our hands in celebration the bleak news are that CO2 levels are still breaking records. Therefore, we need to look ahead. We need to look at how our future nations can become greener, more sustainable and better versions of themselves. How are we going to do that?

Try to imagine a technology that captures big parts of the CO2 emissions we create. Like a machine out of Ghostbusters that sucks the CO2 out of the air and send it deep underground where it will be stored.

Or what about a technology that will change the green power from windmills in to sustainable fuel?

It might sound like science fiction but reality is that these technologies are so far developed that with the right effort they can become an actual solution when it comes to removing the CO2, which is increasingly causing our planet to overheat.

We need to bring these scientific projects in to reality. Sooner rather than later. It is, in other words, a time to be bold and to show initiative.

The EU agreed in December to increase the emissions-reduction goal to 55 percent by 2030. An ambitious move in the right direction.

The Danish government has committed to reducing Denmark's CO2 emissions by 70 percent by 2030. These are not figures made up for the occasion. They are the targets that scientists believe are the bare necessity.

'Green' science?

In response, the Danish government has released a green science strategy. With the strategy, we have set a clear green direction for Denmark for the next many years to come.

Firstly, we are sending a clear signal that we want to create the best terms so scientists and business as fast as possible in cooperation can develop the green technologies we desperately need in our battle with climate change.

Secondary, we are taking responsibility for the direction we are moving in when we are pointing very firmly at the areas we are choosing to invest in and with a decision to fix the investments in the future years to come.

Last year we already earmarked a vast amount to the area. The Danish government has again this year further increased the amount towards public investment in green sciences.

If green sciences are to be a part of the solution to the acute climate crisis it is not enough to put the financial accelerator down – politically we also need to have the courage to turn the steering wheel and prioritise in what direction green science should move.

We have an obligation to ensure that the areas we are researching in are those that will bring our strain on the climate down. That is what we do with our new green science strategy.

With the investment, we are politically saying where we want to go and what challenges we want to solve but we are not saying how. That freedom belongs to the scientists – naturally. That is important.

And we do need to move fast because in just one decade we need to lower our emissions as much as we have done in total during the last three decades.

It will be a two-legged effort: political initiatives that ensures reductions here and now – and then the long-term investments in particular in research and development, which will create reductions in the future.

The green science strategy consists of four focus areas; we call them green missions.

The first mission is to develop and mature the technology that makes it possible to capture the CO2 that we cannot avoid emitting.

When using these carbon capture technologies, especially at larger facilities such as combustion plants, we will withhold huge amounts of emissions and can make a landmark difference.

With the second mission, we want to speed up the development of synthetic green fuels for transport and industry. With this technology, transportation such as planes, ships and lorries that can't be electrified directly can instead change from fossil to green fuels through so-called Power-to-X.

A technology that changes green power from among others windmills in to sustainable fuel.

The third mission focuses on agriculture. An area where we need real breakthroughs to be able to succeed if we are to bring down CO2 emissions on a larger scale.

One interesting area of research is new types of feed for cows so they will let out less methane. A project that has great prospect in terms of reducing huge amounts of the damaging greenhouse gas that methane is.

Finally, the purpose of the fourth mission is to boost the circular economy by developing new solutions for improving resource productivity. Using technology and science we can limit the amount of rubbish created, raise the level and quality of recycling as well as reducing the impact on the environmental and climate from product development.

If we prioritise the four missions, we believe that science will make the big difference that is needed to create the breakthroughs to reach the climate targets we have set.

Solutions that will not just be used in Denmark, but all over the world for the benefit of the entire planet.

In Denmark, we do not just want to be at the forefront of countries that fights for the climate we will also make sure we have the best prerequisites to succeed.

Partnering with businesses is essential for developing solutions together. We need to make sure that science do not just stay in the test labs but that the solutions mature and reach the markets.

Therefore, the Danish government created 13 climate partnerships in different business sectors.

In close dialogue, we have discussed how we can solve the climate change challenges and at the same time create green jobs. Setting the world on to a more sustainable path should be a win-win for our societies. It is possible, but only if governments set the target and pave the way.

The strategy will also set a clear direction so others can follow us. We are encouraging all companies and private foundations to offer their input so the effort is charged with private funds as well and will, consequently, have more impact.

However, while we are large on our green ambitions in Denmark we are very aware that we are not large in size.

If we are to create a substantial impact, we need to work together as an international community.

That includes politically, financially and by bringing the brightest minds together across borders. Therefore, one of the objectives in our strategy will be to work towards creating strong links between Danish researchers and business and international partners worldwide.

Just before the end of 2020, Europe agreed upon the largest research and innovation framework programme in history.

The programme provides an excellent opportunity for green European breakthroughs. When implementing the programme, the commission and member states should steer the direction, while researchers and companies develop the concrete solutions.

We hope that if we work towards the realisation of the same goals and ambitions, nationally and internationally we will not only reach our climate targets but also create a more prosperous green economy.

We know where we are going. We dare to be bold. We hope you will join us.

Author bio

Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen is Denmark's minister for higher education and science.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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